Canada, Provinces & Territories: The naming of their capital cities

  1. Ottawa, Canada
  2. St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
  3. Halifax, Nova Scotia
  4. Fredericton, New Brunswick
  5. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
  6. Québec, Quebec
  7. Toronto, Ontario
  8. Winnipeg, Manitoba
  9. Regina, Saskatchewan
  10. Edmonton, Alberta
  11. Victoria, British Columbia
  12. Iqaluit, Nunavut
  13. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
  14. Whitehorse, Yukon

OTTAWA, CANADA

Called Bytown until 1855 after Colonel John By (1781-1836) of the Royal Engineers, to whom the British government entrusted the construction of the Rideau Canal. Derived from the Algonquin term adawe, "to trade", the name given to the tribe which controlled the trade of the river. The name was applied first to the river. The French form is Outaouais.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 194.

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ST. JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

Derived from the supposed date of discovery - on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, 1497. The name has survived through a series of translations from the Portuguese (S. Joham) to the French (b. de Saincte Jean) to St. John's.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 125.

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HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA

Founded June 21, 1749, and named for George Montagu Dunk, Earl of Halifax (1716-71), then President of the Board of Trade. Became the capital of Nova Scotia on July 14, 1749.

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Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 138.


FREDERICTON, NEW BRUNSWICK

Assigned by order-in-council, February 22, 1785 - "a town at St. Anne's Point, on the River Saint John, to be called Fredericktown after His Royal Highness Prince Frederick, Bishop of Osnaburg". The "k" and "w" were dropped shortly thereafter.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 88.

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CHARLOTTETOWN, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Listed as Charlotte Town on the Holland Survey map of 1765, the city was named for Queen Charlotte, (1744-1818), the consort of King George III. Incorporated as a town in 1855 and as a city in 1875.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, pp. 217 - 218.

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QUÉBEC, QUEBEC

Derived from the Amerindian word kebek, indicating a strait or channel that narrows. The name was applied first to the region of the modern city and the word is of undoubted Algonquin origin. Early spellings: Quebecq (Levasseur, 1601); Kébec (Lescarbot, 1609); Quebec (Champlain, 1613). Champlain wrote of the location in 1632: "It...is a strait of the river, so called by the Indians" - a reference to the Algonquin word for "narrow passage" or "strait" to indicate the narrowing of the river at Cape Diamond. The term is common to the Algonquin, Cree, and Micmac languages and signifies the same in each dialect.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, pp. 267, 225.

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TORONTO, ONTARIO

Details surrounding exact origin are uncertain. For many years it was thought to stem from a Huron word translated as "a place of meeting"; however, recent scholarship indicates that it may be of Mohawk origin. The Mohawk descriptive phrase tkaronto was used to indicate the fishing weirs located at The Narrows near present day Orillia. Literally translated as "where there are trees standing in the water", the name was noted by Champlain in 1615.

Over time it was to move 125 kilometres southward to the site of the city of Toronto (Rayburn, 1994). Listed as Tarantou (Sanson, 1656); in 1793 Governor John Graves Simcoe moved the capital from Newark (Niagara) to Toronto Bay and renamed it York. In 1834 the city was incorporated as Toronto.

Contemporary Metropolitan Toronto comprises the cities of Toronto, North York, Scarborough, York, Etobicoke and the borough of East York.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1995): personal communication, July 10, 1995.

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WINNIPEG, MANITOBA

Capital city of Manitoba, lake, and river. This name is from the Cree Winnipi and may be freely translated as "dirty water" or "murky water". The lake was designated as Sea Lake by Thompson in 1816. Metropolitan Winnipeg, an amalgamation of neighbouring municipalities, was created November 1, 1960, and reorganized as the city of Winnipeg, January 1, 1972.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, pp. 78 - 79.

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REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN

Assigned August 23, 1882, by the Governor General, the Marquess of Lorne (1845-1914), in honour of his wife's mother, Queen Victoria. Originally called Pile O'Bones.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 305.

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EDMONTON, ALBERTA

Name taken from Fort Edmonton, built in 1795 farther down the North Saskatchewan River than the present city. The fort was destroyed in 1807, but was relocated within the site of the present city limits by the Hudson's Bay Company some time before 1819. The fort is reputed to have been named by William Tomison for Edmonton, now part of metropolitan London, England, in honour of the birthplace of John Peter Pruden, a clerk of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, pp. 28 - 29.

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VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA

First known as Fort Victoria, the city, like the numerous other locations of the same name, commemorates Queen Victoria (1819-1900). The name was chosen by the Council of the Northern Department (Hudson's Bay Company) at Fort Garry, June 10, 1843.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 63.

Note: We cannot change Mr. Hamilton's text above, but Queen Victoria died in 1901, not 1900.

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IQALUIT, NUNAVUT

Located at the head of Frobisher Bay, this town (1980) was established in 1949 as Frobisher Bay, when the Hudson's Bay Company moved its post here from a site 70 km southeast. It became a municipal hamlet in 1971 and a village three years later. In December 1984 its residents voted 310 to 213 to rename the place Iqaluit, meaning "place of fish" in Inuktitut.

Source: Rayburn, Alan (1997): Dictionary of Canadian Place Names, Oxford University Press, Toronto, p. 178.

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YELLOWKNIFE, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

The community was established following the discovery of gold in 1934. The name is derived from the Athapaskan band of Amerindians, who possessed tools made from yellow copper. It is now capital of the Northwest Territories, and was incorporated as a city on January 1, 1970.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 331.

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WHITEHORSE, YUKON

The capital of Yukon since 1953. Named for the Whitehorse Rapids which are said to resemble the mane of a white horse.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 330.

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