A used Vancouver 2010 Torch
Photo by s.yume (flickr)

Today is the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, and to honour the occasion I’m digging into the name Vancouver.

The we know that city of Vancouver was named after George Vancouver, the British explorer who discovered and charted it, as well as most of the North American northwest coast, but what kind of a name is Vancouver? Let’s look deeper.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Wikipedia, and the name Vancouver is of Dutch origin. You see, there’s a town called Coevorden in the Netherlands, and in 1315 a man named Reinolt was made Viscount of the city, so his name became Reinolt van Coeverden, (apparently the city name was spelled Coeverden back then). Reinolt had children, and they had children, and so on, until eventually one of his descendants, a guy named Reint Wolter van Coeverden, married an Englishwoman named Johanna Lillingston. Then, it appears, that Reint and Johanna’s son went over to England, where he continued the family line, although the family name became anglicized to “Vancouver” It appears that the son’s son, (Johanna and Reint’s grandson), may be George Vancouver, or there may be a few extra generations in there, we’re not 100% sure. So, that’s how George Vancouver got his name, but what does Coevorden mean?

It turns out that Coevorden means “cow ford” or a place where cows cross the river. Pretty simple! Interestingly enough, some other van Coeverdens that moved to England may have changed their name to Oxford, (where oxes cross the river). I’ll have to look in detail at that another time.

There is another theory, at least according to Wikipedia, that Vancouver may be an anglicized version of “van Couwen” but that’s the only reference that I’ve found, and the van Coeverden story seems to be the more accepted story. Let the games begin!

Westward Ho!

A photo of a mural in Westward Ho!
Photo by Chris Dymond, (flickr)

Westward Ho! is a village on the sea in Devon, England. Like Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! the exclamation point is, in fact, part of the town’s name.

Westward Ho! was named after the novel Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley. The village was developed starting about ten years after the 1855 publication of the novel.

Since it’s a seaside town, there are some great beaches in Westward Ho! and its neighbouring towns, and, as a bit of extra trivia, Rudyard Kipling lived there for a while

Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!

Some people posing with a Welcome to Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! sign.
Photo by Robert Y (flickr)

St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Québec has one of the oddest names that I’ve seen. Not because it sounds like something else, but because it’s just so fun to say and because it’s the only town in the world with two exclamation points in its name!!

So, how does a town come to be called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!? According to a “haha” is an old French word for something blocking your way. In this case probably part of lake Témiscouata that is not passable by canoe, forcing early travellers to take an 80 kilometer portage around the haha. As for the St-Louis part, Québec’s strong catholic roots mean that the names of most cities in the province have a saint involved, and I believe that this is just another one of those, although the St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! Wikipedia entry has a few suggestions about the Louis honoured in the town’s name.

Hell's Gate

The water at Hell's Gate, BC
The rapids from the airtram. Photo by Gregory Melle, (flickr)

Hell’s Gate is a narrowing in the Fraser River, in British Columbia. The Fraser is a very large river, and by the time it reaches Hell’s Gate, a few hundred kilometers from its mouth, there is a lot of water flowing through the river, 200 million gallons per minute at high water. With all of this water flowing through the river, the Fraser Canyon narrows so that the river is only 110 feet, (35 meters), wide, creating an incredible whitewater attraction that is nearly impassable by water.

It was first discovered by Simon Fraser who wrote in his journal “surely this is the gate of hell” hence the name Hell’s Gate. Today you can ride an airtram out over Hell’s Gate and see the power of the water for yourself.

Punkin Center

The roadsign indicating Punkin Center, Colorado

Having a little déja vu? Nope. Today I’m talking about Punkin Center, Colorado, not Pumpkin Center, OK, or in any of the other 14 states where there’s a Pumpkin Center.

The name of Punkin Center, CO, did in fact come from the word Pumpkin, but Mildred Stevens said Punkin, so that’s what the town’s called. You see, around the year 1930, Mildred’s dad, Sears M. Stevens, built a store and filling station at the crossroads of what is now Highway 71 and Highway 94 in Lincoln County, Colorado. The new store was painted bright orange, and little Mildred said “It looks just like a big punkin!” The store was advertised as the Orange Front Filling Station but the Stevens family referred to it as the “Punkin Center” and the name stuck.

There is also a Punkin Center in Arizona but I haven’t been able to find much about it. As always, feel free to get in touch if you have any information.

Pumpkin Center

A sign for Pumpkin Center, CA
The exit sign on the I-5 for Pumpkin Center, California, (Photo by Raymond Yu)

So, I don’t actually have a story to about why Pumpkin Center is called Pumpkin Center, but I do have some interesting, random, Pumpkin Center facts.

I was looking for information on Pumpkin Center, MO, (where Kay Barnes‘ mother was born), to continue the Missouri theme, and found that since the highway was put in there isn’t much left of that town, except for maybe a couple of buildings and a photo by the road.

However, while looking for Pumpkin Center information, I discovered that there are no less than 23 towns called Pumpkin Center in the USA. There are Pumpkin Centers in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia. Some states, such as Oklahoma, have several towns called Pumpkin Center. Also, in Colorado there’s a town called Punkin Center, Population 9.

So, if anyone knows why there are so many places called Pumpkin Center, or has a story about why any of the Pumpkin Centers is called Pumpkin Center, I would love to hear them.

Black Jack

Christ the King Church. Photo by Toby Weiss (flickr)

Black Jack, MO, is not not named after the card game. In the 1840s there was a cluster of three Black Jack oak trees at the intersection of Parker and Old Halls Ferry Roads, which was about 12 miles from the St. Louis County Courthouse. These three trees were not little scrubby trees like Black Jack Oaks usually are, but were tall like a normal oak tree and cast a shadow that provided some real shelter.

The shelter provided by the three Black Jack Oaks, along with their location, made the intersection of Parker & Old Halls Ferry a natural stopping place for people going to and from the courthouse, and for farmers hauling their goods to market in St. Louis. In fact, farmers would bring their goods there, leave them overnight, (or at least stop for the night), then complete the journey the next day.

The first building in Black Jack was a home built by Thomas Fletcher not too far from the trees, and in 1865 the Post Office was opened, with the name Black Jack. A blacksmith was opened, tobacco barns were built, and a community sprang up. By 1877 there were 300 people there living there. Fast forward to 1970 and the town was incorporated with a mayor and 8 city councillors, and in 2000 there were 6,792 people living in Black Jack.


Tightwad, Missouri city limit sign.
Photo by MrChaf (flickr)

I posted about a few places in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago and it looks like this week might be turning into Missouri week.

Today’s name: Tightwad, MO.

So, how does a town get to be called Tightwad? Well, the story is that a postman was making his deliveries and saw a watermelon that he wanted. Instead of carrying it around all day he convinced the grocer to set the watermelon aside until the end of the day. Well, when that postman got back to the grocer’s there was no watermelon. The grocer had sold the melon to someone who agreed to pay 50 cents more than the postman. What a tightwad! (the postman’s word, not mine). And the name stuck.

Today, there are 63 people in Tightwad, Missouri, or at least that’s what the sign says at the city limits. There is also a bank called, of course, the Tightwad Bank. It’s a real, FDIC-insured bank, and if you want to open an account, the Tightwad Bank website has all of the info you need. If, instead, you want a funny shirt, it looks like you can buy one on CafePress, (that’s not my store, I don’t have one – yet).


Photo by Corey Taratuta

Peculiar, MO, was named in 1868 by, of all people, the Postmaster General.

When the post office was being established, the people who lived in the area chose three possible names and sent them to the post office, but all three of them were already in use. Frustrated, they wrote to the Postmaster General and in the letter wrote “We don’t care what name you give us, so long as it is sort of peculiar.” Well, the Postmaster general wrote back “My conclusion is that in all the land it would be difficult to imagine a more distinctive, a more peculiar name than Peculiar.” so Peculiar, Missouri, it was, (the full story from the City of Peculiar.

Of note, Peculiar is the first city that I’ve found to have an official Facebook page.

Medicine Hat

Photo by ffunyman (flickr)

Finding out the origins of the name Moose Jaw yesterday I started to wonder about the other prairie city with a funny name, Medicine Hat, Alberta so I looked it up.

The name Medicine Hat is an English translation of the Blackfoot word “Saamis.” A saamis is the headdress worn by medicine men, and therefore is a “Medicine Hat.” According to Wikipedia, there are “several” legends associated with Medicine Hat.

One story tells of in incredibly tough winter for the Blackfoot people. The elders chose a young man to try to save his nation, and he set off with his wife and dog to the “breathing hole,” a hole in the ice of the South Saskatchewan River located in modern-day Medicine Hat. The Blackfoot believed that this is where the spirits came to breathe. After they arrived the man and his wife summoned the spirits and a giant serpent came from the water. The serpent said that if the young man sacrificed his wife, he would receive a saamis, which would give him special powers and make him a great hunter. The man tried to sacrifice his dog instead, but the serpent figured out what was going on and required the wife, so, the man threw his wife into the breathing hole and the serpent was satisfied. The serpent told the man to spend the night on a nearby island and in the morning he would find his medicine hat at the base of the nearby cliffs. He did, and with his newfound hunting skills and magical powers was able to keep his people alive through the winter and became a great medicine man.

Another story simply tells of a battle between the Blackfoot and the Cree, and during a retreat a medicine man lost his headdress in the South Saskatchewan River.

So, what is there in Medicine Hat? I’ve eaten at the Greyhound station, but it’s probably best known for having the world’s largest teepee, visible at the side of the Trans-Canada highway as you go through town.