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What’s in a Name?

Florence Lake in the Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park.

The mystery of Lady Evelyn and the Northeastern Ontario landmarks that bears her name



Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park, Lady Evelyn Lake, and Lady Evelyn River—all are located in Northeastern Ontario. Each offers peaceful vistas, challenging waterways, and plenty of adventure, drawing thousands of visitors every year.

But while the landscapes named after Lady Evelyn are familiar to locals and visitors alike, the woman the lands were named after remains largely forgotten. Who was Lady Evelyn? History isn’t 100% clear on this—but there are a few theories about this mystery lady of the Ontario wilderness. Read on to discover the lost history of Lady Evelyn.

Robert Bell's "Lady Evelyn"

Robert Bell.

Lady Evelyn Lake was likely given its first English name in 1888 by the geological surveyor Robert Bell, one of Canada’s most important scientists and surveyors. He explored and documented much of Northern Ontario and Quebec, mapping it for the National Geological Survey—naming over 3,000 geographical features in the process.

According to Bruce W. Hodgins and Carol Hodgins in their book Paddling Partners, Bell would likely have met the London-born Lady Evelyn Catherine Campbell at the Government House in Ottawa where her brother served as Governor General. Lady Evelyn would have been close to 40 (and married) when Bell named the lake after her which would have made it somewhat of a controversy. How she may have reacted to this bold gesture we’ll never know.

Lady Evelyn Louisa Salina

But there’s intriguing mention of another Lady Evelyn that suggests the lake could be named for a different British aristocrat. This comes via the Encylopaedia of Canada, Volume III that has an entry for Lady Evelyn Lake: “The lake was so called probably by a tourist of prospector, Member of the Orange Association before 1896 in honour of Evelyn Louisa Salina, daughter of John Henry, 4th Earl of Erne, who was born on 21st July, 1879. The Erne Family has long been associated, as Grand Masters and otherwise with the Orange association. Conjectured date of naming was 1879, shortly after Lady Evelyn’s birth or baptism.”

Lady Evelyn Selina Louisa Crichton was born around the right time for this story to make sense. She later married Gerald Ward, who was killed in the First Battle of Ypres. There’s no evidence this Lady Evelyn travelled to Canada in her lifetime—but the Orange Order was well-established in Canada by this time, and perhaps an enthusiastic Protestant was so inspired by her birth that they named a lake after her.

Lady Evelyn, Duchess of Devonshire


Portrait of Lady Evelyn Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire by John Singer Sargent.

Finally, there’s the Lady Evelyn who came on the scene after the lake and river had already been named—but before the Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park was established. Evelyn Emily Mary Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire came from a family that was at one time thought to be the richest in England—wealthier than even the royal family that employed her. (She was one of Queen Mary's closest friends and held the royal position of “Mistress of the Robes” until the queen’s death.) She had her portrait painted by John Singer Sargent. One of her daughters married a man who was to become Prime Minister of England. In fact, she was so famous that when she came down with measles later in life it was reported in the English papers.

So it may be surprising to learn that this wealthy aristocrat spent her formative years in Canada. The reason is this: both Lady Evelyn’s father and her husband served as Governor General of Canada (the fifth and 11th Governors General, respectively). Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park was established in 1973 according to the Ontario Parks department, long after the couple left Canada for England again in 1921.

Of course, it’s likely the park was simply named after the existing lake and river found within the park’s boundaries. But it’s possible that the people behind the naming of the provincial park assumed that this was the Lady Evelyn they’d been named after. With so many Evelyns in the mix, who’s to know for sure?

The Backcountry Remains wild

Navigating some 'Smoothwater'. Photo courtesy of Smoothwater Outfitters & Ecolodge.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the lands and waterways named after her remain wild and difficult to fully understand. “Owing to the challenging physical terrain of the park, we've often thought that Lady Evelyn must have been a beautiful but harsh woman,” says Smoothwater Lodge manager Johanna Kilbridge. “Or in the words of a friend, struggling on a difficult portage, ‘This Lady Evelyn must have been a b*tch!’”

Whatever her temperament—her mysterious legacy lives on in the form of some of Ontario’s most beautiful landscapes.

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If this sounds like a good time for a backcountry adventure, consider planning your trip with Smoothwater Outfitters & Ecolodge, located in the heart of the region.

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