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History Trivia

Sarawak in Canada?

Do you know there is a town in Canada called Sarawak? It seems that Sarawak does not only exist on the island of Borneo; Sarawak is also a town in Grey County which is in the interior of the province of Ontario in Canada.

The historical origin of the name Sarawak for this town located half way round the world from Sarawak would probably knock Sarawakians off their chairs! How can Sarawak turn up all the way over there!

The story goes like this. The North American natives of Newash in Canada were hoodwinked by the British during their colonization of North America in the nineteenth century to give up their lush vast land to them. It was known as Newash Reserve then. But in 1857, the Governor-General of Canada at that time, Lord Bury whose real name was William Coutts-Keppel, changed the name of the village of the reserve to Brooke and the adjacent township to Sarawak. This was in honour of James Brooke who was granted the title Rajah of Sarawak in 1841 with sovereign rule of land ceded from the Sultan of Brunei at that time, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II. 

Coutts-Keppel’s uncle, Henry Keppel, knew Brooke very well. Keppel and Brooke, the soldier and the sailor, first met in Singapore where Keppel was posted with the Royal Navy. They clicked easily and became good friends. Keppel had guns and the HMS Dido. Brooke needed them to fight pirates off the coast of Sarawak, his newly found kingdom to ensure safety for ships to trade there. Later Brooke bought over the HMS Dido from Keppel.

Most probably Coutts-Keppel heard of Brooke from his uncle, and wanted to identify the native land of Newash under British rule with another far off native land under a white man who himself was subject to the British realm. Therefore the name Sarawak came into being for this small town in rural Ontario.

By the way, there is a place in Miri called Canada Hill.

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