Geographical Names of Alberta


This city was so named in 1876 by Lieutenant-Colonel James Farquharson Macleod of the North West Mounted Police. It is the name of the ancestral estate of his cousins, the MacKenzies, on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, which he had visited shortly before. In the fall of 1875, there was trouble with the Métis and Indians in the Prince Albert region, and Major-General E. Selby, commanding the Canadian Militia, was sent from the east to investigate. He (Colonel Macleod) was advised by telegraph to meet General Selby at Red Deer with fifty men. At this conference, one of the matters agreed upon was that a police post should be established on the Bow River. On his return south, Colonel Macleod sent E Troop under Inspector E.A. Brisebois to erect a barracks on the west side of the river. It was said that Inspector Brisebois wished to name the establishment after himself but Colonel Macleod who was then Assistant Commissioner of the Force decided it should be called Calgary.

It is interesting to note that the Blackfoot name for Calgary was moll-inistsis-in-aka-apewis, translating to "elbow many houses" and the Cree name is O-toos-kwa-nik, translating to "elbow house". Both obviously refer to the Elbow River. The name Calgary is variously spelled as it appears on the Mackenzie estate on the Isle of Mull. In one account it is spelled Calgarry but on a recent map of the Isle of Mull the spelling as used in the Alberta city is evident. The translation of the Gaelic word is "Clear Running Water."

Source: Karamitsanis, Aphrodite. (1992): Place Names of Alberta, Vol. II, University of Calgary Press, Calgary, p. 22.

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The city was named for William Lethbridge (1824-1901), first President of the North Western Coal and Navigation Company Limited, which was formed in 1882 to mine coal from the banks of the Oldman River to sell to the Canadian Pacific Railway. After the opening of the Sherman mine in 1872, the area and settlement growing there was called "The Coal Banks" but the name was changed to Lethbridge ca. 1882. There was, however, already a Lethbridge in Ontario and the postal authorities therefore changed the name to "Coalhurst". In 1885, the Postmaster General restored the name Lethbridge.

Many native descriptive names have also been associated with the region. The area was first known as siko-ko-to-ki, a Blackfoot word translating to "black rock", after the coal outcropping in the area. The Bloods called it mek-kio-towaghs, or "medicine stone", after a large granite boulder on the city's site upon which they placed offerings of beads and various trinkets. Another native name for this area was assini-etmotchi, translating, "where they slaughtered the Crees", commemorating the Indian Battle of October 1870 when the Blackfoot killed 300 Crees.

Source: Karamitsanis, Aphrodite (1992): Place Names of Alberta, Vol. II, University of Calgary Press, Calgary, p. 71.

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Red Deer

The city of Red Deer takes its name from the Red Deer River, which flows through it. The name is a translation of the Indian name, was-ka-sioo in Cree, meaning "Elk River", and pa-chi-ci in Stoney. The river received its name due to the numerous elk in the area in early days, mistaken by the Scottish factors for the red deer of their homeland. For a number of years, the Calgary-Edmonton trail crossed the river at a point known as Red Deer Crossing and, with the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Calgary, traffic over the trail increased and a trading post and stopping place were established.

Source: Harrison, Tracey (1994): Place Names of Alberta, Vol. III, University of Calgary Press, Calgary, p. 205.

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