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Hundreds of thousands of Ontario’s islands, lakes, beaches don’t have names. Here’s why

The Ontario government says it’s “essentially impossible” to provide an exact number but guesses “hundreds of thousands” of the province’s lakes, islands, beaches, bays and other geographic features still don’t have an official name.

The bulk are in northern Ontario, though there are unnamed pockets in the south, too.

The province is slowly fixing that, having approved 85 new names over the past five years, while rejecting 54 others.

Anyone can make a name submission for free, and it is then debated by the Ontario Geographic Names Board. CBC has obtained the full lists of what the board recommended and rejected, which you can scroll down to read.

Both lists are packed with nature references. Bonfire Island, Caribou Mountain, Hurricane Island, Rock Lake, Splashing Rock Lake and Whiskey Jack Lake were all approved. Suggestions such as Butter Blue Lake, Shining Waters Island and Yellow Dog Island, however, were not.

The board doesn’t seem to have a huge love of loons, having rejected Calling Loons Cove, Lost Loon Island and Two Loon Island — though it did approve the singular Loon Island.

Many submissions were named after people. Alice Lake, Armstrong Lake, Eleanor Island and McPhee’s Creek were allowed. But the board said no to Betty’s Lake, John Lake, Mike’s Island, Teresa Lake and Wilma’s Bay. Notably, Robert Lake was rejected but Roberts Lake was approved.

Some applicants got more creative, submitting Cigar Lake, Pops’ Island, Rib Mountain — all were rejected. One applicant even tried to submit the name My Island, which is not allowed, even if you do own said island.

“The name could cause confusion for emergency service delivery, especially on a lake with numerous islands,” said Jennifer McMurray, a geographic names specialist with the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, in an email. She does not sit on the board.

CBC News requested an interview with a board member but was rejected.

Rigid rules for new names

The Ontario Geographic Names Board is guided by a strict list of naming rules. Submissions can’t have the same name as another nearby feature. Bad words are not allowed, nor are names that could seem like advertisements.

When it comes to people, a name won’t be considered unless that person has been dead for at least five years. Even then, there’s niche criteria. The person needs to have left a legacy either locally, provincially or nationally.

There’s even a rule about not naming something to commemorate a victim of an accident or a tragedy if they didn’t leave some sort of other legacy. 

Priority goes to geographic names that have been used colloquially for at least 20 years.

If a name fits all this criteria, the ministry will solicit feedback from the communities where the new name is being proposed.

“Outreach to some communities is more challenging than others,” said McMurray, whose team reaches out over email and social media. Locals are asked to reply with what they know about the feature, all the names they use for it and whether they support the proposed name or not.

Hurtubise Island has the distinction of being on both the rejected and accepted lists. Keith Perrin owns the island, located in Lake Panache southwest of Sudbury, and submitted the name.

Perrin, a semi-retired Toronto carpenter, bought the island in 2004 and has always known it as Hurtubise. He wanted to make it official.

When Keith Perrin bought Hurtubise Island near Sudbury, the deed said it was named Number 2, Island 2. So he set about giving it an official name. (Submitted by Keith Perrin)

The name comes from Joseph Raoul Hurtubise, who was a doctor, an MP for Nipissing, a senator and a previous island owner.

“When we understood who this guy was … we felt that it was important to sort of enshrine that properly in the naming of the island,” said Perrin, who uses the island as his summer home.

He thinks the name was initially denied because the province needed more consultation, which can be tricky in seasonal cottage communities.

When the name was approved in 2017, Perrin was sent an official decision certificate with a map and coordinates. But “Hurtubise Island” still hasn’t shown up on Google yet.

“One of my wintertime shutdown COVID projects may well be to see if I can get Google Maps to show it properly,” he said. 

‘Somebody started calling it something’

There were several name submissions in Indigenous languages. Minisaabik Island, Ohnigahmeesing, Tsitonhowisenhne Island, Weecogameeng and Wecoggahming were among those approved. Names such as Mnzhign-Mnis Wiikwed and EeWahKee Island were not. 

McMurray said the ministry consults with local Indigenous communities to make sure proposed names are actually being used before they are made official.

“In one case, a different Indigenous name from that proposed was approved, after research and consultation was completed,” she said.

Mary Ann Corbiere teaches Anishinaabemowin at the University of Sudbury and studies what’s in a name. She was able to help translate several names on the lists, but was stumped by others. She thinks some may be Mohawk.

She’s always happy to see Anishinaabemowin being used, but doesn’t think people should wait for anything to become official.

“It’s not as if we as Anishinaabeg sat down like the Ontario government does, and said, ‘OK, what shall be the official name of this place?'” she said. “Somebody started calling it something.”


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