Willisville and Area Place Names

By Derek Coleman
November 29, 2004

The information contained in this document was obtained by searching through the records and maps at the Ontario and Canada Archives and Map Libraries as well as several University libraries (Waterloo, Guelph, York). Thus, it is based on source documents and not local usage. For the Willisville/Killarney/La Cloche area, the names of lakes and rivers seem to have been established in 1891 when a major geological map of the North Shore was published, compiling land surveys and geological studies to that date. This map shows with names Charlton Lake, Cranberry Lake, Nellie Lake, Cross Lake, Long Lake, Howry Creek, Murray Lake, Leech/Van Winkle/Hanwood Lakes and Katrine/Florence/Alexander Lakes. Prior to that date, only the Whitefish River and Penage Lake are named on plans and maps, although many of the features are shown. Additional names were added to plans when the Manitoulin and North Shore Railway was surveyed south from Espanola to Little Current in 1901 and 1910. Some changes/additions occurred in the 1930’s.

The normal Township surveys (1870-1890) on the North Shore focused on those lands where settlement was likely – i.e. between Blind River and the Sault. It was not until 1921 that a full survey of the Willisville area was completed – Plan 45S of the Surrendered Portion of the Whitefish River Indian Reserve, Curtin Township.

For the features listed below, the names described are the likely the origin.

Whitefish River: either as one or two words (White Fish in many earlier documents). Early large-scale maps (1750-1850) of Lake Huron do not even show a river feature. There is a sketch plan (1827) by Factor McBean of the La Cloche Post in the Hudson’s Bay Co. archives showing the river/lake system with some Ojibwa name notations. By 1850-60, the river and some lake features are shown, but only the river is named.

Charlton Lake: John M. Charlton (photo above 1905) was born in upper New York State in 1829. He moved at a young age to a farm near Ayr and later opened a general store at Lynedoch, near Tilsonburg. Later, he was elected as MP for North Norfolk. As an MP, he was a member of the Royal Commission on Mining (1888-89) that established the first Mining Act and was a staunch supporter of free trade.

He established a lumber company (particularly for transport of logs by towing) and, when the southern Ontario forest was depleted, he continued his lumber operations in Michigan and northern Ontario. In 1889, he incorporated the White Fish River Improvement Company permitting him to build a series of dams and timber slides at Long (originally, now Lang) Lake, Cross Lake and Frood Lake to pass logs down to the Bay of Islands where they were shipped in rafts to southern lumber mills for processing. He was also a partner in the White Fish River Booming, Towing and Rafting Co. along with Josiah C. Wells (see also Wells Island in the Bay of Islands where the rafts were put together). Both Companies operated until about 1907.

In 1906-7, Charlton negotiated the purchase from the Federal Crown of two large blocks of land on which his dams and slides were located – the Lot 23 (249 acres) containing the Whitefish Falls town site and what is now lots 25 and 31 (286 acres) in the surrendered portion of the Whitefish River Indian Reserve.

Charlton died in 1910.

A book of his speeches (1905, including his photograph) is available at the Ontario Archives and his diaries are in the rare book collection at the Robarts Library (University of Toronto).

Murray Lake: Alexander Murray was an Assistant Provincial Geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada. From 1848 to 1856, he led an exploratory survey of the French and Whitefish River systems looking for mineral deposits as mining companies/prospectors were beginning to take an interest in the north shore of Lake Huron such as the Wallace Mine Location. His report and a series of very detailed maps are available in the GSC library in Ottawa and identify, but not name, most of the lakes.

Frood Lake: Thomas Frood worked for the Crown Lands Department as a “wood ranger”. He staked the early mining claims in Sudbury. He retired to build a home on the shore of the North Channel across from Little Current (see Frood Bay, his cabin is shown on the 1891 geological map). Considerable more information on Frood is available in any of the histories of mining in Sudbury. Frood Lake appears first as a name in 1910.

Howry Creek: J.W. Howry and Sons was an American-based lumber company who had timber limits north and east of Charlton Lake, as well as elsewhere along the North Shore. An 1889 plan shows their lumber camp near what now would be Casson and Little Leech Lakes. They were a part of what been termed the “North American assault on the Canadian forest”. This occurred in the last 25 years of the 19th century after the pine stands of Michigan and Wisconsin were depleted.

Lake (Lac) Penage: “penage” is an early French term for a pair of deer antlers and is shown and named such on an 1863 map. Before the Walker Lake dam was constructed, the shape of the lake is much like an antler. This seems to have morphed over time into Penache and Panache with inconsistency in usage.

Lang Lake: all the maps and plans up to the 1930’s show the name of this feature as “Long Lake”. There is another Long Lake in the Whitefish River system near Sudbury and the change to Lang Lake may have been the easiest conversion.

Any additional information or comments would be appreciated -  info@willisville.ca

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