Rice Lake

Rice Lake

In my post on Chaudière Falls, I mentioned that there are at least three names for this important “landmark”: the French term, used both in English and in French (Chaudière Falls), the Mohawk name (Kana:tso), and the Algonquin term (Akikpautik). A single place having more than one name is relatively common, even if one name is more commonly utilized than another. This blog post will give another, lesser-known example.

The name Rice Lake is a reference to the abundance of wild rice that has, historically grown there. According to James Whetung from Curve Lake First Nation, this lake was considered the “rice bowl” of Canada, and yielded more wild rice than the rest of the country’s lakes combined (p.c., 2017).

Wild rice, called minoomin in Anishinaabemowin is a staple of the traditional Anishinaabek diet, and is also used in traditional ceremonies (Caleb Musgrave, Hiawatha First Nation, p.c., 2018). So it’s no surprise that the communities surrounding Rice Lake and in the vicinity are Michisaagii Anishinaabeg (Mississauga), and include Alderville First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and the Missisaugas of Scugog Island.

The Mississaugas, and the Chippewas located further north, signed a number of Treaties that would collectively become the Williams Treaties in 1923 (Surtees, 1986). The Rice Lake Treaty, (also known as Treaty 20, or land surrender M), was signed in 1818 at Smith’s Creek, Ontario, today known as Port Hope (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2018). The text of this treaty can be found here:

https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1370372152585/1370372222012 .

A map of the Williams Treaty territories can be found here:


In short, there is a lot of documentation demonstrating that Rice Lake is Anishinaabeg territory—including the name Rice Lake.

So imagine my surprise at finding a map which shows something entirely different.

Click here to link to the original map.

This is a screenshot of a 1742 French map by Guillaume de l’Isle (available through the David Rumsey website), and, while Rice Lake is definitely on this map, just to the north of Gandaraʃke (which is the modern day Ganaraska River), the name here is given as Lac Quentio. Quentio shows up on a lot of maps also spelled as Kentsio and Quentsio (but more on that below!). Taking French pronunciation into account, we get something very close to a Mohawk word

Kénts(on)            +            io

Fish                                    good

(Maracle, 2001)

If we further take into account that the suffix –io is always incorporated (Ibid), we actually do get a complete Mohawk word, “good fish” or “good fishing”. So there is a Mohawk name for Rice Lake, and it indicates that the fishing, or the fish, happens to be quite good there.

This actually makes perfect sense given that wild rice increases water quality and promotes biodiversity (Native Rice Coalition, 2018).

(Note: It is possible that Kentsio was actually the name of a town located somewhere on the waterways between Cadaraqui, modern day Kingston, and Gandaraʃke. However, that location on de l’Isle’s map, above, is represented by the name Ganneioué and so far I have never seen it to be the case that Kentsio represents anything other than a lake. If Kentsio was originally the name of a town, this would be a case of what George Stewart calls “Associative Naming”, in other words, that the lake took its name from the town (Stewart, 1975)).

But, wait, how did a Mohawk name get into Mississauga territory?

Well, it’s a story that actually starts a little further east, around the Bay of Quinte.

In Ontario, the name Quinte is associated with the Bay of Quinte, a zed-shaped bay on the northern shore of Lake Ontario not far from Kingston. An isthmus surrounds the Bay of Quinte connecting to the mainland at the modern-day village of Carrying Place. Mohawk oral traditions name this area, specifically the modern-day reserve of Tyendinaga, as the birthplace of the Peacemaker, a man said to be of Wendat origin, responsible for bringing peace and unification to the Five Nations (though Tyendinaga itself is named for Thyendinaga Joseph Brant, a Mohawk military leader (Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, 2018)). So this area has an established Iroquoian oral tradition that dates back at least to the 15th century (Snow, 2008).

This oral history also accounts for a third historical name thrown into the mix, Kente or Kinte, which was a Mohawk village probably located near the modern-day town of Carrying Place, and this is where things start to get a little hairy. The Mohawk name for the community of Tyendinaga (both historical and modern-day) is Kenhte:ke, meaning “at the meadows” (Maracle, 2001), and Kente is likely a variation of kenhte:ke.

Ken            h            te:            ke

So what about the qu in Quentio? Remember that Quentio is also spelled Kentsio and Quentsio, variations which appear from 1688 until around 1800. This makes sense if we consider that the cluster qu sounds like k in French. Although Quentiio and Kente are spelled differently, they both start with the same sound, k. The differences between qu and k can be attributed to what linguists call “non-standard orthography” which just means that everyone was using their own individual spelling rules.

What we can conclude from this state of affairs is that the qu in Quinte likely comes from Quentio, which is really just a different spelling of Kente, and Kente is really a variation of kenhte:ke. Three names, all of which start with the k sound, plus non-standard orthography and you end up with the modern-day Quinte and Kenhte:ke.

But what about Quentsio, Rice Lake itself? What is the physical connection between Quinte and Quintsio? And why isn’t it called Kentsio today?

The answer to the first question is: the waterways. The Trent River (the namesake for the Trent-Severn Waterway as well as the city of Trenton), is a direct connection from the Bay of Quinte to Rice Lake with one portage—at Carrying Place. Historical maps also show very clearly that it is possible to get from Kente (Quinte) to Quentio (Rice Lake) by water.

The answer to the second question brings us back to the Michisaagii. While the Michisaagii tended to stay north of the lakeshore, they were still around the area. The Haudenosaunee were still around, too, but, for numerous reasons, tended to stay further south after around 1700, when many of these names disappear from the maps. Following the American Revolutionary War, some of the Mohawk followed Joseph Brant to Canada. On May 22, 1784, the Mohawk were met at Tyendinaga by the Mississauga, an event which is commemorated every year on that date in Tyendinaga (Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte 2016). By 1800, the modern place names of Quinte and Rice Lake had been established and in 1818, it was the Mississauga that signed the Treaty 20, and whose cultural practices had influenced the English enough to leave the name Rice Lake.

So Rice Lake is the story of one lake with at least two separate names. Each name reflects the importance of the lake to the people who named it. For the Mohawk, it was quentio, good fishing. For the Anishinaabeg, it is minoomin, wild rice.



De l’Isle, G. 1742. [map] Louisiane, Cour du Mississippi. Accessed at http://www.oldmapsonline.org/map/rumsey/4638.095

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. 2018. “Treaty Texts – Upper Canada Land Surrenders.” Accessed at https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1370372152585/1370372222012#ucls18

Maracle, D. (2001). Mohawk Language Thematic Dictionary. London, ON: University of Western Ontario.

Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, 2018. “Culture.” Accessed at http://www.mbq-tmt.org/community/culture

Native Rice Coalition, 2018. “Ecological Importance – Native Wild Rice”. Accessed at http://www.nativewildricecoalition.com/ecological-importance.html.

Snow, D. 2008. The Iroquois. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Surtees, R. J. 1986. “Treaty Research Report, The Williams Treaties (1923)”. Accessed at https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100029000/1100100029002




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