In the Footsteps of Champlain
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Toponymy
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Toponymy
Georgian Bay
Champlain
Chute-à-Blondeau
Hochelaga
Lachine
Lake Huron
Lake Nipissing
Lake Ontario
Lac Saint-Jean
Lac Saint-Louis
Lac de Soisson
Lake Superior
Champlain Sea
Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park
Pays d'en haut
Quebec
French River
Mattawa River
Ottawa River
Rideau River
La Chaudière Falls
Trois-Rivières



Some estimate that Champlain covered 3 500 kilometres of coasts, lakes and rivers in Canada. All the energy he put into exploration is still remembered and we pay homage to him each day. How? In the geographical names of lakes, rivers, cities and ports that we still use today.

Inauguration of Champlain Monument, Quebec, Quebec, September 21st, 1898

Inauguration of Champlain Monument, Quebec, Quebec, September 21st, 1898
National Archives of Canada/PA-23977

The most obvious example is Lake Champlain, located in Vermont and New York and on the Quebec border. In Champlain's time, this lake was in Iroquois territory.

Here is an explanation of certain place names and their origins. "Toponymy" comes from the Greek topos, place and onuma, name.

Georgian Bay
Champlain baptized this body of water "Mer douce". For a long time, he cherished the dream to find a sea that would lead him to the Orient and he thought this "smooth and fresh sea" was the way to go.

Champlain
Many lakes in Quebec bear the name "Champlain", including the lake he named himself on the Canadian and American border. A village is also named after the founder of Quebec. Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, near Cap-de-la-Madeleine, this enchanting piece of territory attracts many tourists and includes Champlain's seigneury. The explorer also lent his name to an island in Ontario.

Champlain Island, Ontario [ca. 1890]

Champlain Island, Ontario [ca. 1890]
A.M. Ross/National Archives of Canada/PA-120324/Detail

Chute-à-Blondeau
Some say that Champlain himself changed the name of this village from "Grande-Chute" to "Chute-à-Blondeau" in memory of Blondeau, a close friend of Champlain's from Paris. However, according to more recent toponymy, this little village got its name in 1875, and for completely different reasons than the aforementioned one. Blondeau was a farmer who lived close to the falls and with his help, the economy of this little village flourished. They named this village in his honour after he drowned in the falls.

Hochelaga
In this area, the risk of being ambushed was great. This name is said to have three other meanings: hunting beaver, the place where axes are made or where winter is spent. The French changed the name to "Montreal".

Lachine
In 1669, Cavelier de La Salle left the area to explore the west with the Native Peoples, hoping to find a passage to China. When the voyage failed, the population mockingly called La Salle's seigneury "Lachine". Champlain was already speaking of the "Lachine" rapids during his first voyage in 1603, showing his determination to find the Orient.

Lake Huron
Champlain tended to write "Lake (of the) Attigouautan (or Attiguantan)" in 1615. He also named it "Grand Lac" (Great Lake). The word "Huron" comes from the old French "hure" which means "rufian" or "boar's head". Champlain and the first missionaries actually called the tribes of this region the "Cheveux Relevés" (High Hairs). Before being renamed "Hurons" by the French, they were called Wendats (Ouendats).

Lake Nipissing
Champlain referred to this lake in 1615, writing "Lake of the Nipisierinij". This name was changed to "Lake of the Biserenis" on the map in 1632. Nipissing means, "peoples of the little water".

Lake Ontario
Champlain spoke of "Lake of the Irocois" or "Lake of the Entouhonorons" and even "Lake St. Louis". This lake already carried the name of another historical character of the 17th century, also governor of New France. Do you want a hint? He said, "I have no reply, other than from the mouths of my cannon and muskets." You guessed it! Lake Ontario used to be called "Lake Frontenac".

Lac Saint-Jean
The Native Peoples named this lake from the Cree name Peyakwagami (Piecouagamik), meaning, "the areas surrounding the lake are flat." It was customary for the missionaries to set aside one day to meet the Native Peoples of the region. They chose the feast of St. Jean-Baptiste.

Lac Saint-Louis (Sault Saint-Louis)
Champlain himself named this lake in honour of a young Frenchman by the name of Louis, an amateur fisher and hunter who begged the team to allow him to partake in the voyage. Louis drowned in the rapids of this lake.

Lac de Soisson
Nobody really knows where this name comes from, but today it is called the "Lac des Deux-Montagnes". Located near Montreal in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, it lies between two mountains.

Lake Superior
Samuel de Champlain named it "Great Lake" (Grand Lac) on his map in 1632. This lake also appeared by the name "Lake Tracy", in honour of the Marquis de Tracy, on maps from 1670 and 1671 drawn by other explorers. It had already been named Lake Superior before this because it is higher than the other Great Lakes.



Map of Lake Tracy, Now Called Lake Superior

Map of Lake Tracy, Now Called Lake Superior
Ontario's History in Maps



Champlain Sea
The Champlain Sea used to cover almost all of the Ottawa River Valley. It was created as a result of glacial melting and covered a territory with a maximum depth of 200 metres. Centuries passed before the ground produced any vegetation. Who would have ever thought that this region would house the nation's capital and a significant proportion of the population?

Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park
This park, created in 1967, carries the name of one of the first European explorers to travel the Ottawa River. It was in 1615 that Champlain first visited the region of Nipissing, in the area where the park is found today, near Mattawa.

Pays d'en haut
This name refers to the immense territory found north of the Ottawa River.

Quebec
In Jacques Cartier's day, the Native Peoples called this area Stadacona. Champlain was quite creative when it came to spelling his first "Habitation": "Québec", "Kebecq", "Fort Saint Louis", "Kebec". In Algonquian, Quebec means "narrowing".

French River
Well known by the first explorers and voyageurs, the name of this river appeared on maps in 1670. One of the first place names to be translated, Frenchman's River or French is better known since 1857 as the French River.

Mattawa River
In Champlain's day, the Mattawa River was called "Petite Rivière" (Small River), to distinguish it from the "Grande Rivière", or the Ottawa River. The inhabitants of the region called the river "Lake Champlain" because it widens between the mountains near the town of Mattawa and resembles a lake. Some have also called it "lac Plein Chant". One of the old portages on the Mattawa River is known as "portage du Plein Champ". It is submersed today as a result of the construction of an electrical dam.

Ottawa River
When Champlain travelled the Ottawa River, it was called the Kitchi-sippi, meaning "The Great River". Then it had several other names: "Grande Rivière", "rivière des Prairies", "rivière des Algonquins", "rivière des Français" and "rivière du Nord", before acquiring the name it carries today. "Ottawa" is a variation of "Outaouas", the name of an Algonquin nation. The French name "Outaouais" was translated to "Ottawa" in English to facilitate pronunciation.

Rideau River
The name is self-explanatory by the view of the picturesque falls where it meets with the Ottawa River. When Champlain stopped at this area in 1613, he noticed the magnificent sight of these falls, which he compared to a curtain - "rideau" is the French word for curtain. The Native Peoples were able to pass the falls without getting wet. The name Rideau spread like wildfire. Who in Ottawa is not familiar with the Rideau Falls, Rideau Street and even the Rideau Centre, a mecca for this city's shoppers?

La Chaudière Falls
La Chaudière Falls appears on maps from 1632 and is considered to be not only one of the Ottawa region's oldest toponyms but also one of Ontario's. Champlain explained that with time the water dug a deep basin in a rock located at the bottom of the falls. The water falls into the hole, creating large bubbles that resemble a "chaudiere", or a pot used for boiling things.

Trois-Rivières
This name refers to both the city and the St. Maurice River, which is separated into many branches by the islands at the river's mouth. Three of these islands are very close together; some say Champlain named this city when he said he wanted to go to "three rivers". The name "St. Maurice" did not come into being until the early 18th century.





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Conception