"Local names recall big mistakes of history"

The Tri-City News - 1999 July 18

© Brenda Guiled

When I hear a place name, I often ask, "So who was Mr. So-and-so?" Find out, and you’ll get a story every time. Find out the meaning of several names, and you’ll start seeing how our world hooks together.

We’ve got a lovely trilogy of local names that remind us of some of the greater accomplishments and miscalculations of western history. These places are our playgrounds, too, especially in summer, so this is the season to visit them and consider what their names mean.

So who was Mr. Pitt anyway, for whom Pitt Lake, River, and Meadows are named? William Pitt the Younger, of course, who became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783, at the age of 24. The American colonies were just lost, in fact as well as on paper, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. His father, William Pitt the Elder, had been PM too. He was the beloved "Great Commoner" who helped lose New England, accepted the title of Lord Chatham (some commoner), and died of syphilis. Young Pitt was greeted as "not just a chip off the old block, but the old block himself," in the words of Edmund Burke.

Years after Pitt Jr. died, heartbroken over Napolean’s victories, a fan of his gave us Pitt’s River. James McMillan, founder of Fort Langley, penned it in his journal of 1827 and it stuck.

So who was Mr. Burke anyway, for whom Burke Mountain is named? Edmund Burke was a gift-of-the-gab Irishman who surfaced in the Great Commoner’s era. He served as MP in London for decades, and when he rose to speak, the world listened. We still quote him with such gems as "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little."

Burke’s fan here was Captain Richards of the HMS Plumper [<italics], who named Burke Mountain while surveying Burrard Inlet in 1860.

Richards also gave us Addington Slough next to Pitt Lake. Henry Addington served in Pitt the Younger’s government until they parted ways over how to treat Catholics. Mr. Addington became Prime Minister for 3 harsh years, inciting Catholic fury, hanging Luddites, and selling Louisiana to the US for a song.

We haven’t quite got over yet the great and goofy things these three men did. Reminders of the long ago and far away are as close as a Pitt paddle, Addington stroll, or Burke climb.