NEWS

Buckingham Palace comes calling for origins of Canada's Windsors

03/27/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 05:59 EDT
Officials from Buckingham Palace could soon be calling Canadian cities and towns named Windsor.

England’s Royal Collection Trust, which is responsible for the care of the Royal Collection and manages the public opening of the official residences of the Queen, will publish a book on the history of Windsor Castle in 2016.

Windsor Castle is the Queen's summer and weekend retreat. It is the largest and oldest continually inhabited castle in the world. It began as a Saxon village more than 1,000 years ago, and has been home to British monarchs since William the Conqueror in 1086.

"As part of research for the book, we have been looking into the history of other places across the world which share the Windsor name," Royal Collection Trust senior press officer Hannah Dolby wrote in an email to CBC.

Windsors from around the world will be featured in an introductory chapter on "the fame of Windsor," Royal Collection Trust director Jonathan Marsden wrote in a letter to the Windsor Public Library.

In Canada, there are at least four municipalities — three towns and a city — and a mountain that share the name. There is a Windsor in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. There is also Grand Falls-Windsor in Newfoundland and a Mt. Windsor in British Columbia.

Officials have already contacted several Windsor communities in North America, including Windsor, Ont.

"I understand that in 1892 there was a debate on the most appropriate name, and it would be very interesting to have firsthand evidence from that time for the choice of Windsor," Marsden wrote to the Windsor Public Library.

What's In a Name?

Tom Vajdik, a librarian at the Windsor Public Library, said he received a letter from Buckingham Palace in February asking him about how his city got its name.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the area now known as Windsor did not have an actual name. It was generally called The Ferry, Detroit Ferry, Sandwich Ferry from Detroit or L'Assomption, Vajdik said.

Only about an 800-metre span of the Detroit River separates Windsor from Detroit, Mich.

"One of the settlers was going to subdivide his lots so he could build houses," Vajdik said. "He was going to call his subdivision South Detroit. A lot of people didn't like this name, so they got together at a tavern to pick a name. The two options were Richmond and South Detroit."

There was a tie between those options and James Dougall, the namesake of one of the city's main north-south thoroughfares, suggested Windsor as a compromise.

It was different enough from either proposal to keep supporters of both ideas happy and carried a bit of a regal dignity, Vajdik said.

It remained part of the Border Cities, a group of several communities stretching along the Detroit River, until those smaller communities were amalgamated into the City of Windsor in 1935.

CBC News contacted some of the other Canadian communities that share the regal name to find out where their names came from.

Paul Beazley, the mayor of Windsor, N.S., said his community has a similar story — and claims to be the birthplace of hockey — but the community has not been contacted by Buckingham Palace.

The Nova Scotia Windsor is located in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, which was an important strategic point for both the French and British during their wars for control of North America in the 1700s.

"There's no specific pinpoint of why the town is named Windsor," he said. "We think it relates to the British fort, Fort Edward, that was established here in the early 1700s."

Communities sprung up around the safety of the fort and Beazley said the decision to call itself Windsor was directly related to historic places in Britain.

But Windsor, N.S., might be most famous for its claim as the birthplace of ice hockey, Beazley said. According to local legend, students at King's College went out to play "hurling on the long pond," inventing the game of hockey in the process 250 years ago.

Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., is the result of an amalgamation of two smaller communities.

Grand Falls was established in 1905 as the newsprint supplier to the Associated Newspapers group, which published Britain's Daily Mail and Daily Mirror newspapers.

In 1902, the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company was formed and a mill followed in 1905. With the prospects of jobs, the population grew. In 1991, the two amalgamated into Grand Falls-Windsor. 

A connection to home

That these communities would take names directly related to Britain makes sense, said Adam Pole, a lecturer in the history department at the University of Windsor. Many 19th century British immigrants to Canada came for economic reasons rather than political reasons and still kept their emotional connections to the British Empire intact, he said.

Families often immigrated a few people at a time, and settlers often left their immediate family across the ocean. Canada remained a major supporter of the British Empire right through the First World War.  

"If you think about why you would choose a particular town or city, and you're marking it out and by choosing a name that's linked with royalty and the homeland," Pole said. "You're publicly identifying your sense of place and your community with where you come from, where your traditions are."  

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