From Bastard to Kazabazua: Unique place names of eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

We’ve all seen photos of road signs for places with unique, odd, funny, or offensive names.  Eastern Ontario and western Quebec have their share of these too.

La Binerie in Kazabazua, QC. Photo: Alexa Clark, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

In Quebec, the historic influence of the Roman Catholic Church has left its mark on the names of communities. Just the other day I passed through Notre-Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace) on a rural highway. I live just a block away from Rue Saint-Rosaire (Holy Rosary Street). In the western part of the province, the oddest sounding name has to be Kazabazua. This small village north of Gatineau on Route 105 is best known for logging, tourism, and a great pottery studio. However, because the small river there periodically runs underground, it long ago earned the title of “water flowing underground”—or Kazabazua, by the indigenous Algonquin people.

In the heavily French-speaking area of Ontario east of Ottawa, is L’Orignal, the seat of Prescott and Russell Counties. In French, L’Orignal literally means “the moose.”  The community was named after a nearby point where moose historically crossed the Ottawa River. Although the name has been around since 1674, the area is still home to Ontario’s most southerly moose herd.

The general store and post office in Kars. Not something the Katzenjammer Kids drove, but named after Kars, Turkey. Photo: James Morgan

Vars and Kars are both located near Ottawa. The origins of both have no connection beyond that they rhyme. Until 1886, Vars was known as Bearbrook Station. Father Casimir Guillaume, the local parish priest, renamed the village after his hometown of Vars, France. Kars was named Wellington in 1856 after the Duke of Wellington, but officials decided another name was needed because there was already a village of the same name in Prince Edward County. British Army General William Fenwick Williams (William Williams!), defended the city of Kars, Turkey in 1855 against the Russians and arranged their surrender, so Kars was selected as the new name for the village.

The United Church in the centre of North Gower, pronounced “gore” or “goer.” Photo: James Morgan

And now for the most mispronounced place names in eastern Ontario. North Gower, just west of Highway 416, and the surrounding former townships of North and South Gower, are actually pronounced as goer or gore.  I recall my father corrected me on this during a family trip through the area when I was about 12. The Gower’s are all named after John Levenson Gower, the British Lord of the Admiralty from 1783 to 1789.

I never thought of Italy or India when I traveled around the Smith’s Falls area, but apparently some past settlers and residents did. Lombardy was settled in the 1820s and was originally just called Lombard, after local innkeeper Francis Lombard. However, the locals thought the landscape was like the plain of Lombardy in Italy and petitioned the government to rename the post office and village as such. Nearby Poonamalie is a lock station and small settlement on the historic Rideau Canal. Originally called First Rapids, the name Poonamalie caught on in the 1850s because of an officer in the British Army’s Royal Engineers who worked on canal construction. He had previously served in India and thought the landscape of the area was a lot like a place in Tamil Nadu called Poonamallee.

The eastern Ontario name that really gets faces red and voices lowered is Bastard. There are two stories behind how the historic township got its name, which means one of the origins of Bastard is illegitimate. One explanation is it was named in 1798 after John Pollexfen Bastard, a British Member of Parliament. However, the other theory is the pastoral township was named after Lord Robert Bastard, the former Duke of Normandy, whose illegitimate son was William the Conqueror of England.

Before it became part of the Township of Rideau Lakes in 1998, Bastard was part of the municipal township of Bastard and South Burgess. Today, it is known as the Bastard Ward of Rideau Lakes, which really sounds more like something to do with antiquated child welfare policies. In 1994, Bastard and South Burgess celebrated its 200th anniversary and there was an attempt to change the name to something a bit more socially acceptable. The landscape is hilly in the area, and both Upper and Lower Beverley Lakes are located in Bastard. The new name proposed was Beverley Hills. Strong public opposition followed. Many residents wore buttons reading “Proud to be a Bastard.” The profane name stayed and then the municipality was dissolved into Rideau Lakes four years later. Occasionally it still surfaces. Last year, a headline appeared on an Ottawa-based news website stating police had charged a woman from Bastard for stealing an ice cream truck.

Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec are beautiful places with rich history. Beauty and history always have their quirky side too. A few odd place names are evidence of that.

Tags: , , , ,

5 Comments on “From Bastard to Kazabazua: Unique place names of eastern Ontario and western Quebec.”

  1. Hank says:

    When it comes to mispronunciation by the uninitiated, nothing can hold a candle to Gananoque!

  2. James M. says:

    That’s true about Gananoque. Madoc, in Hastings County, routinely gets mangled too.

  3. Lucy Martin says:

    As a former resident of Kars and North Gower this post was a pleasure to read.

    I’ve been to been to Gananoque, Vars and Rideau Lakes too. (Though not when it was called Bastard, alas!)

  4. James M. says:

    Thanks Lucy Martin, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  5. billshaver says:

    loved this,

Comments are closed.