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Stories related to the Sambell/s family history.


The Discovery of Sambells Lake.

As an avid family historian I always marvel at discoveries of information which sheds new light on my families heritage. The following is the story of the discovery of Sambells Lake and the adventure that followed.

Sapper Sambells – A Journey of Remembrance video produced and edited by Richard Sambells.

Videographer Richard Sambells (left) is the son of Harry (right) and Shannon Sambells of Calgary Alberta. Richard’s great-grandparents were James and Florence Sambells who immigrated into Canada in 1928 from Torpoint Cornwall England.

It was June 7th, 2006 as I approached my computer in anticipation. The previous day I had sent an email to the Ontario Ministry of Government Services inquiring about a serendipitous discovery that my son had made while searching the internet for references to our family surname. He had discovered a list of place names posted by the MGS that included Sambells Lake, located in the Kenora District of northwestern Ontario. We were both surprised and puzzled by this find.

I surmised that the government had recently released a list of new place names which they were using to identify some of the thousands of unnamed lakes in northern Ontario. Moreover, I was quite astounded that the name Sambells was being used. I had no reasons to suspect that it would ever be considered since there are not many Sambells in Ontario, and to my knowledge no one had achieved any distinction to warrant using the name. (How wrong I was.)

I opened my email and found a message from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources which read:

Dear Frank Sambells:

We are pleased to provide the following in answer to your e-mail.

  1. Sambells Lake was named in memory of World War Two casualty, Sapper Henry Sambells who died on September 22, 1944 at the age of 34. Sapper Sambells fought with the Royal Canadian Engineers of the Canadian Army. He was the son of James and Florence Sambells of Hamilton, Ontario and is buried in the Calais Canadian War Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France.

  2. Sambells Lake is located north of Red Lake, District of Kenora, and approximately five kilometres west of Nungesser Lake – at 51°28’29” – 93°49’53” (datum=NAD27).

Thank you for contacting OnTerm.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

My heart skipped a beat. Sapper Henry Sambells was my uncle! I digested the message a second time. (Sapper was the rank he held as a member of the 6th Field Coy or the Royal Canadian Engineers prior to his death three months after the D-Day landing.) Flabbergasted, I phoned my son to tell him the news. That evening I phoned my aunt Lorraine Abraham (Henry’s 91 year old sister) in St Catharines Ontario, to tell her the good news. She too was truly amazed.

I had little time to investigate this matter before departing for Calgary Alberta to visit my brother’s family. I had previously made plans to visit him along with my cousin Derrick who was visiting from Cornwall England. Both Derrick and I were avid family historians and were in the long process of combining our research efforts to write the story of the family’s immigration to Canada in 1928. It was exciting to convey the news of the discovery to everyone. Together we checked the data describing the location of the lake and used the Google map program to access the satellite image of the area. Several small lakes appeared in the image. One of which appeared in an “X” shape. We were uncertain as to which exact one bore the name Sambells. We needed to see a map which included the name Sambells Lake.

View Larger Map

The following day we all headed to the topographic map store in Calgary. The clerk showed me the Ontario map index from which I was able to tell her that I wanted a copy of the 1:250,000 topographic map of Trout Lake #52N. She said that she felt sure that they had that map in stock and took us to a series of vertical racks in the middle of the store. We fingered through the file and I was able to pull out a copy of the Trout Lake map and unfold it on the counter.

Eagerly Derrick and I leaned over the map. The community of Red Lake appeared in the bottom SW corner and I followed the road north to Nungesser Lake and then scanned the area to the west looking for the X – shaped lake which we had identified on the satellite photo the night before. “Yes” I exclaimed to Derrick, “ there it is. Look! The name Sambells is printed on the map right beside the X!” Our enthusiasm disturbed others in the store. With broad smiles we looked at each other and I exclaimed “we are going there next summer!” Joyful we purchased several maps of the Lake at different scales. That evening our dinner conversation focused on brainstorming the logistics of organizing a trip to the lake for the following summer.

For me the discovery that a lake in Ontario had been named after one of my uncles has given me new impetus to write the story of my grandparent’s arrival in Canada in 1928, and the challenges the family faced as new immigrants. My further inquiries at the OMNR revealed that Sambells Lake had actually been named back in 1959 when new mapping was being done in the region as a result of the discovery of gold. No attempt had ever been made by the government to contact family members with news of this honour.

According to the guiding principles set forth by the Geographical Names Board of Canada, my uncle’s surname was used to identify an un-named body of water because he was killed in action during WWII. He was involved with a group of four other men clearing land mines as part of the allied forces campaign after the Normandy landing in 1944. The men had finished clearing a section of highway to Bologne on Sept 24 in preparation to route the Germans from the city the following day. On the return trip to camp over the same road they hit a mine which had been missed. Five men disappeared in the explosion.


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