Some Manitoba Place Names
by Aileen Garland
Manitoba Pageant, Summer 1979, Volume 24, Number 4
This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.
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This town was the site of the first Land Office at which homesteaders in southwestern Manitoba could register their claims. It was named in 1882 by J. Cavers, the first postmaster, after Deloraine, Roxburghshire, Scotland, his former home.
The lake and later the town were named after the famous lakes in Kerry, Ireland. Thomas J. Lawlor, the first merchant in the settlement, told in Stories of Pioneer Days in Killarney, published by the Women's Institute of Killarney, how the name of the lake came to be changed from Oak Lake to Killarney. "In 1882 a conversation was carried on by three men, one of whom was the Land Guide, John Sydney O'Brien. One of the group said to O'Brien, 'I suppose you would like it to be called Killarney after the lakes in Ireland!' So Killarney it has been ever snce." Mr. Lawlor exaggerated when he said it has been known ever since as Killarney. Captain Rigby wrote in 1882 'Oak Lake, (Killarney as the Land Guide calls it).' The School was called Oak Lake until 1892.
The word is derived from the Celtic 'kil' which means church, and 'larney' which means black thorn, so it is 'the church among the black thorns'.
Dr. C. W. Gordon (Ralph Connor) wrote about Killarney Lake, 'one of the loveliest spots in Southern Manitoba'. Lady Aberdeen, who visited Manitoba in 1890 wrote, "I am afraid my smothered exclamation of dismay at the first sight of the lake, remembering our first sight of the real Killarney, was taken as disrespectful by our cicerone (T. J. Lawlor); but in truth it is prettiest thing we have seen in Manitoba". (Lady Aberdeen, Through Canada With a Kodak)
Opinions Differ About How Melita Got its Name
The first homesteaders arrived in 1879, and by 1884 they wanted a post office. They chose the name Manchester but that name had already been given to a settlement in Ontario. The authorities sent out a list of available names but none of them pleased the settlers. They decided to discuss the matter after church the following Sunday. It happened that the Bible Reading that day had been Acts, Chapters 26, 27 and 28, the account of the Apostle Paul's shipwreck upon the island of Melita, now known as Malta. All agreed the post office should be named Melita. This is the version given by Mrs. G. M. Lamont whose husband was mayor of Melita many years ago. It is also the version accepted by the Melita Historical Society.
A few years ago a travel agent from Seattle, Mrs. Melita O'Hare, when visiting Manitoba stated in a radio broadcast that Melita had been named after her mother, Melita Laurin, by her godfather and uncle, the Hon. Joseph Cauchon, fourth Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba (1877-1882). After the broadcast telephone calls and letters disputed this statement. One can easily picture a fond uncle saying to a little girl, "Look, Melita, here is a town named after you" and a family legend beginning.
A friend of mine who was born in his grandmother's home in Melita asserted that the settlement had been named after the CPR ship on which many of them came to Canada. A member of the Melita Historical Society pointed out that since Melita was named in 1884, some years before the SS Melita was built, this was impossible. We have to conclude that being born in a town does not bring accurate knowledge of its history.
Page revised: 20 July 2009