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The Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions in Stettler, Alberta. In 1872, only five years after Canada's confederacy, the Dominion Government in Ottawa commissioned the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.). The decision was undertaken as a means to make eastern and western Canada accessible to each other in a way never before imagined. Not only would the C.P.R. facilitate easy communication and transportation over large distances, the government also hoped that it would encourage settlement into Canada's more remote and less-populated regions, such as Alberta. As it turned out, no cultural development had a bigger impact on Canada's settlement patterns than the spread of its railroads. Likewise, the spread of the railroads had an equally-large impact on Alberta's place name heritage, and by closely examining these names, we are able to glean significant information about this facet of the province's history.

The Stirling National Historic Site in Stirling, Alberta. The C.P.R. entered Alberta in 1883, reached Edmonton and Calgary by 1890, and by 1914, had multiple lines reaching over most of the province. The place names of certain towns in Alberta reflect various aspects of the railway industry. The village of Stirling, for example, was named after John A. Stirling, an English businessman with large investments in Alberta's railway industry. More esoterically, the town of Balzac, which used to be a C.P.R. station between Calgary and Edmonton, was named so simply because the railway's president at the time, W.C. Van Horne, was a big admirer of the French novelist, Honoré de Balzac. The name of another former station, Antross, references two Alberta lumber companies - Anthony Lumber Co. and Ross Board Co. - with significant stock in railway development.

A Sunset near Coronation, Alberta. In 1911, the C.P.R. decided to construct a line out of what is now the town of Coronation - the name of the town arising from the 1911 coronation of King George V in England. The theme of monarchy stuck, not only in Coronation itself (where streets were named King, Royal, George, etc.) but all the way down the railway line, resulting in town names like Throne, Veteran, and Loyal.

Later, in 1922, a number of smaller railway lines were chartered to enter northern Alberta (later grouped under the heading of the Northern Alberta Railways), and towns like Aggie and Prestville owe their names to a family member and an employee of these companies, respectively.

Steam Locomotive used by the Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions in Stettler, Alberta. One of the most peculiar trends in Alberta's place-naming history which owes its inception to the expansion of Canada's railroads is the practice of alphabetizing town names along a given line. For example, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (built between 1904 and 1914, and stretching from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, via Edmonton) named stops along its route from east to west, by according the first letter of every place name with the alphabet. The line looked like this: Butze, Chauvin, Dunn, Edgerton, Greenshields, Hawkins, Irma, etc...all the way to Uncas, where the pattern began again. Each name on the line had its own unique origin, but the names themselves were chosen to follow the established alphabetic sequence.

Not only railroads, but other forms of transportation, like the building of steamboats for the province's major waterways, influenced settlement patterns and toponymy. A lack of efficient transportation hindered Alberta from establishing a large population in the early 19th Century, so it is only fitting that increased accessibility to the province through new transportation technologies fostered new communities, as well as the place names to accompany them.

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

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