The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 26 no 11, June 2015. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Toponymy is the science of studying and managing place names. Every public space (roads, parks, public areas, waterways, public buildings, etc.) should have a name that distinguishes it. Toponymy is the systematic way of naming these things.
Place names can serve as location codes, helping to find a place in a geographic setting. From a cultural point of view, toponymy focuses people, linking them to the history and culture of the community. As expressions of identity, place names can witness events, people, natural phenomena, industry and geographic features that feed into our collective memory. Québec takes toponymy very seriously and has an actual Commission de la Toponymie to put the final approval on names of all public entities such as roads, schools, bridges, etc.
Yet, how many of us really know the significance of the street that we live on, pass every day and raise our children on? Yes, some of them are named for great Cantley pioneers and personalities. Names like Blackburn, Prud'homme and Fleming remind us of the hard work and community building that came before us. Others are named for human or natural features - names like "Ste-élisabeth", "Source" (spring), "Traversier" (ferry) and "St-Andrew". Yet toooften, our street names come directly from the promotional agenda of the developer who, in building a subdivision, is intent on creating a "cachet" to sell homes (with no link to the community). This is where the names of French painters, planets and ski centres comes from. There are even roads in Cantley named after the children of developers.
How many of Cantley's roads are named after things of little connection to the community? And how can a name be changed? Today, the process of naming new streets still begins with the developer but involves some form of "consultation" (there is no "toponymy policy" for Cantley). There is input from the Comité de l'urbanisme (Planning Committee) and now Cantley 1889, Cantley's voice for heritage, before Council gives its approval. The name is then forwarded to the provincial Commission de la Toponymie for final approval. It is the Commission's duty to ensure that the names refl ect the "demography of Quebec". Names of people, French or English, can be used (provided they are dead). Names like "Milks", "Dean" and "Brown" are crying to have something named after them.
How a road name can be changed is not totally clear. "Ferry Road" was changed to "Chemin traversier". "Rue Principale" was changed to "Montée de la Source" to distinguish it once Cantley gained independence from Gatineau in 1989.
But it appears that things are changing. In response to our February 2015 letter, Mayor Brunette agreed to consult with Cantley 1889, Cantley's heritage group, prior to the naming of new streets. The Mayor has also asked Cantley 1889 for a list of suggested names for consideration. The following shows the seven groups that all of Cantley's road names currently fall into and the percentage that they represent:
Cantley has a long history of hard work and accomplishments. The sacrifices of the original settlers have allowed us to enjoy the community we have today. Doesn't Cantley deserve to have a "Toponymy Policy"? Shouldn't we try and increase the street names for the people or local industries that built our community? Hopefully more thought will go into the naming of roads in Cantley to allow its citizens to appreciate the significance of our history through the names of its public places. Vive la toponymie!