Island historian sleuths out ‘Boozeneck’ origins

Island historian Bill Caesar brandishes the Polish shepherd’s axe he found in Honora Bay and refurbished. photo by Alicia McCutcheon

Bill Caesar discovers Polish immigrant ‘Buznik’ died in Little Current in 1875

LITTLE CURRENT – The case of the misspelled Little Current street sign may have just taken another turn.

As was reported last week, the Manitoulin detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) approached Northeast Town council about the possibility of changing the name of the Boozeneck Road as they had concerns with their under-construction detachment being on a street with such a name. Some of council recalled that this topic had appeared once before and so deferred the motion to change the name until more research could be done. At a meeting later the same week, council unanimously agreed to change the street’s spelling to ‘Boosneck Road.’

The Expositor could give some context to the street name from past editions of this newspaper and the former history column ‘Now and Then’ by the late historian Allan Dryburgh, which pointed to a family name of Boosneck who had ties to the area of the former Howland Township where the Boozeneck Road is today.

Historian Bill Caesar contacted The Expositor, having done his own research on the street name after being contacted by the Northeast Town CAO. He discovered that a man of Polish descent, Neil Buznik, passed away in Little Current on March 17, 1875. ‘Boozeneck,’ Mr. Caesar guesses, would have been a phonetic spelling of the Polish surname. 

Poland at that time, Mr. Caesar noted, was fraught with issues. In the east, Russia was expanding into Poland and sending Poles into Serbia in mass deportations in an attempt to eradicate the people. In the west, Germany was also annexing the country. Racism was rife with the waves of Polish immigrants, who were referred to as Polacks and seen as drunkards and thieves, Mr. Caesar added.

Mr. Caesar even noted that signs in downtown Little Current storefronts around that time reassured these newcomers by proclaiming ‘we serve foreigners here.’

“I imagine they came here penniless and not being able to speak any English,” Mr. Caesar continued, sharing his thoughts on the Buznik family. “Not being able to afford to buy land in town, they would have squatted just outside of town limits and built a shanty, with no running water and no heat.”

The historian said he doubted the Buzniks would have been particularly welcomed here given the social climate of the time. 

In reference to Mr. Dryburgh’s recollection of Mrs. Boosneck, Mr. Caesar said he believed this to be Mr. Buznik’s wife who must have continued to live in their log shanty in the Boozeneck Road vicinity for many years following his death in 1875. Mr. Caesar also discovered that the name ‘Buznik’ roughly translates into English as “give us a kiss.”

“This little road is the only legacy of this poor couple,” he said. “Perhaps, 140 years later, they would be so happy to know that their legacy lives on.”

“(Mr. Buznik’s) passing coincides with the time that George Aubrey and his apprentice T.J. Patten were surveying the Little Current area and assigning names to the streets,” Mr. Caesar continued. “Perhaps they had run out of names of British admirals and generals and decided to give this poor fellow an Island legacy—a little road.”

When asked about the name change (to Boosneck Road) Mr. Caesar responded, “Why bother? Why take away a little bit of fun?”