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Northern Alberta Region

There are a number of features named after bush pilots. This Canadian term, coined in the early days of flight, is defined succinctly, yet poetically, in the Dictionary of Canadianisms as "a pilot who flies commercial aircraft (bush planes) over the trackless wilderness of the northern bush and barrens." These aviators were the 20th century explorers of northern Canada, with reputations akin to the swashbuckling heroes of the moving pictures of their day. In Alberta there are ten features named after these pilots, including lakes named after Leigh Brintnell, Wilfrid Reid "Wop" May and Grant McConachie.

Other thematic trends are evident. The most common is descriptive of a feature, or its attributes. There are 11 features with the word "clear" as part of the name and 11 others with the descriptor "long". In the 1950s and 1960s, the Research Council of Alberta (now the Alberta Research Council) submitted nearly 50 names for lakes in the far north, using as inspiration names of prominent geologists. Non-human life forms also provide inspiration for names of features. For example, over 170 places are named after plants, and over 260 features listed in this book are named after animals. As you read the book, more patterns will become apparent.

The foregoing briefly describes the history, patterns and trends in naming in northern Alberta. Many of the names described in the book include in the origin information the phrases "officially approved in...", or "the name was made official..." If you talk to long-time residents in any community, you will likely find many features in the area have names, but these names do not appear on any maps. These are "local" names, for which official status has not been applied. When names are officially approved through the appropriate body, they will have legal status, and will appear on federal and provincial maps. In most cases, it is sufficient for the local population and governmental authorities for names to remain unofficial. Sometimes it is desirable to have official status, especially for legal delineation or directional purposes. The process whereby this is done started nearly a century ago and continues to evolve.

The need to establish a names authority for Canada was recognised in the late 1800s. The catalyst for its creation was the international boundary survey between Canada and the United States. Other reasons for its creation included the work being done on resource mapping beyond the frontiers of settlement in Manitoba, as well as the infrastructure needed for the hoped-for tidal wave of immigration into western Canada. These made it an urgent matter to regulate the country's geographical and place names, and to set standards for feature identification. To meet these needs, the Geographic Board of Canada was created in 1897. Soon after the establishment of the Board, provinces were invited to advise it on spellings and use of names. However, the ultimate authority for naming decisions remained in Ottawa. After 1961, the responsibility was transferred to the provinces, and to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs for lands within the two territories and Indian Reserves. Since 1979, naming within the Indian and military reserves, and national parks has been done jointly through the provinces and the appropriate federal government department. So this means, for example, names in federal parks must be approved by both the Province of Alberta and Parks Canada.

The Geographic Board of Canada has evolved into the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (CPCGN) and currently falls within the jurisdiction of the Natural Resources Canada ministry. It is a joint federal-provincial committee based in Ottawa. Its roles are to foster growth of use in standardisation of policies within Canada for handling of names and terminology, and in co-operation with the United Nations to encourage the development of international standards. Each province and territory in Canada has a member on this committee. The CPCGN also acts as a clearing house and central registry for all approved names in Canada but has no power to accept or reject a given name. The secretariat of this committee maintains the National Toponymic Database, a computer file from which names are drawn for Gazetteers and all federally produced topographic maps. Much gratitude is owed to the CPCGN and its predecessors concerning origins of official names. Because that group was the sole naming authority for so many years, their files contain important background information on Alberta's place names.

It should be noted that responsibility for geographical naming and underlying philosophies vary from province/territory to province/territory. A number of jurisdictions view the process solely as part of surveys, mapping and natural resources. Instances of this are Manitoba's Geographical Names Program which is part of that province's Department of Natural Resources. In Nova Scotia, naming is handled by the Department of Lands and Forests. Other jurisdictions see toponymy as part of heritage and culture.

When Alberta became a province in 1905, it was up to the Provincial Librarian/Archivist to be the geographic names advisor for the province to Ottawa. The first to hold the position was Katherine Hughes who was appointed in 1907. Those who followed her included Provincial Librarians such as J. Ashton Jaffary, Edith Gostick and Eric Holmgren. In 1972, Eric Holmgren published his book on names in Alberta. The third edition, Over 2000 Place Names of Alberta, co-authored by Eric and Patricia Holmgren in 1976, became the standard reference work on the subject until the publication of the current expanded series. In 1974, the responsibility for the co-ordination of geographical naming was transferred from the jurisdiction of the Provincial Librarian to the Department of Culture. The Geographical Names Program (GNP) now falls within the Research and Publications Program of Historic Sites Service of the Cultural Facilities and Historical Resources Division within the Department of Community Development.

The responsibilities of the GNP are multifaceted. It maintains and continuously updates the Geographical Names Inventory, which is the data base of nearly 10 000 official names in the Province of Alberta. Included in the Inventory are the geographical and name origin information, along with primary and secondary sources used in gathering evidence on the place names and their origins. The Program works with Alberta Surveys and Mapping, along with other provincial and federal government departments that have interest in naming and mapping. It advises the Director of Historic Sites Service who is the Alberta member on the CPCGN. The GNP provides reference services for anyone wanting toponymic information. It also co-ordinates proceedings between those who want to name features and the body that makes the decisions regarding approval, the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Board.

The GNP co-ordinates the naming of physical features such as mountains, rivers, lakes and creeks. The responsibility for naming man-made features falls under other jurisdictions. Information on these cultural features such as roads, bridges and campgrounds are most likely to be kept with the responsible jurisdiction. The GNP does keep information in its Inventory on names of municipal governments, national and provincial parks, Indian Reserves, reservoirs and other cultural features.

In Alberta the criteria for making names official have evolved over time, but have remained relatively constant since the transfer of this responsibility from the office of the Legislative Librarian. In Alberta, first consideration is given to names that are well established and in current local use. Unless there are extremely good reasons to the contrary, this principle guides selection of names. For unnamed features, the cardinal rule is that proposed names should have some logical connection with the feature. Commonly, the best name is one that describes the feature itself. Names of early settlers, trappers and explorers are highly appropriate if they had some connection with the area, and the proposed name meets with the approval of the local residents.

The process by which new names are approved has a number of steps and, of necessity, is a lengthy one. Most requests come from the general public but are also received from other departments and levels of governments. If you want more information on naming procedures and principles, please contact the Geographical Names Program at the address given below.

One of the joys of toponymy is that there is always more information to find. Another pleasure is hearing from people who can provide the information. You will notice as you read this book, that the origin of some names is unknown. This is where your help is needed. If you can provide any kind of evidence to fill in the gaps, or if you know of alternate origins, please contact the program at the following address. Geographical Names Program Co-ordinator, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820-112 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2P8, or telephone (403) 431-2357. If you are interested in joining the Friends of Geographical Names of Alberta Society, information can be obtained at the same address.

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