How the Canadian Provinces and Territories Got Their Names

iStock / SMJoness
iStock / SMJoness

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.”

This article originally appeared in 2011.

Themed Geography Grab Bag Quiz

The U.S.-Canada Border Runs Directly Through This Library

Though the Haskell Free Library and Opera House might not be as well known as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty, it's undoubtedly one of America's most unique tourist attractions. Completed in 1904, the building is stationed directly between Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, with the official U.S.-Canada borderline running right across the library's floor.

Martha Stewart Haskell and her son, Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell, both Canadians, built the building as a tribute to Mrs. Haskell’s late husband, Carlos. The family hoped that citizens from both countries would use it as a “center for learning and cultural enrichment,” according to the official Haskell Free Library website.

The Haskell is divided between the two countries. While the library’s official entrance is on the U.S. side of the building, most of the books are on the Canadian side. The opera house is similarly split, with most of its seats in the U.S. and its stage in Canada. As Atlas Obscura reported, it is often said that the Haskell is the only library in the U.S. with no books, and the only opera house in the country with no stage.

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Andrew Mayer speaks to Nancy Rumery as he stands on the Canadian side of a line on the floor of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House that marks the border between the U.S. March 22, 2006 in Derby Line, Vermon
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Passports and other forms of identification aren’t required to cross from country to country in the library, though the Haskell’s website notes that the border inside the "building is real and it is enforced.” Visitors are expected to return to their side of the border after a visit; if they don’t, they risk possible detention and fines.

Even beyond the building's unique position, library director Nancy Rumery told CTV News that Haskell staffers—Canadian and American alike—consider the institution to be like any other library in the world.

"We're just trying to be the best library we can, and our community is made up of people from two different countries," she said. "We don't think of it in that big symbolic way that I think a lot of people do. These are all our neighbors and we do our very best to help them on their life-long learning journey."

This article originally ran in 2016.

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