Names on a Map

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I spent some time last week with friends out in the Gulf Islands of Canada, and I was reminded again -as I usually am when I travel – how intriguing local place names are. I’m sure my fascination with place names was heightened recently by reading (for the first time, sad to admit) the opening novel of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Proust is a master of details, including the naming of imaginary towns, churches, houses, and roads in one direction (by way of Swann and the village of Combray) and the other (the Guermantes way.)  I think it’s in the naming of people and places that our imaginations first begin to engage with stories.

The lighthouse at Georgina Point...

The lighthouse at Georgina Point…

Out on Mayne Island, I studied a map and found the following place names, by category:

Bays:

Village, Miner’s, Bennett, Piggott, Gallagher, Campbell, Oyster, Horton, Dinner, Kadonaga, Naylor, Reef, Maude

Points:

Edith, Helen, Laura, St. John’s, Crane, Georgina

Highground:

Heck’s Hill, Mt. Parke

Road Names:

Minty, Latour, Felix Jack, Tinkley, Tinker, Cotton, Skana Gate, Isabella

I wonder about the women: Maude, Helen, Edith, Laura, Georgina, Isabella. Were they mothers? Sweethearts? Daughters? I wonder if Miner’s Bay was named for miners on the island or for a family named Miner. I’m delighted by the existence of Cotton, Minty, Tinker and Tinkley Roads, which sound like the names of mice in a Beatrix Potter adventure (Tinkley is the naughty one, right?) If you go from Heck’s Hill to St. John’s Point, will you have been walking in a heavenly direction (or if headed round trip the opposite direction while picking blackberries could you say you went to Heck and back for those berries?) The story behind a road called Felix Jack needs to be told, though the strangeness of “Kadonaga” Bay might be explained by the Japanese Memorial Garden,  planted in honor of the Japanese-Canadian families whose land was taken from them during World War II. I imagine the Kadonaga family, suitcases packed, waiting on the dock at Miner’s Bay for the steamship which would take them from their homes.

Members of the Japanese-American Community days before their forced evacuation from the island....

Members of the Japanese-Canadian community days before their forced evacuation from the island….

Next time you travel, make a list of the place names around you. They might surprise you – or make you wonder…and don’t stories begin with wonder?

Arrival, Village Bay Ferry Dock, Mayne Island

Arrival, Village Bay Ferry Dock, Mayne Island

Right now, I’m wondering about Maude. Who might she have been? Though the timeframe is wrong, and the origin of the place names is off,  I begin to imagine someone like Maude walking up Heck’s Hill with her friends, one who might be named Georgina Campbell and another who might be named Hamako Kadonaga, looking for berries. It’s late summer, 1941…by the following April, Hamako and her sister, mother and grandmother will be sent inland to an internment camp; her father – I imagine someone who might have run the fish saltery near Emery’s Store – will be sent farther inland, as Japanese-Canadian men between 18-45 were – and forced into hard labor until the war was over.

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Maybe the story is told through letters from one girl to the other. Maybe Hamako addresses her letters to Maude Miner, Cotton Road, Mayne Island, British Columbia….who knows? I’m playing a game – let’s call it an experiment –  “Names on a Map.”

Berry Picking circa 1910

Berry Picking circa 1910

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9 Comments

by | April 28, 2014 · 2:11 am

9 responses to “Names on a Map

  1. Gosh, Julie. You have to come back and do this as a complete lecture. It’s wonderful.

  2. This is great, Julie! I also wonder about the people names that populate maps and why these people were immortalized through the maps. It’s a good reminder also to avoid overthinking a name. 🙂

  3. Martine Leavitt

    Ah, Julie, I delight in the way your mind works…

  4. Rebecca Van Slyke

    Nevermind Vermont, Julie. Just come up to Lynden to lecture ME from time to time! 🙂

  5. Lindsey Lane

    I love the way your mind plays.
    True story: When I moved from Westfield, Mass to Austin, Texas, I noticed a lot of the streets were names of Connecticut towns (Enfield, Windsor, Poqounock). Sure enough, Governor Pease and his wife hailed from Connecticut. As this town grew, I think he used his influence to bring a bit of New England to the streets.

  6. What a Julie post. I love it. Can you imagine making up a story based around British place names, though? I bet you can.

    • Julie Larios

      Leda, I especially like the town of Crackpot in Swaledale, North Yorkshire. Let’s write a story about Crackpot! (Actually from the Old English kraka, meaning crow, and the Viking word pot, from a cave or rift in the limestone – which is also interesting….hmmmm….)

  7. And just think what a story you could write about Llanfairpwllgwyngyilgogerychwyrndropbwllllantysiliogogogoch

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