Penny Sized History: How Our Provinces Were Named

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We know the names of the provinces and territories of Canada, and we can likely even spell them with the possibly exception of Saskatchewan. I thought an interesting episode to do then, would be to look at the names of our provinces and territories and learn how they earned their names.
So, let’s begin.

British Columbia
One of the easiest name origins in Canada is that of British Columbia. The name was chosen by Queen Victoria when the Colony of British Columbia was created in 1858. The name came from the Columbia District, which was the name the British gave to the territory drained by the Columbia River. As for why British became part of the name, Queen Victoria chose it to distinguish from the British sector of the Columbia District of the United States in the Oregon Territory.

This prairie province received its name in honour of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. She was the wife of John Campbell, the Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. Lake Louise in Alberta is also named in honour of her.

The name of this rectangular province comes from the Saskatchewan River. The river was originally named Kish-stock-ewen by the First Nations people and was identified as such on a Hudson’s Bay Company map from 1760. The name eventually morphed into Saskatchewan.

The name, as is common in the prairies, comes from the First Nations. In this case, it comes from the Cree, Assiniboine and Ojibwe people. In Cree, the name is manitou-wapow, while in Ojibwa it is manidoobaa. In both cases, it means the Straits Of Manitou, The Great Spirit”. The Assiniboine people also used the name minnetoba for the area, meaning Lake of the Prairie.

The largest province in Canada and home to the capital gets its name from Lake Ontario. The lake’s name comes from the Huron word meaning “Great Lake”, but it could also come from the Iroquoian people and their word skanadario, which means beautiful water.

The name for this historic and diverse province also comes from the First Nations people. The Algonquin word kebec means “where the river narrows”, which refers to the area around Quebec City where the St. Lawrence River narrows to a small gap.

New Brunswick
The colony, after it was taken over by the English and the Acadians forced out, the Maritimes were split up and New Brunswick was born. It received its name in honour of King George III, who was the prince-elector of Brunswick-Luneburg in Germany.

Nova Scotia
The name for Nova Scotia means New Scotland in Latin. The province was named in 1621 in a Royal Charter granted to Sir William Alexander so he could settle the lands of Nova Scotia, as well as various other parts of the Maritimes.

Prince Edward Island
In 1798, the colony of Prince Edward Island was named for Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, and the fourth son of King George III and the father of Queen Victoria. Prince Edward is often referred to as the Father of the Canadian Crown and several landmarks have been named for him.

Newfoundland and Labrador
When the Vikings arrived in 1000 AD, they called the area Vinland but it was officially named New Found Land by King Henry VII in reference to the land explored by John Cabot. As for Labrador, that name comes in honour of the Portuguese navigator Joao Fernandez Labrador.

In the language of the Inuit of the area, the name means “our land”.

Northwest Territories
The name for this massive expanse of Canada comes from the British government during the colonial era to indicate where the area lay in relation to Rupert’s Land, which covered much of Canada’s west for several centuries.

The name for this territory comes from the Yukon River, which is the longest river in the territory. The river gets its name from a contraction of an Inuit phrase which means white water river and refers to the pale colour of the glacial runoff of the river.

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