Knight's Canadian Info Collection
Knight's Canadian Info Collection


How Canada's Provinces/Territories
and Capital Cities Got their Names

Canada's National Flag


Called Bytown until 1855 after Colonel John By (1781-1836) of the Royal Engineers, to whom the British government entrusted the construction of the Rideau Canal. Derived from the Algonquin term adawe, "to trade", the name given to the tribe which controlled the trade of the river. The name was applied first to the river. The French form is Outaouais.

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St.John's: Derived from the supposed date of discovery - on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, 1497. The name has survived through a series of translations from the Portuguese (Sćo Joćo) to the French (b. de Saincte Jean) to St. John's.

Newfoundland: Named " New Found Luanda " by King Henry VII, it was discovered by the Italian sailor John Cabot (originally known as Giovanni Caboto), who captained English expeditions to the Canadian coast in 1497 and 1498.

Labrador: There remains an element of uncertainty, but most authorities credit the origin of the name Labrador to Joćo Fernandes a Portuguese explorer and lavrador, or "farmer", in the Azores.

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Halifax: Founded June 21, 1749, and named for George Montagu Dunk, Earl of Halifax (1716-71), then President of the Board of Trade. Became the capital of Nova Scotia on July 14, 1749.

Nova Scotia: The Latin form of New Scotland.

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Fredericton: Assigned by order-in-council, February 22, 1785 - "a town at St. Anne's Point, on the River Saint John, to be called Fredericktown after His Royal Highness Prince Frederick, Bishop of Osnaburg". The "k" and "w" were dropped shortly thereafter.

New Brunswick: Was named in 1784 in honour of the reigning Monarch, King George II was also the Duke of Brunswick.

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Charlottetown: Listed as Charlotte Town on the Holland Survey map of 1765, the city was named for Queen Charlotte, (1744-1818), the consort of King George III. Incorporated as a town in 1855 and as a city in 1875.

Prince Edward Island: Was named in 1799 after a son of King George III, Prince Edward who was commander in chief of British North America at the time.

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Quebec: Derived from the Amerindian word kebek, indicating a strait or channel that narrows. The name was applied first to the region of the modern city and the word is of undoubted Algonquin origin. Early spellings: Quebecq (Levasseur, 1601); Kébec (Lescarbot, 1609); Quebec (Champlain, 1613). Champlain wrote of the location in 1632: " a strait of the river, so called by the Indians" - a reference to the Algonquin word for "narrow passage" or "strait" to indicate the narrowing of the river at Cape Diamond. The term is common to the Algonquin, Cree, and Micmac languages and signifies the same in each dialect.

Quebec: Was named in 1763, after the Algonquin word for narrow passage.

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Toronto: Details surrounding exact origin are uncertain. For many years it was thought to stem from a Huron word translated as "a place of meeting"; however, recent scholarship indicates that it may be of Mohawk origin. The Mohawk descriptive phrase tkaronto was used to indicate the fishing weirs located at The Narrows near present day Orillia. Literally translated as "where there are trees standing in the water", the name was noted by Champlain in 1615.

Over time it was to move 125 kilometres southward to the site of the city of Toronto (Rayburn, 1994). Listed as Tarantou (Sanson, 1656); in 1793 Governor John Graves Simcoe moved the capital from Newark (Niagara) to Toronto Bay and renamed it York. In 1834 the city was incorporated as Toronto.

Contemporary Metropolitan Toronto comprises the cities of Toronto, North York, Scarborough, York, Etobicoke and the borough of East York.

Ontario: Is of Native origin from the Huron words, "onitari" for lake and "io" for beautiful; and the Iroquoian word "kanadario" for sparkling water. It appeared in 1641 and was applied to the province in 1867.

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Winnipeg: This name is from the Cree Winnipi and may be freely translated as "dirty water" or "murky water". The lake was designated as Sea Lake by Thompson in 1816. Metropolitan Winnipeg, an amalgamation of neighbouring municipalities, was created November 1, 1960, and reorganized as the city of Winnipeg, January 1, 1972.

Manitoba: Comes from Manitou bou, which in Cree means, " narrows of the Great Spirit ".

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Regina: Assigned August 23, 1882, by the Governor General, the Marquess of Lorne (1845-1914), in honour of his wife's mother, Queen Victoria. Originally called Pile O'Bones.

Saskatchewan: Was derived from the Cree name for the Saskatchewan River, "Ksiskatchewananisipi" which means "swift flowing river".

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Edmonton: Name taken from Fort Edmonton, built in 1795 farther down the North Saskatchewan River than the present city. The fort was destroyed in 1807, but was relocated within the site of the present city limits by the Hudson's Bay Company some time before 1819. The fort is reputed to have been named by William Tomison for Edmonton, now part of metropolitan London, England, in honour of the birthplace of John Peter Pruden, a clerk of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Alberta: Was named in honour of Queen Victoria's fourth daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, in 1882.

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Victoria: First known as Fort Victoria, the city, like the numerous other locations of the same name, commemorates Queen Victoria (1819-1900). The name was chosen by the Council of the Northern Department (Hudson's Bay Company) at Fort Garry, June 10, 1843.

British Columbia: Was the name of Queen Victoria chose for the colony in 1858 ( it was originally known as New Caledonia in the North and Columbia in the South).

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Iqaluit: Located at the head of Frobisher Bay, this town (1980) was established in 1949 as Frobisher Bay, when the Hudson's Bay Company moved its post here from a site 70 km southeast. It became a municipal hamlet in 1971 and a village three years later. In December 1984 its residents voted 310 to 213 to rename the place Iqaluit, meaning "place of fish" in Inuktitut.

Nunavut: Was established in 1999, and it means "Our Land".

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Yellowknife: The community was established following the discovery of gold in 1934. The name is derived from the Athapaskan band of Amerindians, who possessed tools made from yellow copper. It is now capital of the Northwest Territories, and was incorporated as a city on January 1, 1970.

Northwest Territories: Was known as the North-Western Territory 1870.

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Whitehorse: The capital of Yukon since 1953. Named for the Whitehorse Rapids which are said to resemble the mane of a white horse.

Yukon: Was named after the Loucheaux Native word for great river, "Yuchoo".

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Source of all Names: Hamilton, William B. (1978): The Macmillan Book of Canadian place names, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto.

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