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Glengarry Place Names Part 3

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Circa 1975
By Ewan Ross 1922-1987


ewanross Goderich, Ontario

GLENGARRY PLACE NAMES -- PART 3 by Ewan Ross

In the last article we dealt with the place names in Glengarry which were of French origin, and this time it will only be fair if we consider a few of the names that either were Gaelic or were later given names from the Gaelic place names in Scotland.

Surprisingly few of the place names we have today are of pure Gaelic origin. For instance, Williamstown was known among the early settlers as "Muileann Sir Ian," and its straight English translation is "Sir John's Mills," which were in frequent use in the early 1800's. Later this became "Milltown" which a few people still living can remember being used. But the official name of the post office in the place was always "Williamstown."

Another place with a similar story is Alexandria. One of the last things Rev. Alexander MacDonell did as a priest at St. Raphael's was to build mills on the Garry for the benefit of the settlers in the north part of Lancaster Township and the newly-formed Lochiel. The place was known to all and sundry of the Gaelic-speaking folk as "Muileann an-t-saigart" which most of us will have heard of by its English translation, "The Priest's Mills." Alexandria, which also comes from Father Alexander's name was the name given to the post office that was opened there in 1825, just six years after the mills began to operate. Though the author has never seen a document of any sort date-lined "Priest's Mills" and had given up hope of doing so, he can recall his grandfather saying he was going to the "Priest's Mills -- Alexandry as they call it now." But the old man was born in 1852, and remembered away back when Alexandria was the Priest's Mills., and Glen Roy was Sierra.

Muileann a chamaronich on the Delisle river in Lochiel don't even have a history of change. They have just disappeared. Two Gaelic names that probably go back to the days of the first settlers are Glen Falloch and Laggan. Both names are names of localities in Scotland to be sure, but in both cases the names do describe the places in Glengarry. Glen Falloch means "the hidden glen" and everyone who drives along the Kinloch road and turns onto the almost hidden Glen Falloch road will appreciate the term "hidden Glen." He will appreciate it more as he drives toward the Nine Mile Road and takes note of the fine farms hidden from view until one is close to them. Laggan in Gaelic means a "dimple", or by analogy, a low spot in the ground. Any one who drives through Laggan even today at the time of the spring break-up can get some idea of how low the ground is, and how it must have appeared to the first settlers before it was drained.

A great many of the place names in Glengarry that begin with "Glen" were given to their localities many years after they were settled. Glen Sandfield started out as plain "Sandfield" so called after the Sandfield MacDonalds who owned a lot of property in the area. It became Glen Sandfield when the post office was opened there in 1870. Glen Robertson started out as "Charley Roy's Corners," and became Glen Robertson in 1874, the same year that Glen Gordon got its post office. Glen Gordon post office was about half a mile north of the railroad crossing we know as Glen Gordon today, and was apparently so called after a place in Scotland in the homelands of the MacLennans. MacLennans owned all the land around the newly established post office-and I do mean all around -- north, south, east and west. (See Belden's Atlas of 1879.) Glen Donald has a similar story. Its post office opened in 1874, and its first postmaster was Alex MacDonald, on whose land it stood. And he had MacDonells for neighbours. In fact, the whole area was full of "The sons of Donald" by whichever spelling. It may be of interest to know that this is all the different names amount to. it was a clerk's error back in 1660. Angus MacDonald, chief of the branch of Clan Donald who lived in Knoydart supported Montrose in the war that ended with Charles I being beheaded. When Charles II regained the throne for the Stuarts., he rewarded Angus by creating him "Lord MacDonald and Aros." The Gaelic pronunciation of the name is "don-ell" and the clerk knew no Gaelic, so he spelled it as he heard it on Angus' title deeds. As a mark of distinction the MacDonells of Glengarry have maintained this spelling ever since. Today it is often pronounced as it is spelled, but the old folks pronounced MacDonald and MacDonell exactly the same. Many still do, and it is quite possible to start an argument in Glengarry about it even now.

For a short time the post office at Lochiel -- Quigley's Corners-was named Glen James after its first postmaster James Benton. The area south of Williamstown where the Carnation plant is today is still known as "Glendale" but this name apparently came into use as a trade name for the first cheese factory established there about 1886. This place did have an early Gaelic name "Gleneirre." The records of the meeting to establish a public school in the area are datelined "Gleneirre!" The derivation of this name is interesting as it, too, consists of a phonetic rendering of a Gaelic term. Among the Loyalists who got land in that area was a certain Sergeant Hay. He became a prominent citizen of the area, so the Gaelic-speaking folk spoke of the area as Gleann Fheoir" -- Hay's Glen in English. But in Gaelic "FH" is always silent when a word is pronounced, and in time Gleann Fheoir became Gleneirre -- just as it sounded.

How many remember hearing of Father Hay, for many years a much loved priest at St. Mary's in Williamstown He was a descendant of Sgt. John Hay who gave his name to the area.

Glengarry County Place Names
Glengarry Place Names part 1 by Ewan Ross
Glengarry Place Names part 2 by Ewan Ross
Glengarry Place Names part 3 by Ewan Ross
Glengarry Place Names part 4 by Ewan Ross
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