The evolution of the name of Basswood Lake

8 September 2020

This Blog is concerning an article published in the Sault Star in February of 1979 detailing the somewhat confusing and often contentious naming and renaming of Basswood Lake here in Day Township. It appears that the bureaucracy got involved and the name became a moving target during the previous century.

I have seen the name Waquekobing used in articles from the early 1900’s detailing the quite famous canoe trip down the Mississauga River from Biscotasing to the portage near Slate Falls on the river (now under Red Rock Lake reservoir) up to the Canadian Camp Clubhouse on the north shore of what is now called Basswood Lake – I guess! So the 1979 article appears to have jumped over that part of our Lake’s history.

Anyway we thought that people on the lake and in the area might be interested in how this all came down back in the day – we hope you enjoy this little nugget of local history.

B&L

Transcribed from an article in the Sault Star in February 1979

Basswood Lake or Lake Wakwekobi

Pleasing everyone—an impossibility !

Pleasing the majority of people is one thing, but pleasing everyone is an impossibility as Names Researchers found out with a well-known lake in Day Township (between Blind River and Thessalon). Attention was focused on the lake in Homer Foster's column of last July 17.

Reporting on geographic name changes he commented, "Of course, the name change which caused the biggest foofaraw in the Thessalon area was that of Basswood Lake to Wakwekobi. This occurred on government maps a number of years ago.

By now, virtually all tourist literature has been converted to Wakwekobi and even the resort operators have had to give in because government literature uses Wakwekobi and to keep Basswood would just confuse visitors. People in the area, however, continue to call it Basswood Lake, it's been Basswood Lake for many, many years and I suspect it will stay Basswood so far as residents there are concerned for many, many more".

In actual fact, the provincial government did the opposite. The lake first began to show up as “Wakwekobi” on maps dating back as far as 1855 (derived as the European pronunciation of the Indian name “Waquekobing” - something to do with round as in a curve or an eddy or whirlpool). The name was made official in 1910. Later reports from area foresters and other residents persuaded government Names Authorities to change Wakwekobi — though not without some hesitation at forfeiting a distinctive Indian name — first to Big Basswood Lake in 1961 and then after further local study to Basswood Lake in 1970.

Official maps have reflected these changes over the years. But as Northern Ontario toponymist Debbie Cunningham ruefully admits "This was strictly a no-win situation! Our files show that a reporter from the Port Arthur News-Chronicle was not impressed with the name Basswood when it first appeared and lost no time in blaming the Government for its appearance."

In an article entitled, The Name-Changers at Work, appearing in that paper in the mid 1950s and reprinted in The Ottawa Journal the reporter described the shock experienced during a return trip to the Thessalon area of finding that not only had the general scenery changed over the years but even the lake and stream names. The reporter cited Wakwekobi in particular. "Someone, probably a disciple of the principle of ease, thinks it would look better spelled Basswood and for purposes of distinction there could be a Big Basswood and Little Basswood . . . Even if some civil servants prefer names that are easier to spell and remember, some of the old ones have their qualities too."

According to the Names Board, people tend to regard names personally, so when a feature is known by more than one name, each will have its own supporters, making it impossible to please both groups.

The 'damned if we do and damned if we don't' feeling that momentarily pervades Nomenclature staff when faced with this type of situation can be very frustrating. It never, however, dampens their enthusiasm. Instead they've long since come to regard it as one of the 'hazards' of the job.

Basswood or Wakweboki—take your choice