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The naming of Pierre Au Calumet

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When fur traders and settlers of French descent travelled through northern Alberta in the 1700s and 1800s, they left their mark in the place names of the province. According to historian Merrily Aubrey, one name refers to an important commodity used in the fur trade. On the banks of the Athabasca River, below the mouth of the MacKay River, is the historic site of Pierre au Calumet. The old North West Company post was founded sometime before 1819, and we know that because John Franklin referred to it when he travelled the river in 1820 and met John Stewart, who was in charge of the post.

Franklin recorded that the post received its name from "the place where the stone is procured of which many pipes used by the Canadiennes, the Nor'westers, and the Indians are made." These were the Pipestone Cliffs, lower down the Athabasca. The Calumet is an ornamental ceremonial pipe traditionally used as a symbol of peace. The Hudson's Bay Company had a post here too, and it was called Barren's House, but it was abandoned by 1820.Pierre au Calumet literally translates to "Pipestone."

Another name of French origin is La Crete. The hamlet is located 56 kilometres southwest of High Level, in northern Alberta.

The area of La Crete was settled around World War One - that early. The Rivard brothers came to Alberta from Quebec and filed for land at the mouth of Small Creek, that flows into the Peace River. At that point was ridge of land that they thought resembled a rooster's comb, which in French is "la crete." And "crete" is also the French word for a topographical feature known as a ridge or a crest. Not far from La Crete and High Level is another hamlet which owes its name to the transit of French fur traders in the region.

Nearby Carcajou has a really French sound to it, and it sounds quite close to Ackajour or Pecan, but these aren't really known in Alberta. In fact, Carcajou is a "Frenchified" form from the Alquonquin, probably Montagne, and means wolverine. In English, the word wolverine is a derivative of wolf, and this is referring to its reputation of ferocity - they're nasty little beasts - and a very good source for the fur trade, as well. Carcajou took its name from nearby Wolverine Point, which was noted as early as 1814, on a David Thompson map.

On the Heritage Trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.


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