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BACK ROADS BILL: The story of the name of Fushimi Park

This week Bill looks at the merits of a place name

What’s behind a place name anyway?

A great deal as it turns out within this story’s connected two parts.

When looking at maps there are so many names and you wonder about the heritage background behind their titles. There are four applications of the toponym Fushimi, just west of Hearst and north of Highway 11 – Fushimi Township, Fushimi Lake Provincial Park and Fushimi Lake Road.

It is not of Cree-Ojibwa origin but Japanese. The lake is a wonderful backcountry paddling and camping destination; it has the feel of wilderness but is easily accessed especially for those who may be new to the “great outdoors.”

When you search the Canadian Geographical Names Database (CGNDB) Fushimi Lake became an official toponym on May 1, 1952. You also see this advisory: “Content advisory: The Canadian Geographical Names Database contains historical terminology that is considered racist, offensive and derogatory. Geographical naming authorities are in the process of addressing many offensive place names, but the work is still ongoing.”

Campsite Exercise

There were a number of Back Roads parks’ stories this summer. Kevin Wilson oversees three parks in Northeastern Ontario - René Brunelle, Nagagamisis and Fushimi Provincial Parks. 

It is always an opportunity when meeting a Park Superintendent who is passionate about why “parks are for people” while trying to attract patrons to visit somewhat underutilized properties, by latitude. Wilson has taken a customer-service approach to the backcountry.

He has endeavoured to attract canoeists/kayakers in particular and boaters who camp; to the interior of 13 lake campsites on Fushimi Lake.

Some sites have been there for many years and some are new. Also, there has been a concerted effort to ensure there is a picnic table, fire pit appliance, a well-signed trail and a clean privy and maintained site. And the park has delivered. Off we went (with co-conspirator, Brian Emblin from Timmins).

Back Roads Bill thought about visiting each site, erecting a tent while providing some anecdotes, with two photos that identified the approach by canoe/kayak, and the tenting location looking towards the water on each site. Sunrise/sunset attributes, size of the site and distance from the park access point were added.

A nickname for each site was created; there was no ranking assessment. It was a novel and fun exercise. Something, perhaps Ontario Parks should extend to their consumers?

Here are three examples from the thirteen offerings. Yup, went to each campsite, it took a while but here is the map with photos and a description of each of the campsites, yours to discover. Camp Site (CS) #59 - named ‘Island View’ - is 3.6 km from the park. It's on the east side of the island and slopes towards the water. It also has good elevation and a small gravel beach. There are two private campsites that are in a good location for sunset views. CS faces west. Landing by canoe is great.

CS #54 – named ‘Little Beach’- faces WSW; it is 3.0 km from the park. Watch the sunset from a small beach while camping on that site. The number of tents allowed on the site is limited to two and it is near the fire tower trail. The site includes access to a beach and rock; it has a little of everything.

CS #63 – named ‘Tequila Sunrise’ - Full sun on point in the morning. There is a rock and beach landing and the site faces N-NE on an open point with a 180-degree view. There is room for two tents and exposed bedrock for chairs. The site is protected by enveloping trees and there is a small beach for beginning swimmers. It's 1.5 km from the park.

There is so much choice based on the attributes of these sites. Emblin liked #58; Wilson was partial to #57 and #63, he likes “rocky sites,” (and when compared to sand, has merits) and Back Roads Bill was partial to #59 but most may wish to find #61.

There is so much diversity regarding These Fushimi Lake campsites are so diverse, it's hard to choose where to camp.

Fushimi Name

Fushimi Lake and Fushimi Lake Provincial Park are surrounded by place names like Carey, Stoddart, Kennedy, Banks, Holland, Ferland’s, Wolverine and Fox Lakes. 

Perhaps surprising to some, Fushimi is a Japanese name denoting the visit to Canada by Prince Fushimi (Hiroyasu), cousin of Emperor Hirohito, in 1907. He is the only representative of the Japanese State whose name was commemorated by Canadian toponymy.

He completed his graduate studies at the German Naval Academy and pursued a career in the Japanese navy. At the time of his retirement, he held the title of Admiral of the Fleet.

He was a member of the Supreme War Council from 1920 onward. As a strong supporter of the fleet faction within the navy, he pushed for the cancellation of the Washington Naval Agreement and the building of a more powerful navy.

Like all members of the Imperial family involved in the conduct of WW II, Prince Fushimi was exonerated from criminal prosecutions before the Tokyo tribunal by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur.

He made an official visit to the United Kingdom and Scotland, he notably met King Edward VII at the time. He then crossed the Atlantic on the Empress of Ireland and arrived in Quebec on June 7, 1907, he embarked on a rail tour across Canada, which included stops in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Banff, Vancouver and Victoria

Widely covered by Canadian and international newspapers, the tour constituted, for the United Kingdom, an opportunity to consolidate the Anglo-Japanese Alliance signed in 1902, while Canada saw this opportunity to strengthen its commercial relations with Japan.

The Prince was an important person and so were his cross-country stops.

The USA was snubbed. The headline and subheads within the New York Times newspaper of the day were: AMERICAN SLIGHT TO JAPAN IS SEEN; Diplomats Wonder at President's Failure to Invite Prince Fushimi- IS GOING THROUGH CANADA - Mikado's Relative, It Is Believed, Would Be Glad to Visit This Country Were He Asked.

The Naming

At the beginning of the last century, legal surveys were needed for what was called New Ontario because of the wealth of timber, minerals and settlement land.

Townships are the legal division of the surveying process.

In an academic article by Richard Leclerc, University of Montreal, ‘La commémoration toponymique de la visite du prince japonais Hiroyasu Fushimi au Canada en 1907.’ He says within the English translation, “Surveyors were hired by the Ontario government to name these territorial divisions. News of Prince Fushimi’s visit, his name was chosen to identify a new township in the District of Cochrane. An individual, rather than a carefully considered political decision helped to christen this place.”

The Prince’s visit to Toronto coincided with the surveying of what would become Fushimi Township in the spring of 1907.

Anne Cole is a, now retired, Ontario Land Surveyor (OLS) and was instrumental in securing important historic documents related to the mystery name.

Fushimi Twp. was surveyed in 1907 as part of a larger survey; the surveyor was TB Speight.

“It is an unsubdivided township which makes sense given the vastness of the territory," she said. "(There is) no need for smaller divisions in lot/concessions or sections.”

“The surveyor most definitely did NOT name the township. The surveyor received instructions from the Crown to do the survey, instructions would have included the name. It is possible to get a copy of the instructions but that takes some time.

“In my view, the 'official' naming would have been by some act of acceptance by the Crown, perhaps the acceptance and certification of the plan, but I cannot say that for sure. Though we surveyors think we are important and do have influence…the naming was a 'Crown' action.”

The survey instructions may have the definitive answer. We do know the township was surveyed “under instructions,” May 6, 1907 and the end-of-season field notes were submitted on Nov. 20, 1907. From the field notes’ pics, you can see Fushimi Township and Pewabiska (which would become Fushimi Lake) are named.

There is an interesting article by Gunter Schaarschmidt, University of Victoria, entitled Some Good Reasons for Renaming Places, and Some not so Good Ones: a Cross-Cultural Sketch - In Honour of Canada’s 150th Birthday and the Year of Reconciliation.

“…And renaming a lake in Ontario from one with an Ojibwa / Cree name, Pewabiska Lake, to Fushimi Lake [see Leclerc, 2015 - ], (sic) is further evidence that often not much thought is given to renaming processes," Schaarschmidt said. "Many of them will as a result often require subsequent renaming we have here an early case for the replacement of an indigenous name by the name of a dignitary of a foreign power — a process that, I believe, would be unthinkable in Canada today.

“When World War II was in progress the name Fushimi (also in honour of prince Hiroyasu Fushimi), a railroad stop on the CPR line east of Regina was changed, as a result of Japan being on the wrong side of the war in 1942, to Kearney.

"The other extant places named Fushimi in Ontario, i.e., the township Fushimi in Northern Ontario, Fushimi Road, and Fushimi Lake Provincial Park have never been renamed.”

This would be akin to the pressure to rename Swastika, (named after a gold mine in 1907, west of Kirkland Lake, now within the municipality) circa WW II and the renaming of Berlin to Kitchener in 1916.

Mystery Visit

The name apparently has not been forgotten by the Fushimi family.

“So it was at least five years ago in the fall, someone from the Royal Fushimi Family in Japan flew to Toronto with a German translator," Wilson said. "From Toronto they flew to Timmins, rented a car and drove to the park, they stayed at the Villa Inn in Hearst one night and were gone the next day.

"The park was closed but the gate had an open lock so they let themselves in to take a look around. The German translator talked to some of my staff, they had the lock in hand and didn’t want to get locked in the park overnight. “I tried to get information on the visit, even contacted the Villa to see if they knew who stayed there but was unsuccessful. It was a big miss on our part to find out more and have a connection with the Fushimi family that the township, lake, and park was eventually named after.”

Wilson offers an interesting Kyoto translation of the word Fushimi, a place in Japan. “Although written with different characters now, the name Fushimi (which used to be its own “town”) originally comes from fusu + mizu, meaning 'hidden water' or 'underground water'. The location was known for good spring water.”

The water of Fushimi has particularly soft characteristics, making it an essential component of the particular type of sake brewed in Fushimi. Today, Fushimi is the second greatest area of Japan in terms of sake production.

Until the beginning of the 1950s, the lake bore the name of “Pewabiska” as shown on a map of adjacent Stoddart Township. It is interesting to note the earlier value of the water when you research Cree sources of the word the name Pewabiska is Ojibwa/Cree for 'white water' or 'clear water.'

Yellowhead Institute is an Indigenous-led research and education centre based in the Faculty of Arts at Toronto Metropolitan University.

In a 2019 article, Reclaiming Indigenous Place Names, Oct. 8, 2019, by Christina Gray and Daniel Rück.

“Indigenous peoples are working to restore their place names and revitalize their languages after colonial policies and law sought to eradicate them," wrote Gray and Rück. "During the last several centuries, huge swaths of Indigenous lands were remapped and renamed by colonial powers, usually by white men. More often than not, places were named according to the whims of surveyors, cartographers, and politicians of the day. This is in stark contrast to the deeply meaningful, personal, and often spiritual naming practices of Indigenous peoples.”

The park was a public access point first, then set aside as a park reserve in 1967, development started in ‘68, opened for use in ‘72 and was officially established as a park in ’79.

It was not until December 31, 1962, that Ontario formalized the name of this township. The Ontario Geographical Names Board approved the Fushimi Lake Provincial Park name on December 31, 1990.

Fushimi/ Pewabiska: it is both a storyline and a sense of place, naturally. The back roads lead you to many places and it gets one to thinking.

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Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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