Alexander Totten opened first general store

Simcoe County: Now and Then … and Again

By Rochelle Burns, PhD, social historian

 “Ah, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.


Ah, sorry to the Bard, but names are important to those identified with them. So important are they, that the source of a place’s name can be a hotly contested topic with researching historians and various other sleuths.


Take Penetanguishene. It’s believed the place got its name from one or another of several First Nations’ languages. Its exact meaning is, therefore, often hotly contested, depending on one’s belief of its source. Notwithstanding, it’s generally accepted to stand for “land of the white rolling sands”.


Confusion is not unusual. Even the name on everything from your license plate to your tax return — Ontario — has questions about it. There are several suggestions of Iroquois words that gave birth to the name. What’s interesting, even if they can’t pinpoint the exact root, all the words suggested mean something like ‘beautiful water’.  Obviously the Lake, which was once a sparkling jewel, then came pollution, then came super clean-ups, and is now sparkling again, influenced the name of this sparkling Province!


But, there is no doubt about the origin of the name “Tottenham’. It starts with Alexander Totten. Now that name should ring a bell.


He came to Tottenham in 1832 with his brother John and his family. While John left, Alexander chose to remain, opened the first general store, started the first post office, and was generally a man who cared about every aspect of his town.


He gave so much to Tottenham in its early days that the townsfolk held a meeting about him. They decided to honour him by naming the place after him.


The name of the place in which you reside is important. It becomes part of your personal history.


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