A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but a river is a different matter. The atmosphere in the Times office has been a little heated recently. Our Production Manager has got a bee in her bonnet (she calls it an obsession) with the river that runs through North Grenville. A number of submissions to the paper in the past month have referred to this thing called “Kemptville Creek”, and she is not happy.

Cries of frustration and rage fill the office and the home as she declares in tones of indignation: “It’s the South Branch, not Kemptville Creek!” Now, I can tell that, already, readers are either cheering or swearing, possibly depending on where they live. Ever since amalgamation took place in 1998, this has been an issue that raises its head on a regular basis. What should that body of water be called?

As an historian, and someone who has spent a lot of time researching local history, I can certainly sympathise with the South Branch side of the matter. From the time that Lieutenant Gershon French first reported in his tour of the Rideau River in 1783, when he first described the large river flowing into the Rideau River, it was known as the South Branch of the Rideau River. In fact, it was, at that time, such a major and powerful waterway, that the main Rideau was called the West Branch, in contrast to the South Branch.

So fast and powerful was it that when the survey party came in 1791 to lay out Oxford-on-Rideau Township, they travelled down the river and had some trouble with rapids and found it difficult to keep their rafts afloat. All official maps of the area after that referred to it as the South Branch. The first map to show the new village of Kemptville in 1836 called it the South Branch. The same name appears in 1852. It seems that it was only after Kemptville separated from Oxford in 1857 that the name Kemptville Creek started to be used, probably by residents of Kemptville.

But the river runs right through North Grenville, not just Kemptville, and it does seem logical that the original and historical name be restored to it. Not only for historical or heritage reasons, however. The North Grenville Municipal Council has recently been considering the project that would see the river being developed as a tourist attraction, under the Terra-Marine initiative.

If you were a European visitor to the Rideau Canal system, would you be more interested in visiting the South Branch River, or Kemptville Creek? Purely on a marketing level, a creek simply does not appeal compared to a river, especially if getting there requires a special effort to leave the West Branch of the Rideau.

It may well be that the name Kemptville Creek is now considered the more official title by municipal staff. If it is, then it must have been changed through a by-law, which can easily be cancelled. Our obsessive Production Manager has been in touch with the new Mayor and Council to ask them about this, but has not received any satisfactory response as yet. I should warn them that she is not one to forget and just move on to another project. She will not let it go easily, believe me.

So what do you think, you residents of North Grenville? Should we call our local river the South Branch, or Kemptville Creek? I’m sure that older residents of the town will have a sentimental attachment to the Creek name. But the majority of our population live outside the urban area and have no such attachment to that name. The South Branch of the Rideau River has deep historical roots. It was once considered an equivalent river to the main channel of the Rideau. From an economic development and heritage point of view, the original name certainly has more attraction for visitors, as well as providing a link to the history of Eastern Ontario and the Rideau Canal, a World Heritage Site.

To be honest, I’m quite sure that boaters and tourists interested in seeing the Rideau Canal region would be put off by the idea of visiting a mere creek. What does it say? A backwater, possibly not even navigable? That is, of course, what it has become over the years: the last time it was dredged was probably back in the late nineteenth century. If we’re going to market our river as a tourist destination, part of a World heritage Site, isn’t it a good idea to give it the proper “brand”: the South Branch, not the Kemptville Creek. Let us know what you think. And it might make things a little less tense in the office!


  1. I believe it was dredged as far as Prescott St, up until 1960s. My wife was employed as a summer student in 1980 to survey whether to restart the dredging operations, but that effort was ultimately defeated due to the low overhead of the Bridge St bridge (“Clothier Bridge”).
    I am all in favor of keeping the name South Branch River. Perhaps the township can post small signposts on all roads that pass over it, starting at Hwy 43 and continuing down to “Branch Rd” (Cty Rd 18 at McRoberts Cos).

  2. I think it should be left as Kemptville Creek. It’s much too shallow at Hurd St and other spots along the way to call it a river, and impossible to travel with a boat because of that. It is by definition a creek as it is a minor tributary of a river. Classifying it as South Branch River would give the impression that it’s a large stream of water, when in reality, its rather narrow.

  3. This “Kemptville Creek” vs “South Branch of the Rideau” discussion is so Kemptvilian – there are much more impressive toponomic marvels upstream, like the way “Mud Creek” runs down to the bridge in North Augusta, and emerges as “South Kemptville Creek.” A bit north, “Muldoons Creek” runs into some marsh, and emerges as “North Kemptville Creek.” Then there’s that long south-north tributary that crosses the Merrickville Rd a bit north of Land ‘o Nod Road, and the Rocksprings Road at the dogleg, and doesn’t have a name on the topo map. As a Bishops Million the thing that infuriates me is the way Middle Creek is called “North Kemptville Creek” on the topo maps. The thing that needs to be done is to write up all the history of the names of the segments of creek, from old documents and the Geographic Names Secretariat, and then have a meeting (NGHS?) to come to a reasoned conclusion about each segment, and then petition the Secretariat to change the names. Personally, I call everything downstream of the confluence of the South Branch and Middle Creek (just south of the County Road 20 bridge) Kemptville Creek, because that’s the official name, and it flows through Kemptville. The question of the historic equality of flow in the South and West branches of the Rideau needs to be addressed not only in terms of a mysterious decline in flow in the south branch (still 24% wetlands), but also in terms of all the flow Colonel By added to the west branc, for places like Bobs Lake, to run the locks in the Canal.

  4. As a member of the North Grenville Economic Development Advisory Committee of the past council, Councillor Donovan Arnaud, Cholly Boland, Andrew Beveridge and myself worked to develop a plan for the South Branch of the Rideau River (also known as The Kemptville Creek) , The Terra Marine Walkway. This report was submitted and hopefully will be executed in the future. This plan will bring tourism to North Grenville. Through some Heritage funding Old Town Kemptville BIA hopes to begin the process in the future.

  5. Well that was interesting, both the story and the comments.
    When I moved here in 1982 someone told me that the waterway is called “Kemptville Creek”, but OFFICIALLY it is known as “The South Branch of the Rideau River”.
    I wonder who that culprit was …
    (Nope. Too long ago. No clue.)

  6. South Branch of the Rideau…….that was my answer to queries about the water’s designation from long time Kemptville Residents when we arrived in ‘84. It has a noble, natural connection to the Rideau. Especially with the heritage designation of the Rudeau, the Branch deserves the recognition given it back when first surveyed……Pat Reid


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