Society

How Did Canada And Its Provinces Receive Their Names?

First Nations' words, explorers, and European rulers all have left their mark on the names of modern Canada.

Canada is the second largest country in the world occupying some 3.85 million square miles of the North American continent. With a wealth of natural resources and rich cultural heritage Canada continues to play an influential role in international economics and politics.

Aboriginal and British Influences

The Origin Of "Canada"

Before the arrival of European explorers, Canada was inhabited by a variety of First Nations peoples and this aboriginal culture continues to play a significant role in the country’s unique national identity. This fact is particularly evident in the names of Canada's provinces and territories. A prominent example of this is the country’s name which is derived from the Huron- Iroquois word “Kanata” meaning settlement or village. It’s believed that this name was initially used to describe the modern day area of Quebec City by local aboriginals traveling with French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535. By the year 1547, all of the land north of the St. Lawrence River came to be known as Canada.

Ontario

Another example of the lasting legacy of Huron and Iroquois tribes is the provincial name of Ontario which comes from the native word for “great lake” or “beautiful waters”. This name seems appropriate for the nation’s most populous province due to its abundant freshwater lakes as well as its geographical location bordering a number of waterways and lakes including Hudson Bay, James Bay, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. Ontario is also the site of the Canadian side of the majestic Niagara Falls (also known as Horseshoe Falls).

Quebec

The province of Quebec lies just east of Ontario and has the distinction of being Canada’s largest province, in terms of area, encompassing over 500,000 square miles. Quebec is also the second most populated province in the nation with over seven million residents. The only Canadian province using French as the official language, Quebec’s heritage is deeply rooted in its history as a colony of France. The province takes its name from the Algonquin word “kébec” which means "where the river becomes narrow." The river being referenced is the St. Lawrence, which has long been one of Canada’s most important trade routes.

Manitoba

The province of Manitoba takes its name from the Cree and Ojibwa Native America words meaning the "straits of the Great Spirit." It is believed that this refers to an area now known as The Narrows which lies in the center of Lake Manitoba. It is also suggested that Manitoba’s name comes from the Assiniboine words meaning "Lake of the Prairie." This region of Canada was home to indigenous tribes for thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers. The province was officially created in 1870 with the passing of The Manitoba Act.

Saskatchewan

The prairie province of Saskatchewan is located just west of Manitoba. Its name refers to the Saskatchewan River and originates from the Cree word meaning "river that flows swiftly." The province contains over 22,000 square miles of freshwater rivers and lakes. Native American inhabitants of Saskatchewan first encountered Europeans in 1690, but the region wasn’t designated as a Canadian province until 1905.

British Columbia

Canada’s provincial names are also influenced by the nation’s long and historical relationship with Europe and Britain in particular. An obvious example of this is the west coast province of British Columbia. Its name, which refers to the British-controlled region drained by the Columbia River, was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858. At that time the southern portion of this area was controlled by the Americans and thus referred to as “American Columbia” before becoming the modern state of Oregon.

Alberta

Just east of B.C. is the prairie province of Alberta. In 1905 this particular region of Canada took its name from Princess Louise Alberta, the fourth daughter and sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The British royal lived from 1848 to 1939 and is also commemorated in the names of Alberta's Lake Louise (in Banff National Park) and Mount Alberta (in Jasper National Park).

Prince Edward Island

The tiny island province of Prince Edward Island is named after the son of King George III and Queen Victoria of England. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn was known as the "Father of the Canadian Crown" and lived from 1767 to 1820. Located on the country’s east coast P.E.I. is well known for its potatoes, seafood, and Anne of Green Gables, the beloved fictional character created by author Lucy Maud Montgomery. With a total land area of 2,190 square miles Prince Edward Island is home to less than 150,000 people.

New Brunswick

The name of the maritime province of New Brunswick is derived from the city of Braunschweig, Germany, the ancestral home of British monarch King George III. Located in the area of Lower Saxony in northern Germany Braunschweig was called Brunswick in English.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The first name of Canada’s easternmost province, Newfoundland, and Labrador is a translation of the Portuguese “Terra Nova” which literally means “newly found land.” Labrador is the Anglicized translation of the surname of Portuguese explorer Joao Fernandes Newfoundland, Lavrador, who was one of the first Europeans to explore the northeastern coast of North America.

Nova Scotia

With a population of less than a million and total land area of 21,345 square miles the province of Nova Scotia is the second smallest province in Canada. With deep roots in the United Kingdom. it is not surprising that the name Nova Scotia is the Latin version of “New Scotland.” The province took its name in 1621 and entered into the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

Origin of Name Of Canada's Northern Territories

Two of Canada’s northern territories take their names from the Inuit language. The country’s newest, most northern, and least populated territory, Nunavut, can be translated to “our land” in the Eastern Canadian Inuit language. The Inuit are indigenous peoples who have historically lived in the Arctic regions of countries such as Canada, Greenland, and Alaska. In 1982 the federal government of Canada passed an act identifying the Inuit as a unique group of aboriginals rather than being considered part of the First Nations community. The area that is now Nunavut was officially created in 1999 but was once part of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Yukon is another of Canada’s northern territories. This region takes its name from the Gwich'in indigenous peoples' word “Yu-kun-ah” which means "white-water river." The Yukon River is being referred here. The Gwich'in are North American indigenous inhabitants who lived in the northernmost areas of the North American continent. Although the Yukon was once part of the Northwest Territories, it entered Canadian Confederation in 1898. The name of the Northwest Territories refers to the area's location at the time of joining the nation in 1870.

Land of the True, North, Strong, and Free

Canada is a country made up of people from a variety of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. One of the keys to understanding the nation’s storied history is by examining the origins of its provincial and territorial names. From its status as the homeland of a number of aboriginal communities to the subsequent arrival of European explorers and the modern day development of the northern territory of Nunavut Canada has continued to evolve throughout the years. In this way, the nation has been able to adapt while at the same time honor its vibrant history.

How Did Canada And Its Provinces Get Their Names?

RankPlaceWhat Was It Named After?
1Canada"Kanata", an Iroquoian word for "settlement".
2AlbertaBritish Princess Louise Alberta, daughter of Victoria and Albert.
3British ColumbiaThe British-controlled portion of the land drained by the Columbia River.
4ManitobaCree and Ojibwa Native America words meaning the "straits of the Great Spirit".
5New BrunswickAnglicized form of Braunschweig, Germany, where British King George III hailed from.
6Newfoundland and LabradorLiterally, it was a newly found land; Labrador is the Anglicized version of Portuguese explorer Joao Lavrador's last name.
7Northwest TerritoriesReference to the territory's location when formed as part of the Confederation of Canada in 1870.
8Nova ScotiaThe Latin version of "New Scotland".
9NunavutMeans "our land" in the Eastern Canadian Inuit language.
10OntarioWords meaning "great lake" or "beautiful waters" in First Nations' languages.
11Prince Edward IslandPrince Edward, song of British King George III and Queen Victoria.
12QuebecThe Algonquin kébec, "where the river becomes narrow".
13SaskatchewanCree words meaning "river that flows swiftly".
14YukonWords in Gwich'in indigenous peoples' language meaning "white-water river".

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