The Alternate Universe


It is with some fascination, and mild amusement, that I drove around the Southern areas of Ontario a few weeks back.  Connie, I, and members of her family were driving along the Queen Elizabeth Way, and several other roads in and around Toronto, making our way from the east of the city to the west.  The area I was driving to was called Brantford, the birth place of the world-wide famous Wayne Gretzky.  In any case, the amusement was not gathered from the driving, which was laboured due to the incredible piling up of traffic on a mild Saturday morning, but the names of the places that I came upon during this drive.

In Primary School as long time ago, I had spent a few months reading a book about the highland clearings.  The book, The Desperate Journey, follows a small family as they are removed from their land and livelihood in Scotland, moving to Glasgow, before taking up a new life in Canada.  In that period, hundreds of families had to leave the shores of Scotland and Ireland for several reasons, be it famine or being driven out of their homes.  The end result was a large new population of ex-pat Scots, Irish, English, Dutch, German and Italians living in the North American expanses.

Hundreds of years later, and suddenly I remember these stories.  Driving along the Q.E.W. I come across the towns of Hamilton, London, Cambridge, Caledonia, Norwich, Norfolk, and Waterloo.  This has a strange effect on me – the feeling that suddenly I am in a strange version of the UK that is not the same, but not unfamiliar either.

The strangest thing that I began to realise when reading about the genesis’ of these places and their names is that whilst many are named after the places in the UK that many were from, most cannot with certainty say that’s why they were named that.  It could very well be that they were named not for the town that they came from, but they were named that because the person that owned the land came from there – a small distinction, indeed, but still worthy of consideration.

It is all to do with the order in which you are introduced to them – Hamilton, to me, will always be the town to the side of Glasgow, not far in the car, but always somewhere I passed by.  Dallas, however, will forever be the Northern sister-city of Houston and the site of the assassination of the president of the US – not the small hamlet south of Forres that is its name sake.

Names are weird things. So is going to places that you feel like you belong in.