From the Editor: Just after we went live with our October 2017 issue of TI Life, I received this email.
Hi, Susan Smith
Love your book but you left my island out; it’s Ragnavok, Island purchased in 1890 from Denner. It was left out of the hydrographic chart: #14771, until this year. It is right by Atlantis and Wyanoke Islands. It has been in our family since 1889.
W. Hugh Quarrier, Commodore of CYC
Wish I could say that everything in my book The First Summer People, Thousand Islands 1650-1910, was correct, but every now and then (!) we find inaccuracies. So, I quickly wrote back with a long story: Suffice to say, I explained that I took most of the early, or first island name information, from the 1818 Chart compiled by the British Hydrographer, William FitzWilliam Owen. Owen completed the survey from 1815-1817 and the printed charts are dated 1818 under the name, Bayfield Charts, Canada. So, after apologizing, with a long explanation (too long to repeat here), I ended with my phone number.
A few minutes, later Hugh Quarrier called. Suddenly I was more than excited, for he explained that he was not so upset that I had left his island out, but more to the point that the island name has NEVER appeared on any hydrographic chart, or topographic map. The island was first inhabited… and has several substantial structures. Unlike most islands that are not named, it is not an islet or shoal.
Luckily for us, Hugh decided to fix the situation.
Ragnavok Island’s Story by W. Hugh Quarrier:
It was back at the beginning of October 2011 that I decided not to put up with the fact that our island was never named, on any chart or map of Chippewa Bay. After al,l my family, now five generations of Quarriers - lived on the island and were and are active participants in many of Chippewa Bay’s activities - yes, it was high time Ragnavok got its name written on the official Hydrographic Chart, #14771.
I filled-out a request form and sent it to the US Department of National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – with the required proposal.
Very soon after, I received an email saying they found the island, but I realized the island they found was Wyanoke, the island very close to ours, larger, and it was named on the chart.
On January 1, 2012, I contacted the New York State Committee on Geographic Names. I was able to tell the Names Board RAGNAVOK was named as “Twilight of the Gods,” by my great grandparents, who purchased the island in 1889 for $500. The name came from a book they read in the 1880s.
I also sent them a link to Hammond NY Records, which is the town that incorporates Chippewa Bay, and the tax map detailed that Ragnavok Island was register as “xy19e6m9q.”
Two weeks later, on January 16, 2012, I received an answer from the Names Board;
“Thank you very much for the clarification. So, this will acknowledge receipt of our proposal to name a feature in New York, Ragnavok Island. We shall begin processing the proposal, which will require by design, at least eight months to process. The most important policy is local use and acceptance, so we shall seek the recommendations of the county and any interested local government as well as that of the New York State Names Authority and any other interested parties.
We are not sure what transpired with the inquiry to NOAA, but we can indicate that NOAA cannot accept any name for the feature nor in any way apply the name to a chart without the approval of the Board on Geographic Names and entry into the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), the nation’s official geographic names repository should the proposed name be approved. In fact, no Federal agency may take any unilateral action, regarding a geographic name (NOAA as two members on the Board on Geographic Names).
We shall let you know the decisions of the board, thank you again for the clarification, and please let us know if you have any questions.”
Oh my, eight months! I will just see how it goes. But wait, I made a copy of two documents. The Chippewa Yacht Club Roster of 1912, showing my GG Grand Father Thompson and my Grand Father Quarrier on Ragnavok Island. Also, the picture, of Michael Ringer’s book, “For the Love of the River”, and gave them the ISBN number. The island pictured on the book is Ragnavok and the skiff is ours. And finally, I stated that the “Thousand Islands Sun” had published several articles over the years all naming Ragnavok.
The next day, on January 17, 2012, the agency acknowledged receipt of the material and that they too, had found several references to the island and that the staff would be “evaluating the proposal.”
A couple of days later, I received a phone call from NOAA saying the name was approved but it would not show up on the charts, as they only print updated charts every couple of years.
They were right, as I checked yearly, and there were no charts produced. However, now, in late fall 2017, they notified me that up-to-date charts are now available as a print-on-demand graphic. In fact, today all the hydrographic changes or corrections, including place names, are current.
The information is given to OceanGrafix, available through Captain's Nautical Supplies, Seattle, WA. Our chart is #14771. I ordered the chart online and a few days later, there it was - I had a nautical Chart with our island proudly displaying a name: Ragnavok.
So, Susan Smith if you do publish a third edition, I hope you will include our island. After all, it has a proud history and a name on a map.
Background in Island Names
In August 2013, Ross Pollack wrote several articles for TI Life about how American and Canadian Islands are named and renamed. One of his articles outlined how difficult it is to get your island name placed on a chart, and more importantly, he outlined all the necessary steps. Ross died a few years later, and I am sorry he is not alive today to hear Hugh’s story.
Here is a brief synopsis of Ross Pollack’s article:
- Official names of places and features in the United States are selected by the Board on Geographic Names, now in the US Geological Survey of the US Department of the Interior. It dates from 1890 and all federal agencies must recognize and use the official names created or accepted by the Board.
- Since detailed US topographic maps and hydrographic charts are created by federal agencies, rulings by the Board on Geographic Names will control how the Thousand Islands (and all other places, islands and landforms) are labeled on those maps and charts. As a practical matter, therefore, official decisions of the Board largely shape name usage by New York State and its citizens and visitors alike. To be sure, other informal, historical and family names may still be in wide use – but not officially.
- While the power to determine names may lie with the Federal Board, the Board takes into its decision-making process many factors, not the least of which is accepted local usage. Among the other considerations are these: postal names, for places that may provide guidance, but do not establish official island names; Census name usage may also help establish evidence of local usage, but Census names are not in themselves dispositive; official names may not use ethnic or personal slurs; etc.
- New York State does have an office, devoted to tracking place names in the state -- the New York State Committee on Geographic Names -- and its pages on the New York State Museum website make clear the Committee functions as an advisory committee to the federal Board with respect to islands and land and water features in New York: http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/services/srvnames.html.
Additional information: Hugh Quarrier provides the following links to help you find island research.
By W. Hugh Quarrier
W. Hugh Quarrier is a fifth generation Ragnavok Island resident and is presently serving as the Commodore of the Chippewa Bay Yacht Club. He and his wife Callie, worked and lived in Connecticut before retiring and moving to the River year-round. They have a winter home in Chippewa Bay, where Hugh spends time working on his passion, History.