Sunday, 6 December 2015

Canada and its Place Names

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time Canada and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the largest.

Toronto had originally been a water channel between lakes Simcoe and Couchiching known as Taronto. In time this came to be used for the newly built fort, itself originally known as Fort York after Prince Frederick, Duke of York. The original name of Toronto was restored in 1834, a Mohawk word tkaronto meaning 'where there are trees standing in the water' and still an apt description of this place today.

Montreal is named after Mount Royal, the three-peaked hill on which the city stands. There is no agreement as to whether this is derived from the French mont Real or from an Italian Monte Real, either having the same meaning.

Vancouver took the name of George Vancouver, who explored the inner harbour of Burrard Inlet in 1792.

Calgary borrowed its name from Calgary on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. As with so many names around this part of Britain it is derived from Old Scandinavian, where kald gart or 'cold garden'. Rather than taking this literally, we should understand this as 'exposed' rather than cold and 'agricultural land' as opposed to garden.

Edmonton was named after Edmonton in London, the home town of both John Peter Pruden and Hudson's Bay Company deputy governor Sir James Winter Lake. Whilst hardly applicable here, the name of Edmonton is derived from Old English and describes the tun of 'farmstead of a man called Eadhelm'.

Ottawa is from the Ottawa River, itself the Algonquin word Odawa meaning 'to trade'.

Quebec is one of the oldest cities on the North American continent, it from the Algonquin kebec meaning 'where the river narrows'.

Winnipeg is another name of local origins. Here, taken from that of Lake Winnipeg, it describes 'the muddy or brackish water'.

Hamilton is named after George Hamilton, founder of the city on land he purchased as Barton Township from James Durand in January 1815.

Kitchener was originally known by the highly appropriate name of Sandhills, for obvious reasons. By 1833 the number of German immigrants gave this a name of Berlin, then in 1916 to Kitchener after Field Marshal the 1st Earl Kitchener.

London is clearly transferred from the United Kingdom's capital. The problem here is the name of London has never been defined, with the earliest record of Londinium simply a Litinicised version of whatever had gone before. It has always been, and will doubtless likely remain, a mystery.

Victoria springs no surprises being named after Queen Victoria, formerly the longest reigning monarch in British history.

Halifax is another transferred from its counterpart in the United Kingdom. Here the original name meant 'the nook of land where coarse grass grows', but came here as a title from the 2nd Earl of Halifax.

Oshawa comes from the Ojibwa word aazhaway simply mewaning 'crossing point'.

Windsor is another transferred from the United Kingdom. Today the name of the ruling royal house and also a famous castle, its rather ignominious beginnings were down to Windsor's location on the Thames. Goods brought by river had to come up a steep and slippery bank. Ingenuity came to the rescue in the form of winding gear which made use of the slippery slope to bring the goods up on a sled.

Saskatoon is derived from the Cree tongue where misaskwatominik refers to this as 'the place of the saskatoon berry'. This local fruit is a sweet berry described as violet in colour.

Regina was, like Victoria, named for Queen Victoria. Here this was the suggestion of her daughter, Princess Louise, as her husband was then Governor General of Canada. Previously the place had the far better name of Wascana, the Cree word for 'buffalo bones'.

Barrie was named in 1833 after Sir Robert Barrie, who was then in charge of Canada's naval forces.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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