This Map Shows What The Name Of Every Province In Canada Actually Means - MTL Blog

This Map Shows What The Name Of Every Province In Canada Actually Means

A brief history of every provincial name.

We've all seen the Heritage Moment of Canada being named, so it's pretty common knowledge that "Canada" likely comes from the Huron-Iroquois word "kanata," which really means "village" or "settlement."

But do you know where your home province got its name? Or your neighbouring province to the right, what about them? Well, scroll down for a mini-history lesson on all the name origins for every province in Canada.

READ ALSO: 18 Brutally Honest Opinions About Canada From Around The World

TL;DR Every province has a story about how it got its name, and we've gathered all those stories below so you can see where every Canadian province got its name.

The names of Canadian provinces are pretty evenly split between English words or names and names that come from Native languages like Cree or Ojibway.

For some provinces it is truly surprising to see how long it took for the official name to come into existence, or how many names the place had before we landed on the one we use now.


Newfoundland and Labrador — "New Found Land and One Who Tilled the Ground"

The "new found land" aspect is pretty self-explanatory, as Newfoundland was among the first lands encountered by Europeans in the Americas back in 1497. 

The Labrador part wasn't made official until 2001, but the name dates back as far as 1500. The thought is that the land was named after Azorean explorer "El Ilavorador," and then anglicized. 


Prince Edward Island — "Land of Prince Edward, Son of King George III"

The Mi'kmaw who inhabited Eastern Canada long before any settlers arrived called the island "Abeqweit," which means "cradle in the waves."

When the French arrived, they began to call it "Ile Saint-Jean." Once the Treaty of Paris ceded the land to the British in 1763, it was renamed again as St. John's Island.

Finally, in 1799, the British officially renamed the province after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.


Nova Scotia — "New Scotland"

Latin for New Scotland, the province was named for King James VI of Scotland in 1621. Sir William Alexander, who was given the land by the king, did the honourable thing and named his land after his monarch.

Prior to that, the First Nations knew the land as "Mi'kma'ki," the French knew it as Acadia, and the Brits had already been calling it New Scotland. I think the Latin has a nice ring to it...


New Brunswick — "Land of King George, Duke of Brunswick"

Originally considered part of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick didn't become its own province until 1784. 

The name came as an honour to King George II, who was also the Duke of Brunswick, an area in Germany at the time.


Quebec — "Narrow Passage"

From the Algonquin word for "narrow passage" or "strait," the word "quebec" was used to describe the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River near what is now Quebec City. 

Since Quebec City was one of the first settlements within Canada, the province has gone through the most name changes. It was known as the OG Canada to New France as well as Lower Canada and Canada East before finally taking its provincial name.


Yukon — "Great River"

The Government of Canada explains that the territory's name likely sprung from the word "yu-kun-ah," which means "great river," though they don't specify if this word is Gwich'in in origin or from another First Nations language.

Not officially named until the Yukon Act in 2003, the territory has been called Yukon Territory since 1898 but was likely referred to as Yukon as far back as 1846 when John Bell of the HBC travelled by canoe down the Porcupine River until it met the Yukon river, where natives of land referred to the big river as "youcon."


Northwest Territories — "North-Western Territories"

This territory has always been named as a simple description of its location. Not terribly exciting, unfortunately.

The typographical changes happened in 1870, changing "North-Western" to simply "Northwest."


Nunavut — "Our Land"

This one is definitely more interesting. Nunavut became Canada's third official territory when it separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999.

Given the opportunity to name their province, the Inuit people chose to call their province, "Nunavut," meaning "our land" in Inuktitut.


Ontario — "Sparkling Water"

From the word, "kanadario," which means "sparkling" water in Iroquois. The earliest record of the word Ontario is from 1641, when it described land northeast of the Great Lakes.

The British originally were calling land in the U.S. "Quebec" and alternatively calling Quebec, as we know it, "Ontario." Only after the Consitutional Act in 1791 did Ontario become the land upstream from the St. Lawrence (Upper Canada), and Quebec became the land downstream from the St. Lawrence (Lower Canada).

Finally, in 1867, Ontario and Quebec became their own provinces..


Manitoba — "The Narrows of the Great Spirit"

The name is believed to originate from the Cree phrase, "Man-into-wahpaow" or "the narrows of the Great Spirit," referring to Lake Manitoba, which narrows at the centre.

After entering confederation in 1870, Sir John A. Macdonald announced the province's name, which was suggested by Louis Riel, famous Canadian Metis. The name was meant to evoke the orignal inhabitants of the area.


Saskatchewan — "Swift Flowing River"

Fun to say and fun to spell, Saskatchewan was named after its river, called "Kisiskatchewanisipi," which means "swift flowing" river in Cree.

The spelling was modernized in 1882 when Saskatchewan became a district of the "North Western" Territories. It became its own province in 1905.


Alberta — "Land of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta"

These last two are pretty straightforward, likely due to their overwhelming Britishness. 

Alberta was named after Queen Victoria's fourth daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. Also established as a district of the NWT in 1882, Alberta became its own province in 1905.


British Columbia — "River of Columbia"

Named after the Columbia River, the southern part of the province was known as simply "Columbia," while the central part of the region was called "New Caledonia." by explorer Simon Fraser.

However, when the area became a colony in 1858, Queen Victoria renamed the areas British Columbia to avoid confusion with Colombia in South America and New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean.


This helpful map courtesy of Expedia is a fun way to explore the "literal" meaning of every provincial name:

Via expedia.ca

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