Skip to content

Elphinstone Chronicles: No elves in Elphinstone

People often wonder how the name Elphinstone came about.

People often wonder how the name Elphinstone came about. I used to think that Captain Vancouver named our mountain in his amazing survey work in the area, but his mapping was mainly confined to the waterways – they were still looking for the Northwest Passage! In 1859-60, George Henry Richards was sent to correct those earlier maps, which although amazing for the time, could not possibly have gotten everything correct. 

Richards had made a name for himself when he participated in the second attempt to locate the Franklin. Assigned to the surveying vessel H.M. Plumper, it was Captain Richards who named many of the islands and harbours around the Sunshine Coast. He chose many of the names from a famous battle in 1794 against the French. Mount Elphinstone was named after the commander of the H.M.S. Glory. 

In The Gibson’s Landing Story by Lester Peterson (1962), Richards is quoted as saying, “Mount Elphinstone, which dominates the western entrance to Howe Sound, and which acts as a significant landmark from far out across the Strait of Georgia, derives its name from that of an old Scottish family. William Elphinstone, first of the family to be raised to the peerage, was created Bishop of Ross in 1481 and Lord High Chancellor of Scotland in 1488. In 1494 he founded the University of Aberdeen and spent the final years of his life establishing that institution. At the time of Capt. Vancouver's explorations, the 11th Lord Elphinstone was First Lord of the Admiralty. The present Lord is a cousin to Queen Elizabeth." 

Perhaps this is all a little disappointing for those who believed that some J.R.R. Tolkein elvish dust must have floated over our way. Although the book by Peterson is out of print (but available at the library), the naming of Mount Elphinstone is also covered in Bright Seas, Pioneer Spirits: The Sunshine Coast by Betty Keller and Rosella Leslie (1996). A fascinating book, packed with local history, including First Nations, it is available at the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives in Lower Gibsons. 

I tried to find out what name the Squamish people had given the mountain, as the lower Sunshine Coast falls within their traditional territory, so far without success. So I throw it out to my readers in case someone can enlighten us. Contact me at: