The Adventurous History of the Mississippi – Linda’s Mailbag


“Good morning Linda. Could you please help clear up how the Mississippi lake/river got its name. Often heard it was a native name that the early settlers could not pronounce so they called it the Mississippi as its source was still unknown. Is there any truth to this? Thank you.” Steve Van Viet.

In 1820 many small settlements began to spring up along the banks of the Mississippi river up to Morphy’s Falls now Carleton Place. On several of the islands in Mississippi Lake the settlers found Algonquin aboriginals encamped who considered the Mississippi lakes northern shore their hunting ground. Did you know most forests along the shores are less than a century old? It has also been said wild mink can still be spotted along the northern shores of Mississippi Lake.

Beginning at its headwaters in Mazinaw Lake, it winds 124 miles through the historic landscape of Eastern Ontario to the Ottawa River. Pioneers and lumber barons, traders and cottagers; all have lived and died along the river’s course.

The origin of the river’s name is something of a mystery; although its current spelling may be derived from that of its much larger American cousin, it is most certainly a corruption of a different native name, as the translation ‘great water’ would not apply to a relatively minor tributary of the Ottawa, definitely the largest river in the area. Instead, the name may originate from “Mazinaa[bikinigan]-ziibi”, Algonquian for ‘[painted] image river’, referring to the pictographs found on Mazinaw Lake, though this is by no means proven.Wikipedia

At some point in history, it’s pronunciation drifted from the Algonquin to the Americanized ‘Mississippi’. Of course the “Americanized” Mississippi is itself derived from the Ojibwa (Chippewa Indian) language ‘misi-zibbi’  meaning “great river” or literally, “river of the falls.

So Steve– when I grew up in Quebec we spoke Joual. (Quebec French made up from a mixture of local English and French words). I can probably assume this is what happened in the early days of Morphy Falls. Much like speaking Joual the Aboriginal word ‘misi-zibbi’ soon became pronounced Mississippi by the local settlers.










So Steve– I also contacted the local history goddesses -From the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum-Jayne Henry and Jennifer Fenwick Irwin

Hi Linda

I have no clear answer about the origin of the name but I’ll try to offer some insight from the little research I did. Be forewarned this is mostly just my opinion. I would agree that the name Mississippi means big river and comes from the Chippewa (who are the major tribe of the Algonquin people’s) words “missi meaning “large,” and sippi meaning ‘flowing water,” which taken together literally mean “large river.” I got that quote from a website which I’m going to attach to this email for you to read too even though its talking about the American river. I THINK that the lake was probably named Mississippi first because it’s the largest body of water in the area so obviously “big water” makes sense for it. I think that the river was just given the same name because it is the only notable water way coming out of the lake.

. This is the American article on the subject of their “Big River” name.

“A picture is worth a thousand words”.  All Photos of the Canadian Mississippi River in Ontario, Canada by Linda Seccaspina

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

2 responses »

  1. I am always curious about the various First Nations tribes and how they fit together. I had thought that Algonquin was one of the major nations in Ontario. How does it align with Ojibwe, and do the which tribes are part of these groupings. How do they relate within the Anishinaabe?


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