Ta Ta – we’re off on a laughing tour of Canada

"Service Canada springs to mind as a classic oxymoron, especially in the wake of extensive personnel cuts in recent years."

Waiting for the Sunday Cinema feature to start at the Royal Theatre, I was letting my mind wander. The interval before a movie is one of those pleasant pauses when, if they don’t drag on, you can clear your head while anticipating the pleasure to come.

I was summoned back to reality by an “entertainment” blurb, a distraction that, along with adverts, seem to be coming at you everywhere you go these days. If you aren’t ensconced in your own digital world, then someone wants to drag you into his or hers.

The entertainment clip featured some pop singer I had never heard of talking about his latest recording, which is hilariously called “Cicada.” While the performer thinks the name evokes pleasant memories of summer, for most of us the insect’s high-pitched hum is something they prefer to avoid – in memory or in the flesh.

Time Magazine once included the bug’s call on a list of Top 10 Most Annoying Sounds, along with nails on a chalkboard and the screech of the vuvuzela, the plastic horn that South African soccer fans blew incessantly during the last World Cup.

As the next blather piece came on the screen my mind wandered off to other inappropriate or funny names. A field day can be had, of course, with government and other committee inspired monikers. Service Canada springs to mind as a classic oxymoron, especially in the wake of extensive personnel cuts in recent years.

Then I started thinking about some of my favorite place names in Canada, starting with Dildo in Newfoundland. You would think a province that has been the butt of all those unfortunate “Newfie” jokes for so long would outlaw such place names, but I guess there is no overcoming local taste.

And who are we to make fun of other places when the heart of the Lower Columbia is dubbed Trail. Warfield and Trail residents wish they had a nickel for all the times they have had to struggle to explain to someone at the other end of the telephone line that “Trail” is a town not a street.

But at least the early burghers of the Silver City did not have a high-priced branding expert advising them when they set out to shorten the name of Trail Creek Landing. If they had, we would be living in TCL, Tracreelia or some other even more blandly and forgettably named burg.  (When you arrive in Dildo, you figure you are at the least going to feel the earth move.)

Fruitvale is a lovely sounding name, but its origins are a bit of a laugher. The flim flam men flogging lots at the turn of the last century pitched it as fruit-growers paradise, much to the chagrin of the settlers who arrived to discover the exposure and climate ruled it out as a candidate for the new Garden of Eden.

Salmo was originally known as Salmon Siding, having taken its name from the adjacent river before the names of both the watercourse and the community were inexplicably shortened.

If it hadn’t, they could have out Kimberleyed Kimberley’s Bavarian kitsch. Think of all the attention-grabbing possibilities the original name could have been put to, including salmon siding (not the colour, the fish) on every building in the commercial core.

But Salmo was forever fixed in my mind by a Globe and Mail reporter. He was on some prime ministerial candidate’s tour bus when it passed through the West Kootenay, back in the days when our riding was still in play.

Concluding that, if he hadn’t reached the end of the Earth he was close, his dispatch described Salmo as being situated “halfway between Yahk and Ymir.”

Well, we like our little piece of heaven even if it didn’t make much of an impression on him. As for heavenly places, my favourite B.C. place name is Ta Ta Creek. I can’t pass by the East Kootenay whistle stop without feeling a pinch of whimsy – appropriate for travels in the Rocky Mountain Trench – and singing that most playful of Hank William’s tunes Jambalaya (“Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh.”)

Across Canada, the place names I love include Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, south of Calgary. The World Heritage Site is rare in that the place is even more interesting than the great name.

Then there is Climax, which confuses me because I always thought the only thing that normally-unflappable Saskatchewan residents get excited about is their beloved Roughriders.

St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! in La Belle Province, Ecum Secum, Nova Scotia . . .  What’s in a name? Sometimes a crazy notion or just a good laugh.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.

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