The Naming of the Niagara Townships

On Thursday night (March 27), the Society was treated to another information packed presentation by Professor Alun Hughes. 

Portrait of Colonel John Graves Simcoe, ca. 1881Entitled “‘Lord’ Simcoe, Lady Godiva and the Naming of the Niagara Townships”, the talk looked at how many of the townships, towns and other landmarks in the Niagara Peninsula and throughout Ontario were named during the tenure of Lieutenant Governor John Simcoe in the 1790s.  Beginning with a wide view of all Upper Canada, Alun demonstrated that many of the counties in Upper Canada were named directly after the counties along the eastern coast of England – starting with Kent all the way through Northumberland.  The Niagara Peninsula was given the name Lincoln County after Lincolnshire County in England.  As such, many of the place names within Lincoln County can find their roots in Lincolnshire – examples: Gainsborough, Grantham, Grimsby, Louth, Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), Saltfleet, Stamford and the Welland River.  Other place names stem from influential individuals and families from the time like Sir John Thorold, the Pelham family and Clinton Family.  Still more names were to come much later or were derived from contemporary First Nation place names.

One of the most interesting findings to come from Alun’s presentation was the discovery that Simcoe’s reputation of not being in favour of First Nation place names is false according to surviving evidence.  For generations, Simcoe has carried a legacy for changing established First Nation names to English names such as Toronto being changed to York and Niagara being changed to Newark.  Alun proved that the shift to these new place names had occurred prior to Simcoe’s appointment as Lieutentant Governor.  Plus, Simcoe was more apt to change place names of French and German origins rather than First Nation.  More importantly to this area, Simcoe openly advocated that Newark be renamed Niagara later in his term.  The English government agreed and adopted this change. 

Alun proved once again that there are a lot of errors in our history that are taken as fact after years of retelling and misinterpretation.  With sound research and use of good evidence, these local myths can be corrected.

Next month’s presentation will feature John Burtniak speaking on “Vanished Villages in Niagara” – April 24.

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