A river runs through it

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Some readers may have received an email recently asking them to complete a survey on renaming the river that runs through North Grenville. The Ontario Geographic Names Board Secretariat of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is seeking input from interested residents about changing the name “Kemptville Creek” to “South Branch River”. I should come clean and admit that this initiative follows an application I made a few months ago. Or, as one correspondent put it: “are you behind this effort?”

The situation is this: the river that runs through North Grenville, and into North Augusta, was known as South Kemptville Creek from 1947 until 1978, when it was changed to Kemptville Creek. How, or why, this change took place is hard to understand, as pre-1998 amalgamation, the Town of Kemptville only included the river between Prescott Street bridge and just east of Curry Park. That is an extremely short stretch of waterway compared to its full length. Indeed, how South Kemptville Creek made any sense is impossible to understand.

The historical facts are these: when the Rideau River was being explored in 1783, it was noted that “A Considerable River Enters here from the East which leads to a Branch of the River de la Petite Nation from whence the Indians have a Communication to Oswegatchie…”. This was the first mention of the South Branch, which was distinguished from the West Branch, which we know as the Rideau River. Clearly, it was an important waterway even then.

From 1790 on, the river was referred to as the South Branch, or the South Branch of the River Rideau. When the schedule for surveys was drawn up in January, 1791: 25 January, two of the projects listed were: “…6th To Survey and lay out a Township between the South and West Branches of the River Rideau to satisfy the Officers and others of Edwardsburg, Augusta and Elizabeth town who are desirous of Settling there.

7th To Survey and lay out a Township on the West side of the River Rideau above the junction of the two Branches, to satisfy a Number of Loyalists recommended by the Board of Luneburg and impatiently waiting to begin their Settlement”.

The original surveyor of Oxford-on-Rideau described the river as follows: “The large branch of the River Rideau which runs diagonally thro the Township is called the South Branch and is navigable for canoes…”.

Maps in 1815 and 1836 named the river as the South Branch. In 1862, it was called the South Branch of the Rideau River. The current official map of the United Counties of Leeds & Grenville calls it the South Branch of the Rideau River, except, oddly, calling it Kemptville Creek where it runs through Augusta Township.

Some historical maps have been vandalised by someone crossing out the name South Branch and writing in, using a red ink ballpoint pen, Kemptville Creek. The same vandal also changed the “West Branch of the River Rideau” to the “Rideau River”.

Some residents want to retain Kemptville Creek because that was the name when they were growing up. Others want to keep Kemptville in the title because they think that would attract tourists more than South Branch would. There is a school of thought that thinks the river should have three names: Middle Branch for the section that flows through Bishop’s Mills, and Mud Creek for the headwaters of one section.

This would be like using Ottawa River for the part that flows through Ottawa, and Pembroke River, or Mattawa River for upper reaches. Whether it is called the South Branch, or the South Branch of the Rideau River, is immaterial, either would serve. I happen to think that the South Branch would be a more functional name, and would be used even if the longer form became the official title.

There is no good reason to call the river Kemptville Creek with so very little of it actually runs through Kemptville. Some say that “creek” is a more accurate description of the river. Again, that may be true these days at certain times of the year. But the river powered many mills in its time, and they were the reason we have Kemptville, Oxford Mills, Bishop’s Mills, Perkins Mills, and why so many settlers came to this part of the world to make a home. That is the true history of the river from early times. That should be the name restored to it, and it would be a far more attractive name to draw tourists and boaters using the World Heritage Site of the Rideau River. This is North Grenville and a river runs through it. That river is the South Branch.

The survey may be found at: https://www.ontario.ca/form/survey-geographic-name-questionnaire?proposed_name=The_South_Branch_River.

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