Scottish Place Names
- Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
For comparability with other cities around the world, Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, has been defined as the built-up urban area embracing, from north to south, the following 13 municipalities: North Saanich, Sidney, Central Saanich, Saanich, Highlands, Oak Bay, Victoria, Esquimalt, View Royal, Langford, Colwood, Metchosin and Sooke. Of the names of the 134 communities and neighbourhoods that have been identified to date in Greater Victoria, 29 (21.6%) can be found as place names in Scotland or are based on Scottish family names or Scottish words. Of course, some of these names are used in other parts of the British Isles as well, but at least 15 of them (11.2%) appear to have a unique connection with Scotland, whether directly or indirectly.
Picture of Hatley Castle, Victoria via Wikimedia.
Communities and neighbourhoods with names that occur only in Scotland and not elsewhere in the British Isles, and/or are definitely, or most probably, of Scottish origin are:
- Braemar Heights - Braemar is the name of a village in both Aberdeenshire and the Shetland Islands. The BC Geographical Names website, citing a letter dated September 1975 from the Braemar Heights Waterworks District Board of Trustees, provides the following explanation of the reason for naming this Langford neighbourhood: "The name was chosen by Mr. & Mrs. Clyde Cameron of Cameron Industries Ltd, one of the developers of the subdivison. They had admired similar property owned by friends in Nova Scotia, who in turn had named [the Nova Scotia] property after their ancestral home, the Braemar district in Scotland." The Aberdeenshire village is world famous as the venue for the annual Highland Gathering. Patronised by royalty, this Gathering is always held on the first Saturday in September and features a spectacle of highland dancing, pipe bands and highland sporting competitions (tossing the caber, stone putt etc). The illustration here is of Mar Lodge Estate in Braemar, Scotland.
- Burnside, East Burnside-Gorge and West Burnside - Burnside is a popular name in Scotland (two places in Angus and one place in each of Fife, Moray, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian). It has proved to be equally popular in the former colonies.
- Craigflower - this neighbourhood no doubt derives its name from Craigflower Manor, one of Vancouver Island's first European farming communities. The element 'craig' is frequently found in Scottish place names. 'Craigflower' may have been an invention of Edinburgh-born Kenneth MacKenzie, the Hudson's Bay Company employee who oversaw the construction of the manor. One wonders whether the name was a Scottish play on 'Mayflower', the name of the ship that brought the first European settlers to New England.
- Gordon Head - The village of Gordon in the Scottish Borders is the origin of the name of this well-known Scottish clan. There are many other places throughout Scotland with Gordon as part of the name, e.g. Gordonstoun, Gordonstown and Gordonsburgh, these places being named, no doubt, for members of the Gordon family. The Gordon tartan seen most frequently is the regimental tartan of the Gordon Highlanders. The BC Geographical Names website, citing Akrigg, Helen B. and Akrigg, G.P.V, the compilers of the book "1001 British Columbia Place Names", Discovery Press, Vancouver 1969, provides the following interesting account of the origin of the name of this Saanich neighbourhood. "[named] after Hon. John Gordon, Captain of HMS America in these waters 1845-46; brother of the Foreign Secretary, the Earl of Aberdeen". BC Geographical Names also adds: "After Captain the Hon. John Gordon, commanding H.M.S. America when it was in the North Pacific in 1845-46. Disappointed with his lack of success hunting and fishing here, Gordon gave a very poor account of the country to his brother, the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, the British Foreign Secretary. There is no evidence to support the theory that Gordon's unfavourable report contributed to the British decision to let the Americans have Washington and Oregon (to which they had little real claim) rather than risk a war."
- Highlands - as is the case with most of the suburbs and neighbourhoods around the world called Highlands, there is no evidence to suggest that the name of this Greater Victoria municipality recalls the Highlands of Scotland. In a personal communication from a resident of Fairfield BC, received on 9 December 2012, it is stated that Highlands "is so named because it is a high hillside/low mountainous area standing out from the surrounding area."
- James Bay - the name of this neighbourhood has a definite link with Scotland since it was named after Sir James Douglas, the second governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, whose house was located on the south shore of the bay (BC Geographical Names, citing Akrigg, Helen B. and Akrigg, G.P.V) - see Mount Douglas below.
- Matheson Lake - the first recorded reference to the Mathesons was in the 13th century, when they held Lochalsh in Wester Ross. The name comes from two independent sources: the Gaelic Macmhathain, 'son of the bear' and a contraction of Matthewson, 'son of Matthew'.
- Milne's Landing - Black (1996), the authority on Scottish family names, says Milne is "a very common surname in Aberdeenshire. Of local origin from residence at or near a corn-mill."
- Mount Douglas - there is a Douglas in South Lanarkshire, the original territorial base of the powerful Douglas family and from which they took their name. The illustration here is the crest of the Douglas Earls of Morton. There is also a suburb of Dundee called Douglas and Angus and there are numerous other places in Scotland with Douglas as part of the name. The Saanich neighbourhood was named for the hill. The hill, in turn, honours the second governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Sir James Douglas, and is affectionately known locally as 'Mount Doug'. Sir James was born in Demerara (now part of Guyana), to a Scottish father and a Creole mother (Wikipedia article on Mount Douglas, Greater Victoria, retrieved in February 2007) - see also James Bay above.
- Mount Tolmie - Tolmie is a sept of Clan MacLeod. Black (1996) notes that "John Tolmach took part in a conflict between Macleods and Mackenzies in 1611....the Tolmies of the Hebrides are called Clann Talvaich." The following account of the origin of the name of the Saanich neighbourhood is provided in the British Columbia Geographical Names website: "Named c1845 by the Hudson's Bay Company, after Dr. William Fraser Tolmie (1812-1888), a medical officer in the service of [the Company].Born at Inverness, Scotland, 3 February 1912, and educated at Glasgow. Botany was his special and favourite study. Joined the Hudson's Bay service in 1832 in London, and arrived at Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, via Cape Horn, in the spring of 1833...... Dr. Tolmie was appointed chief factor in 1856, residing in Victoria, and was placed upon the board of management of the Hudson's Bay Company's affairs. Retired from the service in 1860, and became a member of the Legislative Assembly, which position he occupied for five years." (BC Geographical Names, citing Walbran, John T; British Columbia Coast Names, 1592-1906: their origin and history; Ottawa, 1909; republished for the Vancouver Public Library by J.J. Douglas Ltd, Vancouver, 1971).
- Otter Point (Shetland Islands). This does not guarantee, of course, that the Sooke neighbourhood of Otter Point was necessarily named for the place in Scotland.
- Selkirk - a town in the Scottish Borders - see graphic below. The neighbourhood presumably takes its name from Selkirk Water, one of the five harbours known collectively as Victoria Harbour.
- Tod Inlet - Tod features widely in place names in Scotland, northern England and south-western England. The Scottish list is quite extensive, the name occurring mainly in eastern and central Scotland, and the Borders. To take Aberdeenshire as an example, there are places called Todfold, Todhead Point, Todhills, Todholes and Todlachie. According to sources cited by Black (1996), Tod and its variant Todd, is "a nickname from the provincial name of the fox." In Scotland, Tod is first recorded as a family name around 1270. The Central Saanich neighbourhood was indeed named for a Scotsman, as explained in the BC Geographical Names website, citing Akrigg, Helen B. and Akrigg, G.P.V: "Named after John Tod (1793?-1882), chief trader for the Hudson's Bay Company. Born in Scotland, Tod joined the Hudson Bay Company in 1813 and began many years of service in isolated posts. To illustrate that isolation, Tod liked to tell how news of the Battle of Waterloo did not reach him until some three years after the famous victory - belatedly but loyally he then fired off a salute at his fort."
Some of the following localities may also prove on further investigation to have a link with Scotland. However, these names are also associated with other parts of the British Isles:
- Ardmore (Aberdeenshire, Argyll & Bute and Highland) also found in Cheshire, England and County Waterford, Ireland. Information has not been found on the origin of the name of this community near Victoria International Airport. The illustration here is of Ardmore Point in Argyll and Bute.
- Belmont Park - Places called Belmont are found in the Scottish Borders, Shetland Islands and South Ayrshire. The name occurs even more frequently in England and is also found in Ireland and Wales. Belmont was an extremely popular choice of name in all English-speaking countries during the nineteenth century. Its origin is ultimately French - 'beautiful mountain'.
- Broom Hill (Aberdeenshire, Angus, Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway and Fife). However, this name is even more commonly encountered in many parts of England, including the city of Bristol and the London borough of Bromley. Broom is also the name of a bright, yellow plant (seen here) that grows in Scotland and many other parts of Europe.
- Cook Street Village - there are places called Cookshill in Aberdeenshire, Cookston in Aberdeenshire, Angus and Fife and Cookston Farm in Angus, but Cook is far more common in English place names. Cook is a Scottish as well as an English family name; the Scottish Cooks are a sept of Clan Stewart; their ancestral lands being on the Isle of Bute. In a personal communication from a resident of Fairfield BC, received on 9 December 2012, it was stated that Cook Street (from which Cook Street Village derives its name), was named for Captain James Cook, the famous circumnavigator, who sailed up the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1778. Captain Cook was born at Marton (now a suburb of Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire) but his father was a day labourer from Ednam, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders. Although Captain Cook was an Englishman, his surname was Scottish through his father, which results in an indirectly Scottish origin of the Victoria neighbourhood's name. Richard Hough (1995), in his biography of Captain Cook, quotes a Victorian biographer as stating: "If we were to have chosen an ancestry which in those days would have given a boy the best chance of success, it would have been difficult to choose a better stock on both sides - on the one hand the Scotch patience, intelligence, and industry, and on the other hand the Yorkshire independence and self-reliance." (Hough, pp. 3-4).
- Dean Park (Fife and Renfrewshire) also two places in England. As a family name, Dean could be English, Scottish or Irish.
- Fairfield (Clackmannanshire, Shetland Islands and Stirling) but Fairfield is found even more commonly throughout England and is also found in Ireland. The Victoria neighbourhood takes its name from a property once owned by Sir James Douglas, founder of the Hudson's Bay Company Fort Victoria in the 1850s and subsequent Governor of Vancouver Island (Wikipedia article on Fairfield, Greater Victoria, retrieved in February 2009). Sir James' cultural heritage was part Scottish (see Mount Douglas above) but this does not guarantee that the name Fairfield itself was necessarily chosen to commemorate any particular place in Scotland.
- Glen Lake - there are places called Glen in Dumfries & Galloway, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands, as well as two places in Ireland. There are also hundreds of places in both Scotland and Ireland, and a few in England and Wales with Glen as an element in the name. Glen simply means 'valley' in the various Celtic languages (Irish and Scottish Gaelic 'gleann'; Welsh and Cornish 'glyn').
- Harris Green - Harris is a large island in the Outer Hebrides (see picture above), famous for its Harris tweed (twilled woollen fabric with unfinished surface). The name also occurs as an element in several English and Irish place names - there is actually a village in Norfolk, England called Harris Green, Harris being a common English surname.
- North Park (Dumfries & Galloway) also in West Yorkshire, England.
- West Bay (Argyll & Bute and Inverclyde) also in Dorset, England.
- Willis Point - the origin of this name could be either Scottish or English since its meaning is simply "Willie's son". The name was recorded in Dumfries, Scotland as early as 1214. Today, members of the Willis family are far more numerous in England and Ireland than in Scotland.
A final category of suburban and neighbourhood names comprises places that can be found in Scotland but which, in Victoria's case, definitely or most probably have no Scottish connection.
- Mill Hill (Aberdeenshire, as well as other places in Scotland spelt Millhill) but far more commonly found throughout England, including the well-known north London suburb. Judging by the following account, the name of this Colwood neighbourhood appears to have no link with Scotland: "Referring to the first sawmill in British Columbia, built by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1848, located about 500m above the present Parsons Bridge, from whence lumber was shipped to the United States beginning in 1849. In 1850 a grist mill was built below the water-powered sawmill." (BC Geographical Names, citing "Lost in the Wilderness", Victoria Colonist, 1 December 1935, reprinted in BC Historical Quarterly Vol II, 1938, pp 31-54).
- Victoria and Victoria West - there is a place called Victoria in Perth & Kinross as well as several places in England, all of which no doubt honour Queen Victoria (as does her statue in Glasgow, shown here). The City of Victoria was indeed named for Queen Victoria, albeit indirectly (through Fort Victoria, a Hudson's Bay fort that had been re-named in her honour).
Perhaps Victoria's most prominent 'Scottish' landmark is Craigdarroch Castle, the historic 4-storey mansion constructed in the 1890s by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and which is now open to the public. (The picture of it here is via Wikipedia). A second landmark is Hatley Castle and Gardens, built in the Scottish Baronial style by Robert Dunsmuir's son, James, when he became Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia in 1906. It is not clear why James Dunsmuir gave his mansion an English name in preference to a Scottish one. The countryside surrounding Greater Victoria is rich in Scottish place names. Examples include Lake Maxwell, Maxwell Point, Mount Erskine and the Athol Peninsula on Saltspring Island to the north and places to the west such as McPhail Point on Saanich Inlet, Oliphant Lake, Finlayson Arm, McKenzie Bight, Mount Finlayson, Mount McDonald and Muir Point. The first major town to the north of Greater Victoria also has a Scottish name - Duncan.
- Wikipedia - Greater Victoria, British Columbia for a list of neighbourhoods.
- BC Geographical Names
- Canada & U.S.A. Road Atlas and Event Listings, 1995 (MapArt Publishing, Oshawa) for a map of Victoria & Environs.
- Black, George F. (1996). The Surnames of Scotland. (Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh).
- Hough, Richard (1995). Captain James Cook: A Biography (Hodder and Stoughton, London).
- Scarlett, James D. (1975). The Tartans of the Scottish Clans. (Collins, Glasgow and London).
- Websites, place name gazetteers and published Ordnance Survey maps of British and Irish cities, towns, villages and counties.
© Ian Kendall
Melbourne, Australia, February 2007
Revised January 2013
If you wish to contact Ian about his research, his e-mail address is email@example.com.
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