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The Wheat Field of Northern Alberta. When we hear the term "industry," we usually think of large factories, assembly-line production, hi-tech equipment, and other features associated with modernity. However, taken in its broader sense, the word also refers to any business activity which involves the management and operation of a commercial endeavour for profit. At least since the arrival of European settlers and the birth of the fur trade, then, Canada has been greatly affected by industrial progress. One of the most illuminating ways this becomes apparent is by examining Alberta's diverse place names that make reference to its various industries through history.

As we just mentioned, the fur trade was Canada's first major industry, and Alberta proved an especially profitable hub of activity, with around one hundred fur trading posts in the province alone. One of the first forts was Fort Chipewyan (named after of the Aboriginal tribe of the same name - "Chipewyan" is a Cree word meaning "pointed skins," and referred to the tribe's tradition tunics) in the Lake Athabasca region in 1778. In 1795, the Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Edmonton on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River, 32 km east from where Alberta' s capital city, Edmonton, now lies. Named by George Sutherland of the Hudson's Bay Company, "Edmonton" is probably a reference to the hometown of Sutherland's clerk, John Peter Pruden, who was born in the London suburb of the same name.

Following the fur trade boom and the annexation of the Hudson's Bay Company into the Dominion of Canada in 1870, came another commercial enterprise that left its mark on Alberta's toponymic heritage. The Klondike Gold Rush brought many prospectors from all over North American through Alberta during the 1880s and 90s on their way north to the Klondike. Names such as Noyes Crossing and Busby both refer to entrepreneurs who established businesses in Alberta during this time.

Cattle in the foothills near Cochrane, Alberta. While the Gold Rush attracted settlers and travellers to the northern portion of the province, the practice of cattle ranching was already establishing itself as the main industry in the south. Part of the reason for this phenomenon can be traced back to the Palliser Expedition of 1857 (see Explorers section), which conducted a famous survey of the region and deemed it unsuitable for most agricultural endeavours. Because many of the ranchers were of British descent, it was common to name ranches after a place in their homeland. This was the case for Oxley Creek, which took its name from Oxley Manor in Wolverhampton, England. Cochrane, Alberta, draws its name from Senator Mathew Henry Cochrane, who, in 1885, established the Cochrane Ranche Company near where the community of Cochrane now lies.

The Little Bow Provincial Park near Champion, Alberta. Captain John Palliser's assumption that a large portion of Southern Alberta was unsuitable for farming began to prove inaccurate at the turn of the century, when wheat production ousted ranching as Alberta's primary industry in the south. By the First World War, Alberta's wheat output was so enormous that communities began to take their names in honour of not only successful farmers, but of the success of the boom itself. Champion, known as "the million bushel town," was one such location - an indicator of the hubris with which Albertans regarded their accomplishments. Indeed, the community of Nobleford refers to the Noble family of farmers, who once owned the largest and highest-yielding farmland in the British Empire.

The Leduc #1 Discovery Well Historical Site at Devon, Alberta. Today, Alberta is best-known for its booming oil industry, which began in the early part of the 20th Century. In 1914, the Dingman Well in Turner Valley started to successfully produce oil, and thirty-three years later, Imperial Oil set up their Leduc #1 site, which proved a world-wide industry leader in production. The term "black gold" came to be used as slang for oil, underscoring the profitable nature of the industry (as well as highlighting the way one dominant industry will often give over to another, according to historical conditions), and Leduc's main street currently has the name Black Gold Drive.

Other Alberta place names commemorate the industry's first pioneers: The Keystone Hills near Calgary are named after an American Oil company, and a variety of places in Northern Alberta pay homage to the industry's heritage. For example, Tar Island and Kaybob railway point, the latter being an amalgam of to names - Robert Ethan Allen and his mother Kathryn - who had positions on the Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board.

Although settled and occupied relatively late in Canada's history, Alberta's resources and its workers have made it one of the most successful industrial regions in North America. By closely examining its place-name heritage, we can see that the history of its development is more diverse and complex than we may have ever imagined.

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            For more on place names of Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

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