Toponyms, or geographical names, are used by us all every day - to describe our surroundings and to tell others where we have been or where we plan to go. When we use maps we expect the names to help us identify features of the landscape, and perhaps even to throw light on the local history of an area.
In Canada, since 1897, names on official, federal government maps have been authorized through a national committee, now known as the Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC).
A Brief History of the GNBC
The need for a Canadian names authority was recognized in the late 1800s, when resource mapping beyond the frontiers of settlement and extensive immigration made it an urgent matter to manage the country's geographical names - to standardize their spelling and their application to particular features.
The Geographic Board of Canada was set up in 1897, and was succeeded by the Canadian Board on Geographic Names in 1948. In 1961, the names authority was reorganized as the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (CPCGN). In March 2000, it became the Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC).
Soon after 1897 the provinces and territories were invited to provide advice on the use, spelling and application of names, although until 1961 decisions were ultimately made in Ottawa. At that time, the responsibility for naming was transferred to the provinces. Since 1979, the authority for naming in Indian reserves, national parks, and military reserves has been jointly held by the appropriate federal department and the province concerned. In 1984, Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories assumed responsibility for the names in their own jurisdictions.
Among today's roles of the GNBC as a national coordinating body are the development of standard policies for the treatment of names and terminology, the promotion of the use of official names, and the encouragement of the development of international standards in cooperation with the United Nations and other national authorities responsible for naming policies and practices.
The GNBC is comprised of 31 members. Its Chair is appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources Canada. Each of the provinces and territories is represented, so also are various federal departments concerned with mapping, archives, defence, translation, Indian reserves, national parks and statistics. As well, the Chairs of two advisory committees (one on toponymy policy and research, the other on automation and delineation) serve as full members of the GNBC.
Contacts for GNBC members (federal, provincial, and territorial).
The GNBC's Secretariat is provided by Natural Resources Canada. In concert with the GNBC Chairs and the representatives of the various federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions, it handles all routine toponymic matters relating to Canada, on behalf of the GNBC.
The Secretariat coordinates the information to be included in the automated and graphic name records for national use, arranges for the meetings of the GNBC and its various committees, organizes workshops and seminars, and undertakes the production of GNBC publications. It has an important role in encouraging the official use of names and in stimulating the development of standard policies. It provides a focus for contacts with other national names authorities and promotes international cooperation with the United Nations and other organizations concerned with the global standardization of names.
Contact the GNBC Secretariat at Natural Resources Canada:
Geographical Names Board of Canada Secretariat
Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation
Natural Resources Canada
560 Rochester Street, 1st Floor
Ottawa ON K1S 0E4
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