Where in the world is Parkinson?
By Roger Buxton
We all know that James Parkinson, the English apothecary and surgeon, published An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817 in which he identified the characteristics of paralysis agitans. So where in the world is the recognition for this man, some permanent tribute that we can visit for his accomplishments which were not only in the medical domain but also in geology, palaeontology, and social reform?
A plaque marks the location of the house at 1 Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, in which he was born, and the nursing staff at St. Leonard’s Hospital erected a memorial in his honour in 1955 in St. Leonard’s Church in which he was baptized, married, and buried. Several species of creatures which he found in fossils are named after him, and more recently a tulip variety was named after him.
But what of geographic features or places named Parkinson, and are any of those named after James? Our quest, then, as a tourist, is to find them and to find out.
An assortment of streets, avenues, lanes, drives, closes, and approaches in the United Kingdom are named Parkinson, but the origins of the names haven’t been investigated. But none are particularly grand, and there’s not even a pub!
In Canada, British Columbia takes first prize for the region with the most features named Parkinson, and Kelowna and nearby is the community with the most items: Parkinson Drive, Parkinson Way, Parkinson Lane, Parkinson Road, and Parkinson Recreation Park. Clearly, you had better know exactly which one you want if you want to reach your destination! Another Parkinson Road is in West Kelowna. Go 70 km north and you will find Parkinson Lake and yet another Parkinson Road.
The most scenic route is likely on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Take Parkinson Road (again) out of Port Renfrew to Botany Bay in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. Then hike 10 kilometres along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail to Parkinson Creek, and thence along the Parkinson Creek Trailhead Access Road to rejoin the West Coast Road.
However, most of these features do not refer to James.
The largest physical feature named Parkinson in Canada is the Township of Parkinson in Ontario, with the settlement of the same name. It is located about 15 kilometres north of Iron Bridge, which is on Highway 17 between Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie. The land was surveyed in 1879 and the town was probably named then, but unfortunately the origin of the name hasn’t been kept. It’s still a mostly agricultural community with a population of about 100. The only visual means to know you are there are the township markers on the side of the roads: otherwise, you have to ask the cows, but they don’t say much.
Parkinson Island and Parkinson Pothole are also located in Ontario, but neither are named after James. Likewise, neither the Parkinson Cemetery near Guelph nor the Parkinson Centennial Public School in Orangeville are named after James. Seven towns in Ontario contain roads named Parkinson. Parky’s Store, however appealing, doesn’t count.
The picture is pretty sparse elsewhere: Parc Parkinson in Québec, a residential court in New Brunswick, a boulevard in Florida, and some places in Australia.
So far, then, I have not found any feature in the world named in honour of James Parkinson. Therefore, I offer a beer to the first person who can find one and provides the provenance! Better still, how about a case of beer for the first person who succeeds in officially naming a new one in Canada? Don’t settle for a measly urban road or a paltry puddle, but paddle an expansive unnamed lake or put your foot atop a substantial unnamed mountain – after all, there are plenty of both – one big enough to be worthy of the great man, plant your flag, and declare it James Parkinson whatnot, and file all the paperwork to make it official and let the world know. Let the race begin! Better hurry: you want to do it before medical research makes Parkinson’s a footnote in history.
Note: Roger Buxton is the spouse of Judy Hazlett, who has been living with Parkinson’s for more than 30 years. His career has covered technical and management positions in the aerospace and environmental industries. A full version of this article, complete with references and photographs, appears in the Creative Expressions section on Parkinson Society Canada’s website.