When fur traders and settlers of
French descent travelled through northern Alberta in the 17 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
On the Heritage Trail,
I’m Cheryl Croucher.