Stony, Stoney or Ston(e)y

Stony, Stoney or Ston(e)y?

What’s in a name?

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 most of its residents as Upper Stoney Lake. The central body of water is known to most of its residents as Stony Lake. The arm stretching to the south is known to most of 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 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. At the same time, the emotions it can arouse are deep and real.

It is neither useful nor fair to label either spelling as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Both spellings have been in extensive use for many years. A close look at the historical record suggests that the ‘Stoney’ spelling predominated in the years prior to 1850 and was gradually displaced by the ’Stony’ spelling thereafter. There appear to have been upward and downward swings in the popularity of both spellings.

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 and/or historical 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.

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. 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.

Despite this, local practice after 1950 continued to favour the Stony spelling, to such an extent that by 2000, the ASLC was once again conducting all its business under the ‘Stony’ spelling. The fact that its actual name was spelled Stoney had almost dropped out of mind. The issue came back onto the members’ agenda in 2000, when it was necessary to update the Association’s by-laws. Outside the Pavilion, where the meeting was taking place, members could see the ‘Stony’ spelling on the sign welcoming people to the Association’s property and on the Juniper Island store sign. Inside, they were faced with the fact that the actual name was different. At the meeting, members reached a classic Canadian compromise, and overwhelmingly voted to approve the status quo: the formal name of the Association stays as is, but everything else stays as is, too. Since that meeting, there has been a notable resurgence in the usage of the ‘Stoney’ spelling, as well as a significant increase in the popularity of ‘Ston(e)y’.

In July 2016 the Stony Lake Heritage Foundation sponsored an event entitled “Stony vs. Stoney: Let’s Debate it.” The event was moderated by Elwood Jones of Trent Valley Archives and included presentations as well as a formal debate. In preparation for the debate, an information package for the benefit of the debaters was assembled. It explores the issues in much more depth than there is room for in this article.

If only Stephen Leacock were still alive…

Revised March 2018