Provinces and Territories - The origins of their names

  1. Canada
  2. Newfoundland and Labrador
  3. Nova Scotia
  4. New Brunswick
  5. Prince Edward Island
  6. Quebec
  7. Ontario
  8. Manitoba
  9. Saskatchewan
  10. Alberta
  11. British Columbia
  12. Nunavut
  13. Northwest Territories
  14. Yukon

CANADA

Although time has indelibly imprinted "Canada" on the map of the northern half of the continent of North America, numerous other names were suggested for the proposed confederation in 1867. Among these were: Albertsland, Albionora, Borealia, Britannia, Cabotia, Colonia, Efisga (a combination of the first letters of England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Aboriginal lands), Hochelaga, Norland, Superior, Transatlantia, Tuponia (an acrostic for the United Provinces of North America), and Victorialand. The debate was placed in perspective by Thomas D'Arcy McGee, who declared (February 9, 1865), "I read in one newspaper not less than a dozen attempts to derive a new name. One individual chooses Tuponia and another Hochelaga as a suitable name for the new nationality. Now I ask any honourable member of this House how he would feel if he woke up some fine morning and found himself instead of a Canadian, a Tuponian or a Hochelagander." Fortunately for posterity, McGee's wit and reasoning, along with common sense, prevailed, and on July 1, 1867, "the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick" became "one Dominion under the name of Canada".

While the Dictionary of Canadianisms lists ten possible explanations for the word (ranging from Spanish Acan Nada to a form of Canara or Canata, a place name in southern India), the generally accepted origin may be traced to the writings of Jacques Cartier in 1536. While sailing up the St. Lawrence River, Cartier noticed that the Indians referred to their settlements as kanata, which, from its repetition, the French took to be the name of the entire country. Such it was destined to become in 1867.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 21.

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NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

Although Newfoundland is one of the oldest place names on the eastern seaboard, its evolution may be easily followed. It was the "new founde isle" of John Cabot who sailed westward from Bristol in 1497; although Norsemen, Basques, and Bretons (among others) had undoubtedly preceded him. By 1502 "New found launde" was being used in official English documents with the French version "Terre Neuve" appearing as early as 1510 - a clear indication of the acceptance of the designation. Giovanni da Verrazano used the term "Terra Nova" on his map of 1529. Newfoundland entered Confederation as the tenth province of Canada on March 31, 1949.

Labrador

There remains an element of uncertainty, but most authorities credit the origin of the name Labrador to João Fernades a Portuguese explorer and lavrador, or "landholder", in the Azores. It was probably first applied to a section of the coast of modern Greenland and later transferred by cartographers to the northeastern coast of the continent. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume 1, quotes an inscription (near Greenland) on the Weimar map of 1530: "...And as the one who first gave notice of it was a labrador of the Azores (João Fernandes), they gave it the name."

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 105.

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NOVA SCOTIA

Although applied first on September 29, 1621, when Sir William Alexander (1567?-1640) received a grant of "the lands lying between New England and Newfoundland ... to be known as Nova Scotia, or New Scotland", the name did not become fixed on the map until after the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

Prior to this, the name Acadia was generally used by the French to denote the Maritime provinces along with adjacent portions of New England and Quebec. The origin of the word Acadia is in dispute. It is generally accepted to be from Archadia (Acadia), assigned by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 and suggested by the classical name for a land of rustic peace. The claim that it is of Micmac origin is probably coincidental. The Micmac word Quoddy or Cady was rendered by the French as cadie and meant a piece of land or territory.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 129.

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NEW BRUNSWICK

Originally the territory included in modern New Brunswick was part of Nova Scotia. The American Revolution from 1775 to 1783 resulted in a large influx of Loyalist settlers, and agitation arose for the creation of a new province. On September 10, 1784, the partition took place and the "name was chosen as a compliment to King George III (1760-1820) who was descended from the House of Brunswick." Earlier proposals for naming the new province were: New Ireland (suggested by William Knox, Under Secretary of State, but rejected "because Ireland was out of royal favour"), and Pittsylvania, for William Pitt, then British prime minister.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 81

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PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

The island appears under the name Île de Saint Jean in Champlain's narrative (1604) and on his map (1632); however, according to Ganong, the name is of earlier origin. After its acquisition by the British in 1759 the island was known as St. John's Island until the name was changed in 1798 to honour Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (1767-1820), father of Queen Victoria, then in command of the British forces at Halifax. Separated from Nova Scotia in 1769, Prince Edward Island entered Confederation on July 1, 1873.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 215.

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QUEBEC

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, p. 225.

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ONTARIO

The name was first applied to the lake (1641) and is traceable to Amerindian sources. It may be a corruption of Onitariio, meaning "beautiful lake", or Kanadario, variously translated as "sparkling" or "beautiful" water. Later European settlers gave the name to the land along the lakeshore and then to an ever extending area. "Old Ontario" was a term sometimes loosely applied to the southern portion of the province. Entered Confederation as the province of Ontario, 1867.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 155.

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MANITOBA

Created as a province in 1870, the name was probably first applied to Lake Manitoba. There are two theories as to the origin of the name. (1) It is of Assiniboine origin: Mini and tobow meaning "Lake of the Prairie", or in French "Lac des Prairies", the name used by La Vérendrye. (2) The more probable source is the Cree maniotwapow, "the strait of the spirit or manitobau". This refers to the roaring sound produced by pebbles on a beach on Manitoba Island in Lake Manitoba. The noise "gave rise to the superstition among the Indians that a manito or spirit beats a drum".

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 65.

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SASKATCHEWAN

The name is derived from that which was first applied to the Saskatchewan River. In the Cree language it was known as Kisiskatchewani Sipi, or "swift-flowing river". The explorer Anthony Henday's spelling was Keiskatchewan, with the modern rendering, Saskatchewan, being officially adopted in 1882 when a portion of the present-day province was designated a provisional district of the North West Territories. Achieved provincial status in 1905.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 293.

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ALBERTA

The district of Alberta was created in 1882, and enlarged to become a province of Canada on September 1, 1905. The name was suggested by the Marquess of Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883, in honour of his wife, H.R.H. Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 23.

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BRITISH COLUMBIA

Much of the mainland region was originally known as New Caledonia; however, this name (duplicated in South Pacific) was discarded in favour of British Columbia. The designation appears to have originated with Queen Victoria and was officially proclaimed in 1858. Columbia (after the Columbia River which was named by the American Captain Robert Gray for his ship Columbia ) had previously been loosely applied to the southern portion of the colony.

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 44.

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NUNAVUT

This new territory was created in 1993, to come into being on 1 April 1999. It consists of the administrative regions of Keewatin, Baffin and Kitikmeot, which together comprise all the former district of Keewatin, the northeastern part of the district of Franklin, except Banks and Prince Patrick islands, and parts of Victoria and Melville islands, and some smaller islands. In Inuktitut Nunavut means "our land".

Source: Rayburn, Alan (1997): Dictionary of Canadian Place Names, Oxford University Press, Toronto, p. 280.

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NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

Historically, the term was loosely applied to the vast lands north and west of Lake Superior; later it signified the administrative district which pre-dated Saskatchewan and Alberta; and from January 1, 1920, it has meant "that part of Northern Canada between the Yukon Territory and Hudson Bay, including Baffin Island, the islands in James Bay, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, and the Arctic Archipelago".

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 309.

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YUKON

The territory was established on June 13, 1898, although the name, of Amerindian origin, was first applied to the river and is from Yu- kun-ah, meaning "great river". It was first noted in 1846 by John Bell (1799-1868) an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, "who called it by what he understood to be its Indian [name]".

Source: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, p. 309.

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