What’s in a name?

For most of the 17th and 18th century, Québec City was the capital of a vast, new French empire. At its largest – around the year 1700 – New France extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Brule River It was a virtual empire, however, as there were relatively few Frenchmen west of Montréal.

Those who did venture there were mainly fur traders and missionaries, but they left their mark on the toponymy of an enormous chunk of North America. There are lakes: Lac Courtes Oreilles, Lake Le Homme Dieu, Lake Pontchartrain. Rivers: the Des Plaines, the Cache la Poudre, the Brule. Cities: Detroit, Baton Rouge, Des Moines. And there is at least one service station.

Eleven hundred miles straight west of Québec City, you can have your oil changed at Allouez Auto Repair in Superior, Wisconsin. No French spoken here, to be sure, but you will get professional automotive care with a smile.

Claude Allouez was a Jesuit missionary. Born in southern France in the 1620s, he arrived in Québec City in the summer of 1658. By 1663, he was a person of importance in the church hierarchy, sent to Trois-Rivières as Vicar General. In 1665, he was doing missionary work at the western end of Lake Superior, hazardous duty only fifteen or so years after the martyrdom of eight of his colleagues.

The mission he established on Madeleine Island was short-lived, as were most projects of that sort. But his name lives on throughout this part of the world, a part of the world that I visit every fall: Allouez Bridge, just outside of Green Bay, Allouez Township, on Michigan’s upper peninsula, …and Allouez Auto Repair, in Superior, Wisconsin.

 Brule Info

12 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. Hello Neil,

    Thank you for this very interesting, and surprising, information. Our last courses were very interesting too especially because we’ve the impression that our teacher pratically knows tour guiding.

    Continue to have plaesure during your trip and have a nice Thanksgiving day with your family, tomorrow.

    Denis Laberge

    1. Fabienne Bouchard

      Very interesting informations. Thanks a lot!
      And Happy Thanksgiving for tomorrow. Sure you won’t eat Caramel or Popcorn, saved by president Obama.

  2. Merci Neil pour ces chaleureux commentaires. Pour l’instant, c’est du Mexique que je les lis. Je suis heureuse de faire partie de ton groupe de partage de Québec and moi. Merci et au plaisir de te revoir très bientôt.

  3. Interesting post. My grandfather had a cottage on Lake Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan, way back in the 1920’s. And if you read accounts of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, they relied on French and Metis guides nearly all the way to the Rockies. The frontier was only a frontier for the Americans. The French (I’m not sure what else to call them – they were not Quebecois at the time) were there – and still are if you look hard – long before and in numbers. The story of the Metis is largely unknown, which is a great pity.

  4. Thank you Neil for this last information….You never quite for searching something for us….Don’t you! Enjoy your time. We are having great time also with Geneviève. Hasta luego. Lucie

  5. So is this the appropriate meaning for Brule?

    bois-brûlé [ˌbwɑːbruːˈleɪ]
    (Social Science / Peoples) (sometimes capital) Canadian archaic a mixed-race person of Indian and White (usually French Canadian) ancestry; Métis Also called Brule
    [French, literally: burnt wood]

    1. Chris, I am aware of the sociological meaning of the term “bois-brulé.” However, I do not know, in the case of this river, what the namers had in mind when they first refered to it as the Bois Brulé. For all I know, they meant it literally: “burnt-wood.”

  6. Funny post!

    My sister is living in Ontario near Toronto and there is a lot of these french names around there… French canadian were everywhere in upstate New York and upper Canada. I’d love to know more about the french community in the usa..
    Keep the good work!

  7. Great article Neil! The information on the Brule River has also piqued my interest in a potential kayaking adventure with the word “wild” scenery.

  8. Your text recalls that during this time, French was the trading language with the Amerindians, also in these remote areas. Thank you for showing us the footsteps of these traders and missionaries in French appellations they left behind. These historical reminders are so touching.

    1. Bonjour Françoise,

      Je crois plutôt que ce sont les Français qui apprenaient les langues amérindiennes, ce qui leur permettait de servir de guides aux Américains, et d’interprètes aux Américains et aux Amérindiens.

  9. I recall a trip to Vermont and asking a clerk at a store how far was Montpellier (pronounced in French of course). Little did I know that the clerk could not understand what I was talking about? “You mean Mount-pee-lee-er?” I have to say that I love the evolution of these pronunciations…… another great sign of our rich history and culture. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family Neil.

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