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How the Canadian Provinces and Territories Got Their Names

Alberta

Named in honor of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848-1939), the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and the wife of the Marquess of Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. Lake Louise, the village of Caroline, and Mount Alberta are also named after her.

British Columbia

The name refers to the Columbia District, the British name for the territory drained by the Columbia River. Queen Victoria specified that the area be called British Columbia to distinguish the British section of the District from that which belonged to the United States (which became the Oregon Territory). The river, in turn, took its name from the Columbia Rediviva (formerly the Columbia; the Latin rediviva, or “revived,” was added to the name after the ship’s 1787 rebuilding), a privately owned ship that was the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe and was used extensively in the Pacific Northwest maritime fur trade.

Manitoba

Believed to be derived from the Ojibwa manito-bah (sometimes written as manitobau) or Cree manito-wapow (also written as manitowapow), both of which translate to “the spirit straits” and probably refer to the straits of Lake Manitoba.

New Brunswick

Refers to Brunswick, the English translation of Braunschweig, the city in northern Germany that was the ancestral home of King George III of Great Britain.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland is derived from the English translation of its original Latin name, Terra Nova or “new land” and is the oldest European place name in North America. Labrador is likely named for João Fernandes Lavrador, a Portuguese navigator who explored the area in the late 1400s and whose honorific “lavrador” means “landholder.”

Northwest Territories

Named for its location in the northwest area of the country. There was talk of changing the name, possibly to a term from a native language. Among the popular proposals were “Denendeh,” an Athabaskan word meaning “our land,” and “Bob.”

Nova Scotia

From the Latin nova, feminine of novus (“new”), and Scotia (“Scotland”), literally “New Scotland.”

Nunavut

From an Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit) word meaning “our land.”

Ontario

Named after Lake Ontario. The word is thought to be derived from either the Wyandot ontarí:io (“great lake”) or Iroquoian skanadario (“beautiful water”).

Prince Edward Island

Named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, son of King George III and Commander-in-Chief of the British army in North America.

Quebec

Derived from the Algonquin kébec, which has been translated as “where the river narrows,” “strait narrows” and “it narrows,” and refers to the area around Quebec City where the Saint Lawrence River narrows to a cliff-lined gap.

Saskatchewan

Named after the Saskatchewan River, which takes its name from the Cree word kisiskāciwani-sīpiy or “swift flowing river.”

Yukon

Named for the Yukon River, the name of which is derived from the Gwich'in word for “great river.”

Maple Leaf image via Shutterstock. This article originally appeared in 2011.

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Food
A Brief History of Poutine
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Walk down a street after a hard night of drinking in Montréal and you’d be hard-pressed not seeing someone gorging themselves on poutine, a high-calorie classic staple of Québécois casse-croûtes—or “greasy spoon”—cuisine.

Just what is poutine, you ask? The delicious Canadian dish is comprised of a holy-hoser trinity of ingredients: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Try some yourself and you’ll be hooked. It’s become so popular that it’s readily available at certain restaurants in the U.S. (Lucky New Yorkers can get their hands on some traditional poutine at Brooklyn restaurant Mile End.) Otherwise, the dish has become so ubiquitous in its home province that even McDonald’s and Burger King sell it as a side.

Much like the debate in the U.S. about the origins of the hamburger, poutine has similarly unclear beginnings. The most widespread claim for inventing poutine comes from the small dairy-farming town of Warwick, Québec, where, in 1957, a customer asked restaurateur Fernand Lachance to throw cheese curds and French fries—items the owner sold separately at his restaurant L’Idéal (later renamed Le lutin qui rit, or “The Laughing Elf”)—together in one bag because the customer was in a rush. Legend has it when Lachance peered into the bag after the two ingredients were mixed together, he remarked, “This is a ‘poutine,’” using the joual—or Québécois slang—for a "mess.”

Noticeably absent from Lachance’s cobbled-together recipe is the gravy ingredient, which was added to the mix in 1964 when a restaurant-owner in nearby Drummondville, Quebec named Jean-Paul Roy noticed a few of his diners ordering a side of cheese curds to add to the patented gravy sauce and fries dish at his restaurant, Le Roy Jucep. Roy soon added the three-ingredient item on his menu and the rest is delicious, gravy-soaked history.

Eventually, poutine spread across the province and throughout Canada—with different combinations added to the fries, curds, and gravy recipe—but the original remains the most recognized and honored. It even initially made its way to the United States by way of New Jersey, where an altered recipe known as “Disco Fries” substitutes shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese for the Canadian curds.

But if you ever find yourself in Montréal and have a hankering for greasy food, be sure to order it correctly. Anglophones usually pronounce the word as “poo-teen,” but if you want to pass for a real Québécois, it’s pronounced “poo-tin.”  

This story originally ran in 2013.

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language
15 Colorful Canadian Slang Terms
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Americans looking to take a trip across their country's northern border might find themselves bewildered by some Canadian turns of phrase. It is, after all, a place where people go out for a rip to the beer store and plunk down their loonies to pick up a two-four. Pretty confusing, eh? But fear not. For all you keeners who want to learn how to speak like a Canuck, here’s a handy chart to help you master Canadian slang, courtesy of Expedia.ca.

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