Stony, Stoney or Ston(e)y

What’s in a name? Stony, Stoney or Ston(e)y?

by Blair Mackenzie

From Burleigh Falls, Ontario to Young’s Point, Ontario there stretches a body of water shaped somewhat like a Y on its side. This beautiful body of water, the ‘Jewel of the Kawarthas’, is generally shown on Federal and Provincial maps as ‘Stony Lake’. Locally, however, it is a different matter. The arm extending to the east is known to its residents as Upper Stoney Lake. The central body of water is known to its residents as Stony Lake. The arm stretching to the south is known to its residents as Clear Lake.

Stony, Stoney, or as some (trying valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to escape controversy) would have it, Ston(e)y: there are surprisingly fierce local loyalties around the ‘proper’ spelling of this simple word. The controversy is not about to go away any time soon, and few would want it to. It provides too much innocent amusement.This web site neatly illustrates the conflict. On the front page of our web site, the words ‘Stony Lake’ are superimposed over a photograph of that noble steamship, the Stoney Lake, which for forty years was the flagship of the Stoney Lake Navigation Company. A photo of the ‘Stoney Lake’ graces the interior of the Pagoda at the ASLC property on Juniper Island.

It is neither useful nor fair to label either spelling as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Both spellings have been in extensive use for many years. In contrast to the spelling used by the Stoney Lake Navigation Company, you can find in a graveyard beside the main street in Lakefield, Ontario a headstone recording the death by drowning on ‘Stony Lake’ in 1882 of Ernest Stephen Bell, whose father, the Rev. C. Boles Bell, was rector of the parish at the time. This was not the sort of occasion where one lightly made spelling mistakes.

Place names in Canada are, with limited exceptions, the responsibility of the Province to determine. The results are published in official gazetteers of place names. The current official Ontario gazetteer identifies the central and easterly arms of our lake together as Stony Lake, as does the Canadian gazetteer. The arm to the south is identified as Clear Lake. (Ontario has 45 Clear Lakes, including ours, and 3 Stoney Lakes, none of which are ours.] It follows that, officially at least, there is no such entity as Upper Stoney Lake. Despite their lengthy history, ‘Upper Stoney’ and ‘Stoney’ are exclusively matters of local usage.

Following this lead, the Canadian hydrographic service, which produces waterway charts, uses ‘Stony’. Trent-Severn Waterway preferred usage is ‘Stony’, although the TSW uses ‘Stoney’ at times to meet local sensitivities. Both spellings have been used from time to time by municipal governments. There are endless examples of this. Thus a sign on Highway 28 just north of Lakefield, pointing to Peterborough County Road 6, is marked ‘Stoney Lake’. Meanwhile, a recent map of Peterborough County, drawn for the County using data provided by Sir Sandford Fleming College, references ‘Stony Lake’.

Appeals to dictionaries are of little assistance, as only a minority of place names are dictionary words. You will have great difficulty finding a dictionary that accepts ‘stoney’ as an adjective. However, your dictionary will not accept montreal, toronto or banff either.

The formal spelling as determined by the Province is one thing. How the various organizations that form part of life on the lake spell it is quite another. The USLA has gone one way; the Stony Lake Heritage Foundation and the Stony Lake Yacht Club Inc. have gone another. And we are always free as individuals to spell the name of our beloved Lake any way we please. Given the passion that this issue can stir up, this is just as well.

The ASLC has a foot in both camps. It was incorporated in 1907 as Stony Lake Cottagers’ Association, Limited. The ‘Stony’ spelling was used in the deeds under which the Association came to own the land it now owns on Juniper Island. This remained the name of the Association until 1950, when the current Association was incorporated under the name Association of Stoney Lake Cottagers Inc. as a non-share capital corporation.

The change in spelling was no slip of the pen. You can read about the great debate in From Burleigh to Boschink, by Christie Bentham and Kathy Hooke.

However, the change did not last. The overwhelming usage on the central part of the Lake follows the official line and favours the ‘Stony’ spelling, and the ASLC has reverted to this spelling for all practical purposes. The logo on the sign that welcomes people to the Association’s property, the Association’s flag, and the name on the Juniper Island store all use the spelling ‘Stony’, as do the Association’s cheques, membership forms and other documents. All of the ASLC’s business has been conducted in recent years under the spelling ‘Stony’. At the 2000 annual meeting of the Association, in the course of updating the ASLC’s by-laws, members reached a classic Canadian compromise and overwhelmingly voted to approve the status quo: the name of the Association stays as is, but everything else stays as is, too.

If only Stephen Leacock were still alive…