North Bay, not to be confused again with Thunder Bay, the former twin cities who had two perfectly good names, Fort William and Port Arthur before choosing to confuse the mandarins at Queen’s Park and anyone south of Barrie as well as world travellers and our would-be tourists.
Legend says our city obtained its name from the address on a keg of nails. Where oh where were the people with imagination when they used those nails to tack together a few houses on the shore of Lake Nipissing? Were they too busy swatting blackflies or dreaming of keeping warm in winter to take a moment to consider an exciting, if not descriptive city name for their heirs and future Bayites? Could they not have drawn upon their heritage of British, French, German, Italian homelands or borrowed words from the native peoples, some words to describe a railway town between two lakes under a hill?
Oh, Nipissing would have been a suitable city title but a small settlement on the south shore of Lake Nipissing already claimed that name.
Other settlers grabbed up the local native names - Powassan, Commanda, Restoule, Wista Wasing, Temiskaming and Temagami. Any of those would have been better than the bland nondescript generic North Bay.
Sam Champlain lent his name to many places historic and mundane, towns, lakes, bridges, and parks. Other explorers, traders, and adventurers, Radisson and Des Groseilliers - or radish and gooseberries - as we called them in grade school, might have given us a French-flavoured nom de ville, even Deux Lacs or Portage Chardonnay or Beaujolais Baie - indeed they might have chosen Brûlé or even Etienneville, but no - North Bay.
To think they might have used some classical reference or even a Greek or Roman moniker such as Polarium or Borealium.
We missed out on the grand names - Philadelphia and Connecticut - Edinburgh or Williamsburg - Minnesota or Wisconsin. Our carpenter friends could have appropriated an old European city’s name and added ‘new’ to it - New Belfast New Dusseldorf - New Cologne or New Stockholm - New Hamburg or even New Bologna.
If the early settlers were stuck for a name, and it seems that was a problem, for there are far too many Trout, Bass and Perch Lakes, they could have tried animal or mineral names like Beavertown or Moose Wallow, not going so far as the Saskatchewan folk with their Head-Knocked in Buffalo Jump or Upper Rubber Boot SK. But to think that we missed Graniteville, Laurentian and Lakeland.
Oh we have done all right over the years with our plain bland moniker North Bay. We tried enhancing it by putting up a stone archway and calling ourselves ‘Gateway to the North’,‘Shad Fly City’ and the city that is just south enough to be perfect, but I can only imagine how much greater we could have been with a more imaginative name.
Still, it is a comforting thing to tell someone that you are from North Bay. North Bay, it is only three hours due north measuring in time not distance of Toronto (formerly Fort York).
We are after all South of the 49th parallel - and no, it does not snow in July - very often.
Ah well, it is a good place to call home.