“Are you in Alcona or Innisfil?” The voice on the telephone sounded confused. “Google says you’re somewhere north of Thunder Bay. I’m just wondering if I need to fly someone in.” I assured the caller that my home could be reached by exiting from the 400 highway. I have to admit, the confusion was my fault. I had assumed the person was local and had referred to both Innisifl and Alcona thinking I was being more specific.
Some years ago, I was curious about the origins of the name of the local neighbourhood so I had contacted the Geographical Names Board of Canada for more information but was told that there was no record about how the name originated.
The Board has a record of:
- Alcona Beach (1927), Township of Alcona (1952) and Alcona (1978) all of which appear to be associated with the settlement that is now the designated ‘primary settlement area’ for the Town of Innisfil.
- Alcona, and Alcona Bay originally located 15 km east of Sioux Lookout, was populated in the early 1900’s as a railway terminal connecting Sioux Lookout to Fort William and Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay. The names were officially registered with the Geographic Names Board in 1939. That Alcona exists now as a part of Sioux Lookout and has its own postal codes.
But the earliest use of the name, Alcona, seems to have been in Michigan where Alcona County (pop. approx. 12,000) and the town of Alcona have a long history dating to about 1840. According to historical sources in Michigan, an Indian agent, Henry Schoolcroft, is credited with inventing “native-American sounding words” from fragments of Arabic and Latin. These were used to name Michigan counties and other geographic locations. Alcona is said to mean “the excellent plain”.
The interesting aspect of these settlements is that they are all associated with railways. It’s conceivable that railway builders and workers carried the name with them from place to place, moving into Canada from northern Michigan. A local history of the Alcona settlement at Sioux Lookout is called, Tracks Beside the Water, a title that would likely be appropriate to all three Alconas.
The Innisifil Historical Society attributed the selection of the name here to John Adams whose farm was subdivided into the summer resort of Alcona Beach. The story is that he “had seen this name in print and it appealed to him”.