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Animal Place Names

The map of Alberta is dotted with names like Mink Lake, Merganzer Bay, and Marten Hills.

According to historian Merrily Aubrey, about 1 in 10 of the 9000 official place names of Alberta has something to do with animals.

It's a little less than 900 names. And more than likely these are aboriginal in origin and they've been passed down in transliteration from the aboriginal tongue or in English or French. This in turn is a pretty good indication that some of these date from the hey-day of the fur trade. So these are possibly the oldest names that we have.

The French and English speaking fur traders were here from the late 1700s and they used aboriginal names for the geographical features they encountered.

Since the European fur traders dealt with many tribal groups, it only made sense to continue using the names already familiar to their suppliers and guides.

Aboriginal people most often named their world in a pragmatic way. From the names that have survived from pre-contact times, it appears that many geographical features were named according to their physical attributes. Such as "big", "little" or "smoky", or by the food source that would be available at the site, such as "jackfish", "buffalo" or "duck".

In Canada, the most used animal name is "moose", but in Alberta that honour goes to another animal.

In Alberta, the front-runner is none other than the nation's symbol: the beaver. And perhaps this reflects a fur trade influence, I don't know.

There are at least 53 cultural and geographical features named after some form of the critter, including the town of Beaverlodge, and Beaver County. 7 Beaver Lakes, 6 Beaver Creeks, 5 Beaver Dam Creeks and 4 Beaver Rivers.

Anything with the name of Amisk or Castor refers to the rodent. Amisk is the Cree translation, and Castor, or "Castore" is the French or Latin form of the word.

One of the first residents of Amisk named the village streets "Gopher", "Squirrel", "Lynx" and "Badger".

As for Castor, which is located 140 kilometers east of Red Deer, the region was rife with beaver when the town was incorporated in 1909.

Beaver

Beaver

Bull Moose

Bull Moose

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Red Deer