Sunday, 27 November 2016

Canada's Provinces

Having recently been reminded of how the name of Canada being named for a tiny area around the St Lawrence where the Iroquoi referred to their kanata or ‘village’, I thought it a good idea to examine the origins of the names of the territories. These twelve names have a variety of origins, some simplistic, others transferred from the Old World, and even those from the indigenous languages.

Alberta's name is down to the Scottish Marquis of Lorne, the Governor General of Canada, who named it after his wife Princess Louise Caroline Alberta in 1882.

British Colombia shares an origin with the US District of Columbiia in being named after Christopher Columbus, although this was much later than the US names and not known as such until 1858.

Manitoba is a province named after Lake Manitoba, itself from the Cree tribe's name for the island in the centre of the lake which they called Manatuapa or 'great spirit' as they regarded this as the home of said spirit.

New Brunswick is named to honour King George III in 1784 when it was separated from Nova Scotia (see below). George was not only the third George to be king of England but also the third of the House of Hanover, also referred to as Brunswick.

Newfoundland is possibly the most simplistic English place name anywhere. Discovered by John Cabot, an Italian-born Englishman, in 1497 he never actually named it such but is first seen in a document of the following year when it is simply said to be 'the new-found land'. Correctly the territory is Newfoundland and Labrador, where the English name of the island was translated to Portuguese as Terre-Nueve. The Portuguese exploration of this region is also seen in the naming of Labrador, itself directly from the surname of the navigator Joao Fernandes Lavrador. Hence the dog taking its name from the region and often abbreviated to just 'lab' should correctly be called a 'lav'. Also of note is the name given to some parts as New Britain, named as this was north of what was known as New France in the 17th century. This all started in 1612 with Welsh captain Thomas Button when he spent the winter on the shoreline of Hudson Bay at a place he called Nelson on the shores of the Nelson River. He called the region 'New Wales' and erected a sign telling others who came here. Nobody arrived until 1619 when Captain Luke Foxe discovered the sign and referred to the lands north of the mouth of the Nelson River as New North Wales and that to the south as New South Wales.

North West Territories is another requiring no explanation other than to say it is referred to as being 'north west' of Rupert's Land. A much better name is the earlier Inuktitut name of Nunatsiaq or 'beautiful land'. In the earliest days it was proposed the name should be changed to Denendeh, an Athabaskan word meaning 'our land'. This was rejected along with the rather amusing idea this should be known as simply 'Bob', which likely began as a joke but attracted a lot of interest until the joke ceased to be funny.

Nova Scotia is literally the Latin for 'New Scotland' and named by Sir William Alexander after being granted the area by James I. Previously the French had settled here and knew the place as Acadia.

Ontario, like Manitoba, is named after its lake. Here the Iroquois oniatar-io means 'beautiful' in referring to lake. The river and state of Ohio in the USA share this derivation.

Prince Edward Island was discovered in 1534 by the French explorer Jacques Cartier who called it Ile St Jean or St John's Island as it indeed became known when ceded to the British in 1763. In 1798 it was renamed after Prince Edward who was the fourth son of George III but, more importantly, the father of Queen Victoria.

Quebec takes the name of the city, one of the oldest known names on the North American continent and from the Algonquin kebec meaning 'where the river narrows'.

Yukon, as our final example, is thankfully an indigenous name. The region takes its name from the Yukon River which simply means 'big river'.

For those interested I looked at the origins of the names of Canadian cities a couple of years ago.

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