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Southern Alberta Region

Vision Quest in Red Deer River Badlands in Southern Alberta. Have you ever driven down a highway somewhere in the world and seen a particularly interesting name on a map or on a roadside sign? So often, we are confronted with the question of "What's in a name?" The answer, Shakespeare aside, is that toponymy, the study of place names, reveals a great deal about the fascinating history and unique cultural heritage of any populated region. Toponymic research is primarily concerned with the origins and meanings of place names, and as a key component of reliable maps and charts enabling smooth navigation, a geographical name unlocks a valuable store of information.

Mutual sharing of information is the focus of Alberta's Geographical Names Programme, and the purpose of this publication, the second in the series Place Names of Alberta, remains a twofold one. Over the course of several years, archival and field research has been conducted in this area of the province in order to provide the most accurate data for public use. This volume makes that information accessible to readers, although the refinement process is continual. Beyond presenting the most up-to date information that the Geographical Names Programme 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 great respect and from whom co-operation and help would be very much appreciated. Information may easily be entered by contacting the Alberta Geographical Names Program.

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 of the type of feature being described, led to the creation of the Geographic Board of Canada through Order-in-council in 1897. Dedicated to the standardization of principles and procedures to be followed in naming geographical features, the Board has changed its centralized approach very little over the years. A name adjustment in 1948 to the "Canadian Board on Geographical Names" left provincial representation minimal. In 1961, however, the responsibility for geographical naming was left up 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 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 Programme now conduct all research and maintain all information on proposed names, name changes and names previously established. Alberta's approach has drawn increasing attention to the cultural dimensions of the province's geographical names.

Research has shown that the connection between geographical naming and the development of an area is very close: as individuals explore, develop, and survey and map a region, the need to give places specific names increases. Indeed, geographical naming both affects and reflects the culture and heritage of a place. The aboriginal peoples of Alberta, fur traders, surveyors and chartmakers, ranchers and businessmen alike required familiar and common points of reference in order to continue their work, but in the choice of names they identified the landscape with their particular culture.

The specific area that this volume addresses (outlined on page xxiv), contains the Badlands, the vast ranching areas and the mineral-rich oil and coal belts of Alberta. 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. The earliest place names in this region were those used by aboriginal peoples. The legacy of Alberta's First Nations is preserved and commemorated in many names that have survived over the decades. Nor is it unusual to find the names of early settlers and homesteaders on the vast expanses of coulees and plains. Similarly, the names of early ranchers can be traced in the names of localities and towns. The impact that these early arrivals had on the face and nature of the places in our study area is easily demonstrated in the names Cardston (page 23), Emerson Lake (page 41), and Gait Island (page 49)-all named for early pioneers, ranchers or entrepreneurs. Not only are early people reflected in the names in this area, but their endeavours may be charted as well. The early history of mining concerns is evident in the hamlet of Nacmine (page 85) named for the North American Collieries (NAC) and the word "mine." Irricana (page 62), a village located 42 kilometres north-east of Calgary, received its name when the newly opened post office combined the words "irrigation" and "canal" to produce the name. Like its predecessor (Volume I: Mountains, Mountain Parks, and Foothills), this volume is a collection of geographical names that pay tribute to the individuals and groups who contributed so much of their lives to a variety of enterprises that have made southern Alberta what it is today.

Alberta's history is multi-faceted, both culturally and regionally. Southern Alberta has a most historically important and interesting heritage, and one which differs in important respects from other areas of the province. Long before fur traders and explorers made their first forays along the great watercourses into this vast land, it was inhabited by dynamic and vital native groups. Archaeologists have found evidence of several native groups who inhabited this area more or less continuously for over 1,500 years, and many suspect that actual occupation far preceded this date. At the time of first European contact with the native peoples of southern Alberta, the main tribal and linguistic groupings in this volume's study area were of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which was composed of the Blood (historically Kainah or "many chiefs") and the Peigan (historically the Pikuni or "scabby robes") as well as the Siksika, the Blackfoot proper, and the Sarcee. In addition, the Kootenay lived among the mountains and foothills and may have ventured out onto the plains on occasion. The Gros Ventre and other Siouan and Shoshone groups also were present on the southern plains. On the northern edges of the study area Stoney and Cree could be found, and later other groups also established some presence in the area as a result of the fur trade. Archaeologists and ethnohistorians continue to debate the exact location of these groups in the pre-contact period and their subsequent migrations. Jack Brink's succinct outline of this early history of southern Alberta gives some idea of just how complicated this history is:

Several accounts indicate that the Snake, feuding with the Blackfoot and stricken by disease, were moving south into Montana. Plains Kutenai [sic] largely lost their small hold on the Plains in south-western Alberta and were confined almost entirely to the foothills and mountains... Sarsi [sic] were firmly fixed on the Plains, concentrated in the Bow Valley but moving with the various Blackfoot groups. The Blackfoot moved south to fill much of the Plains proper formerly occupied by the Snake... Blackfoot were firmly in control of the Saskatchewan Basin... the Gros Ventre were likewise moving to south of their former position, still occupying some of the area near the Saskatchewan forks but primarily situated on and below the South Saskatchewan.1

1.Jack Brink. Dog Days in Southern Alberta. Archaeological Survey of Alberta, Occasional Paper 28, Department of Culture and Multiculturalism, 1986, p. 58.

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