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What Does Algoma Mean?

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What Does Algoma Mean?

Learn what's behind the unique placenames in our area. • Credit: Algoma Country

Solving the Mysteries of Our Region’s Place Names

Looking at a map of Algoma Country it's hard not to wonder where some of the place names originated from. Were these old place names used by explorers to name settlements on their New World maps? Ancient gathering spots by the First Nations People? Were these places named for local or national heroes and people who had a significant impact on the area? Perhaps local folklore?

Where the Name 'Algoma' Comes From

'Algoma' is the name of many different places throughout North America. Henry Schoolcraft was said to be the man who invented the word which comes from 'Goma' an Algonquian suffix - gamaa for "lake" and the al prefix from the word Algonquian. The original text by Mr. Schoolcraft, which you can read here, leads the reader to believe that Mr. Schoolcraft invented the word based on Gitchegomee (the name for Lake Superior). Gitche signifying something of impressive magnitude and Gomee meaning a large body of water. Based on the suffix and prefix given, put together, the word would mean Sea of the Algonquians.

Other definitions of Algoma are: "snowshoe", "valley of flowers"; all originating from Indigenous languages.

Is there something behind the names of our communities? Satisfy your curiosities and read below!

Sault Ste. Marie

As one of the oldest French settlements in North America, the Ojibwe called this place "Baawitigong" (anglicized translation is Bawaating) meaning "place of the rapids". They used this area as a meeting place during whitefish season. There's some debate over what "Sault" means. Some scholars believe it's an early French word that translates to "jump", meaning waterfalls or rapids. In 1623, Étienne Brûlé, a French explorer, called this place "Sault de Gaston" in honor of Gaston, Duke of Orléans, the brother of King Louis XIII of France. In 1668, Jesuit missionaries renamed it "Sault Sainte Marie" in honor of the Virgin Mary. Sault Ste. Marie is also nicknamed 'The Soo' by the locals. This city shares its name with its twin city Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Learn more: Sault Ste. Marie Museum, Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site

ermatingerclergueThe Ermatinger-Clergue site houses 2 historic homes in the city: the Old Stone House and the Clergue Block House. (Photo credit: Algoma Country)


Dubreuilville is a young town founded in just 1961. It was named for the four Dubreuil brothers who established the lumber company in the region. Dubreuilville was later incorporated as a municipality in 1977. Nestled in the heart of the Magpie Forest, this is a true Northern Ontario French Canadian town located off of Highway 17 North.
Source: www.dubreuilville.ca


The Wawa area first appeared as Michipicoten Bay on Samuel De Champlain's map of 1632 of explored areas in the New World. The name "Wawa" comes from the Ojibwe word meaning "wild goose". The first trading post was built in 1725 by the Hudson's Bay Company. Remains of the post can still be seen today. Wawa is home to the most photographed landmark in North America: The Wawa Goose.
Source: Wawa.cc

alturcott wawa doorsThe Heritage Doors in Wawa tell stories of the local pioneers. Al Turcott was the creator of the Wawa Goose and Fort Friendship. (Photo credit: Rob Stimpson)


Hornepayne was named after British financier Robert Horne-Payne. The town was established in 1916 when the Canadian Northern Railway's transcontinental line was built through the area. A long time invalid, Mr. Horne-Payne rarely visited Canada, but his financial skills left an imprint on the landscape. He's been credited with directing $500 million of British capital to Canada from 1894-1928 through the British Empire Trust Company.
Learn more: www.hornepayne.com
Source: www.algomadistrict.ca


Chapleau is located on the Kebsquasheshing River, also known as the Chapleau River. In 1777, the Hudson's Bay Company had established the first of a series of fur-trading post in the areas. This community was named after Sir Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, the secretary of state in the Conservative government of Sir John A. Macdonald during the railway's construction in the 1880s.
Learn more: www.chapleau.ca, Chapleau Murals

Bruce Mines

Bruce Mines is located on the north Shore of Lake Huron along Highway 17. This town was named after James Bruce, the Governor General of Canada in 1846. The town of Bruce Mines is known as "Jewel of Lake Huron", and copper mining was established the same year by John Keating, Indian Agent after searching with Arthur Rankin, a land surveyor. Over the years, ownership of the community has changed but in 1903 Bruce Mines became officially the first town in Northern Ontario.
Learn more: Bruce Mines Museum, Simpson Copper Mine Shaft

The Bruce Mines Museum is home to thousands of really cool artifacts, including this old-fashioned hair curler. (Photo credit: Chris Hughes)


Hearst is not the original name of this community that developed in 1911. The original name of this city was called "Grant" Ontario which has some historical meaning to the community. The town came to be because of the construction of the National Transcontinental Railway. The town was renamed "Hearst" to honor William Howard Hearst, the Ontario Minister of Forests and Mines and later Premier of Ontario. Mr. Hearst promoted the community by developing farms in 1917. This community was incorporated in 1922.
Learn more: www.hearst.ca

Iron Bridge

Iron Bridge is located along the North Channel of Lake Huron. Iron Bridge was originally called 'Tally-Ho' because the lumberjacks would make a call and that would be the reaching post for them to meet. However, in the early 1900s, the community was changed to Iron Bridge after the bridge was built over the Mississagi River.
Learn more: Iron Bridge Historical Museum

tallyho park ironbridgeTally-Ho Park is the place where workers would gather to tally their wages at the end of the day. (Photo credit: Algoma Country)

Blind River

Blind River is situated on the North Channel of Lake Huron. The name comes from voyageurs because while they were canoeing through the river and did not have a visible path while paddling. Blind River was adopted by the settlement that grew at the mouth of the river.
Learn more: Timber Village Museum


Spanish is located at the mouth of the Spanish River which pours into the North Channel of Lake Huron. There are many different stories of why it's called, "Spanish". Below is just one of these local stories: there was a priest, "Jesuit Father" who was traveling through the community in the 1700s and encountered a Spanish-speaking woman with children. This Spanish-speaking lady was captured by local warriors in a battle of land which is now the USA and was married to a local Ojibwe chief. The family took the name "Espaniel". Espaniel is a common surname known to local Ojibwe communities. Over the century, Spanish has had many names but this one seems to stay.
Learn more: www.townofspanish.com

Echo Bay

Echo Bay also known as the Township of Macdonald, Meredith, and Aberdeen Additional originally settled by the Ojibway. The first township was named after Sir John A. Macdonald in 1863, this township became home to the village of Echo Bay. In 1950, after the Canadian government and the Ojibwe signed the Huron-Robinson Treaty, surveyors were sent into this area to examine the community. This resulted in three separate townships.
Learn more: www.echobay.ca


Located at the junction of Hwy 17 and Hwy 129 on the North Shore of Lake Huron, the Thessalon Township was established in 1887 after the Thessalon Indian Reserve had identified its boundaries. This place was originally an encampment called "Nevashewun" meaning "a point of land." It's believed that the name was corrupted when translated into French by the explorer Rene Francois de Brehan Galinee, who marked this place on his map of 1670 as "Tessalon". In 1755, cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin charted it as Pointe aux Thessalons. 1877, N. Dyment of Barrie built a sawmill there. He called the place Thessalon Mills.
Learn more: Heritage Park Museum – Little Rapids

Elliot Lake

Elliot Lake is located North of Lake Huron between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury. In 1910, Elliot Lake first appeared on a Dominion Map. "Elliot" belonged to a logging camp cook who drowned in the lake. Although there are many different stories of where Elliot Lake got its name, this community is known for rich folklore. In 2005, Elliot Lake celebrated its 50th anniversary as a city.
Learn more: Elliot Lake

miningmemorial elliotlakeThe Mining Memorial honors the hardworking miners who risked their lives every day for the community and their own families.

St. Joseph Island

St. Joseph Island is located approximately 40 km east of Sault Ste. Marie along Hwy 17. In the 1670s, a map made by French explorer Rene de Brehant de Galinee labeled St. Joseph Island as "Anipich", an Ojibwe word meaning "place of the hardwood trees". The island has also been called "Payentanassin". In the 1740s, St. Joseph Island changed to Saint Joseph by Europeans after they decided to honor the church that was being built on the island.
Learn more: www.stjoemuseum.com

stjosephisland museumFriendly museum staff love to tell the island's stories while you tour through the historic buildings and unique artifacts all donated by Island residents. (Photo credit: Chris Hughes)

As you can see there are some important, unique and historical reasons for the place names in our region.

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Sault-Ste Marie is a 7 hour drive from Toronto

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