place names contribute to a rich tapestry
map of Canada is a rich tapestry of place names. These names
reflect the diverse history and heritage of the nation. Many
of the country's earliest place names draw on Aboriginal sources.
Before the arrival of Europeans, First Nations and Inuit gave
names to places throughout the country to identify the land
they knew so well, and with which they had a strong spiritual
connection. For centuries, these names that described the
natural features of the land, or commemorated significant
historical events, passed from one generation to the next.
of these names still survive today. The representation of
these names in European languages sometimes diminishes the
lyrical sounds of the original names themselves. Nevertheless,
the story of Aboriginal place names goes back to the earliest
remembered history of our country.
sample of some Aboriginal place names
name of Canada itself, and the names of some provinces and
territories, come from place names in Aboriginal languages.
is from Kanata, meaning "settlement" or "village" in the
language of the Huron.
the province got its name from the Saskatchewan River, which
the Cree called Kisiskatchewani Sipi,
meaning "swift-flowing river."
the likeliest source is the Cree maniot-wapow, "the strait
of the spirit or manitobau." This name refers to the roaring
sound produced by pebbles on a beach on Manitoba Island
in Lake Manitoba. The Cree believed the noise sounded like
a manito, a spirit, beating a drum. It has also been suggested
that the name comes from the Assiniboine words mini and
tobow, meaning "Lake of the Prairie."
this Huron name, first applied to the lake, may be a corruption
of onitariio, meaning "beautiful lake," or kanadario, which
translates as "sparkling" or "beautiful" water.
Aboriginal peoples first used the name kebek for the region
around the city of Québec. It refers to the Algonquin
word for "narrow passage" or "strait" to indicate the narrowing
of the river at Cape Diamond.
this name belonged originally to the river, and is from
a Loucheux word, LoYu-kun-ah, meaning "great river."
the name of Canada's newest territory, which came into being
on April 1, 1999, means "our land" in Inuktitut.
Canadian towns, cities, rivers and mountains also have names
that come from Aboriginal sources. The following is a short
list of some of Canada’s larger towns and cities whose names
originate with Aboriginal peoples.
(British Columbia) - is the name of the local tribe, ch.ihl-KWAY-uhk.
This word is generally interpreted to mean "going back up."
It refers to the people’s return home after visiting the
mouth of the Fraser River.
(British Columbia) -derived from the Salish
tribal name Kawayquitlam, this word can be translated as
"small red salmon." The name refers to the sockeye salmon
common to the area.
(British Columbia) - is likely from the Shushwap word kahm-o-loops,
which is usually translated as "the meeting of waters."
The name refers to the junction of the North and South Thompson
rivers at Kamloops.
(British Columbia) - the name comes from an Okanagan word
meaning "the always place," in the sense of a permanent
Chipewyan (Alberta) - the town was named for the
Chipewyan people, and means "pointed
skins," a Cree reference to the way the Chipewyans prepared
Hat (Alberta) - is a translation of the Blackfoot
word, saamis, meaning "headdress of a medicine man." According
to one explanation, the word describes a fight between the
Cree and Blackfoot when a Cree medicine man lost his plumed
hat in the river.
(Alberta) - is an adaptation of the Cree word wi-ta-ski-oo
cha-ka-tin-ow, which can be translated as "place of peace"
or "hill of peace."
(Saskatchewan) - the town name is from the river, known
to the Cree as kab-tep-was. This means "the river that calls."
The legend associated with the name tells of a Cree man
paddling to his wedding, when he heard his name called out.
He recognized the voice of his bride, who was still many
days travel away. He answered, "Who calls?" and a spirit
mimicked him: "Who calls?" He then hurried home to find
that his bride had died, uttering his name with her last
breath. French settlers in Saskatchewan perpetuated the
legend by naming the river Qu’Appelle, meaning "who calls?"
(Saskatchewan) - the name comes from an edible red berry
native to the area, which the Cree called mis-sask-guah-too-min.
Rapids (Manitoba) - is a translation of the Cree word
misepawistik, or "rushing rapids." The Pas (Manitoba) -
originated with the Cree opa, meaning "a narrow place"”
or opaskweow, "narrows between high banks."
(Manitoba) - the name, from the Cree win-nipi, can be freely
translated as "dirty water" or "murky water," to describe
the lake and river.
(Ontario) -comes from the Ojibway word wah-do-be-kaung,
which means "the place where the alders grow."
(Ontario) - is a Cree word meaning "the place where the
(Ontario) - is named after the Mississauga people who live
in the area, and describes the mouth of a river. Michi or
missi means "many," and saki, "outlet" a river having several
(Ontario) - is a Seneca word that means "crossing of a stream"
or "carrying place," describing an old portage in the area.
(Ontario) - the word comes from the Algonquin term adawe,
"to trade." This was the name given to the people who controlled
the trade of the river.
(Ontario) - is generally believed to be a Huron word which
means "a place of meeting." A large number of Aboriginal
peoples landed at this spot on their way to trade or hunt
in Huron country.
(Quebec) - is a Cree word that means "where the water is
shut in," describing a narrow outlet of the lake.
(Quebec) - this name of Montagnais
origin comes from the word shkoutimeou, meaning "the end
of the deep water."
(Quebec) - is a name believed to come from the Mi’kmaq
word for "end" or "extremity," referring to the northern
limits of their territory.
(Quebec) - comes from the Mi’kmaq lustagooch, likely meaning
"river with five branches."
(Quebec) - is a word of Mi’kmaq or Maliseet
origin, which has been translated as "land of moose" or
"retreat of dogs," perhaps referring to its fine hunting
(New Brunswick) - is derived from the Maliseet word welamooktook,
meaning "good river."
(Nova Scotia) - is a possible version of the Mi’kmaq petekook,
meaning "the place that lies on the backward turn." The
word refers to Mi’kmaq travel on the river from Bras d’Or
(Nova Scotia) - comes from the Mi’kmaq mooskudoboogwek,
which can be translated as "rolling out in foam" or "suddenly
widening out after a narrow entrance at its mouth."
(Nova Scotia) - is a name of Mi’kmaq origin that comes from
the word segubunakadik, meaning "the place where groundnuts
(Indian potatoes) grow."
(Northwest Territories) - is an Inuit
name that can be translated tuktu, "caribou," yaktuk, "looks
like," or "reindeer that looks like caribou."
(Northwest Territories) - is an adaptation of the Inuktitut
word said to mean "place of the bull caribou."
(Northwest Territories) - comes from the Inuktitut word
meaning "the place of man."
names reveal Aboriginal peoples’ contributions
names are never just meaningless sounds. Rather, they embody
stories about the places to which they are attached. They
give us valuable insights into history and provide clues about
the country’s cultural and social development. A study of
place names will always reveal the astounding diversity and
depth of Aboriginal peoples’ contributions to contemporary
peoples: The descendants of the original inhabitants
of North America. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three
groups of Aboriginal people - Indians, Métis people and
Inuit. These are three separate peoples with unique heritages,
languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.
Nation: A term that came into common usage in the 1970s
to replace the word "Indian," which many people found offensive.
Although the term First
Nation is widely used, no legal definition of it exists.
Among its uses, the term "First Nations peoples" refers
to the Indian people in Canada, both Status and Non-Status.
Many Indian people have also adopted the term "First Nation"
to replace the word "band" in the name of their community.
An Aboriginal people in northern Canada, who live above
the tree line in the Northwest Territories, and in Northern
Quebec and Labrador. The word means "people" in the Inuit
language - Inuktitut. The singular of Inuit is Inuk.
Canada's newest territory, created on April 1, 1999 when
the Northwest Territories was divided in two. Nunavut means
"our land" in Inuktitut. Inuit, whose ancestors inhabited
these lands for thousands of years, make up 80 percent of
the population of Nunavut. The new territory has its own
more information, please visit the
& Northern Affairs Canada
return to index Native