What's in a name

March 2019

There is a lot of meaning in a name. Whether it is a place, person or pet, people generally put a lot of thought into names. This was the case in 1969 as, after four years of negotiations, it was agreed that the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William would be united into one under a single new name. Readers in 2019 know that this city is called Thunder Bay, but readers may not know that two other names were suggested, or how the very different third one became the city’s official title.

On May 8th 1969 a provincial bill was passed that allowed the new city to be formed, but this new city would need a name. Residents were allowed to submit name ideas and by June 23rd of the same year, the list had been narrowed to three. A vote then was held among the citizens of both cities with those three names on the ballot. These were: “Thunder Bay”, “Lakehead” and “The Lakehead.”

“Thunder Bay” won the vote by a close margin, with “The Lakehead” being the runner up, and on January 1st, 1970 a new city was born. However, because it was a three-way vote, the name “Thunder Bay” did not have the majority of the vote, which means that most locals at the time thought the “Lakehead” name suited the new city more. Why was that?

The name “Lakehead” originates from around the turn of the 20th century when the two small towns began to grow into the largest settlements in the northwest. Because the twin cities were located at the head of Lake Superior, people began to refer to the region as The Lakehead. It was common for locals to say they were from The Lakehead area when asked where they were from. So, from a historical standpoint, it’s easy to understand why the name was suggested and was so popular with voters of the time.

The name Thunder Bay first comes from 18th century French maps of the area that refer to the bay that both cities are on as “Baie du Tonnerre”, Bay of Thunder. The name would be suggested a number of times over the years, the first time being recorded in 1907. Over the first half of the 20th century, there were repeated talks of the two cities amalgamating and finally in 1969, the cities agreed to merge with the final 3 names ending up on the ballot.

When one thinks about it, a single word made all the difference in Thunder Bay’s history - that word being “The.” Without it, the majority who wanted Lakehead would not have had their vote split and there is a very good chance that, in this alternate world, the City of Thunder Bay would have been named The City of Lakehead or The Lakehead. We can only wonder and guess if anything would have been different as a result.

This goes to show that even in something as seemingly simple and routine as a name, one can find both a deep history and meaning. Any named thing could have a story; you just have to dig for it.

For more information on the history of Thunder Bay, check out the Thunder Bay Museum at www.thunderbaymuseum.com or The Twin Towns of Port Arthur and Fort William at www.ontariohistory.org

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.