Central Alberta Region
Place names have come into being as a result of our need to identify reference points - "to know where you are going, you must know where you've been" - and a natural extension of this idea may be - "you must know what that where is called." The relationship between places and names may be partly illustrated with a phrase from Marcel Proust's A la Recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), "place names the place - place names the name;" Alberta's named landscape reflects personal histories while providing a common reference point for travellers and cartographers. As a result, the study of place names reveals a great deal about the fascinating history and unique cultural heritage of any populated region. Even though toponymy is primarily concerned with the origins and meanings of place names, as a key component of reliable maps and charts enabling smooth navigation, a geographical name unlocks a valuable store of information, in itself becoming significantly more than the sum of its contributing parts.
Mutual sharing of information is the focus of Alberta's Geographical Names Program, and the purpose of this publication, the third in the series Place Names of Alberta, remains a twofold one. Over the course of several years, archival and field research have been conducted in this area of the province in order to provide accurate data for public use. This volume makes that information accessible to readers, even though the refinement process is continual. Beyond presenting the most up-to-date information the Geographical Names Program has collected, this volume also invites those with additional information on individual names to assist in this research by making their information public. Such individuals are a vital resource to whom we owe a great debt and from whom co-operation and help is always appreciated. Information may easily be entered onto the geographical names database by contacting the Alberta Geographical Names Program. Because of the guiding principles behind Alberta's Geographical Names Program, it is not surprising that the inventory of geographical names is continually in a state of accumulation and revision.
The formal process of geographical naming is a lengthy one, based on specific principles and procedures. It should be noted that the first function of geographical names is to ensure the most accurate identification of places. Recognition of the importance of rendering a correct spelling, use and translation of a geographical name, as well as providing a generic definition (i.e., extent of feature) of the type of feature being described, led to the creation of the Geographic Board of Canada through an Order-in-Council in 1897. Dedicated to the standardization of principles and procedures to be followed in naming geographical features, the Board changed its centralized approach very little over the years. A change of name in 1948 to the Canadian Board on Geographical Names still left minimal provincial representation. In 1961, however, the responsibility for geographical naming was transferred to the individual provinces and territories, though the necessity for coordination of activities at a national level remained. Creation of the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names in that year provided the opportunity for continued liaison between federal officials and the naming authorities of each province and territory, but provincial agencies like Alberta's Geographical Names Program now conduct all research and maintain all information on proposed names, name changes and names previously established.
Alberta's Geographical Names Program is part of the Historical Resources and Cultural Facilities Division of the Alberta Department of Community Development. Because of its focus on community participation and historical knowledge, its approach to geographical names research emphasizes the cultural dimensions of the province's geographical names. In addition to verifying local and historical usage through field research and archival materials, the Geographical Names Program maintains that to read a map is to read history.
Research has shown that the connection between geographical naming and the development of an area is very close: as individuals explore, survey and map a region, and settlement grows, the need to give places specific names increases. Indeed, geographical naming both affects and reflects the culture and heritage of a place. It also reveals significant cultural and environmental aspects of a community's identity. Names in Central Alberta reflect the multi-faceted history of the region, and differ in important respects from other areas of the province. The First Nations of Alberta, the Metis, fur traders, surveyors and cartographers, railway engineers, missionaries and homesteaders all required familiar and common geographic points of reference, but in the choice of names for places each identified their landscape with their particular culture. It is not unusual to find names, in one form or another, of Aboriginal origin, or that refer to fur traders or their former homes, to missionaries or railway officials or to early settlers and homesteaders within the same area. The impact that these early arrivals had on the face and nature of the place names in the study area is therefore readily demonstrated. Not only are the pioneers reflected in the names in this area, but their endeavours may also be charted.
The specific area that this volume addresses (outlined on page xxv), contains the central areas of Alberta, south of the Athabasca River, north of Drumheller, along the Saskatchewan boundary, and as far west as Rocky Mountain House. The map located on this page is designed to aid the reader in locating some of the features in a general way, relative to nearby populated places. Individual place names conjure images while maps invite exploration and discovery. Alberta's historical experience is comprised of many broad themes which are aptly reflected in place names in the study area. The following is an attempt to illustrate some of the main influences on Alberta's history and therefore its toponyms.
As with the other volumes, the earliest place names in this region were those used by aboriginal peoples, preserved and commemorated in translation or transliteration or the otherwise "anglicized" rendering of what are mostly descriptive names. It is not unusual to find several different native renderings and meanings of one place, as many groups may have occupied the same geographical area at different times. Long before fur traders, missionaries and explorers made their first forays into this vast land, it was inhabited by aboriginal groups. Many tribes used the area for hunting but tended to move south and east where game was plentiful and the winters were not as harsh. Central Alberta became a corridor for tribal groups going to the United States (Montana) and into Eastern Canada. Settlement patterns of the First Nations remain a broad and often speculative study. The nomadic nature of native groups is reflected in place names throughout Place Names of Alberta Volume III: Central Alberta, and cultural area overlaps are demonstrated in names such as Wetaskiwin (Cree: wi-ta-ski-winik - place of peace; Blackfoot: inuststi-tomo - peace hills; and Sarcee: natzuna-atsi-klukee) and Antler Hill (Cree: was-ka-suk-is-kun ka-so-pit - "the pile of elk horns;" Stoney: pa-chi-di ha-ba jo-bi). One therefore encounters a name such as Dogpound Creek (Cree: mizekampehpoocahan - wolf caught in Buffalo Pond; another Cree: ko-ma-tas-ta-moin - stolen horse (or dog) creek; Stoney: so-mun-ib-wapta - Edge Creek) and is initially perplexed that the meanings are so diverse. Native place names are most often descriptive, like Tawayik, "in the middle of," or Kikino, "our home," but, on occasion, features that commemorate a special event, like Battle River, or an association with native lore, like Driedmeat Hill, are also recorded and housed within the inventory of the Geographical Names Program.
Native languages are diverse, dynamic and characteristic of an oral tradition and culture. In Alberta, there are eight distinct Native languages, and several dialects or regional variations exist among these. Transcription of these languages is a relatively recent phenomenon and begins with contact with European settlers. Missionaries seeking to convert Natives to Christianity developed a system of phonetic transcriptions using non-alphabetical symbols known as syllables. Different religious denominations also created their own Romanized alphabetic writing systems, based mainly on English and French spelling rules. But early traders, settlers, and explorers who frequently referred to Native peoples and place names in their written documents and records used crude and inconsistent spelling that reflected their incomplete understanding of the languages as well as the lack of a formal system of transcription. It was not until the late nineteenth century that linguists in North America developed alphabetic systems intended for standardization of Native language transcription, although this was standardization more for scholarly use than for Native communities themselves.
Currently, scholars in Native studies and linguistics have worked toward standardization of orthography of the more widely spoken Native languages. But standardization of usage is far from complete. Inconsistencies are common in present Native place name spelling, and this reflects a lack of consensus among communities and local authorities regarding the proper spelling of particular names. These inconsistencies can be accounted for by the overall lack of consensus and standardization (among non-natives, educators, local authorities and communities) regarding the proper spelling of individual Native place names. It is because of this lack of standardization that throughout this volume many Native names are rendered with seeming inconsistency. The Cree word for "lake" has been spelled sakahigan, saghahegan, and sagahegan, depending on the time of naming and the individual who described and recorded it.
Much of the social and economic history of the Canadian fur trade took place within Alberta, where some 100 fur trading forts were established. The exchange of North American furs and provisions for European goods was a lucrative venture that expanded quickly west throughout Rupert's Land. In what would become Alberta, the first posts were established in the Lake Athabasca area, beginning with "Pond's Fort" (also known as The Old Establishment, Athabasca House and Pond's House, later known as Fort Chipewyan) of 1778.