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Geographical Names Board of Canada

In Canada, since 1897, geographical names have been authorized through a national committee, now known as the Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC).

Board membership

The GNBC is comprised of members from each province and territory and various federal departments concerned with mapping, archives, defence, translation, Indian reserves, national parks and statistics. The Chairperson is appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources Canada.

The Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC) is Canada’s national coordinating body responsible for standards and policies on place names. The GNBC comprises federal, provincial and territorial departments and agencies, each with specific authority and responsibility for their respective jurisdictions. Working together as a multi-jurisdictional national body, GNBC members coordinate efforts to ensure that geographical names are consistently managed.

Priorities of the GNBC

The work of the GNBC is guided by a five year Strategic Plan. There are four overarching strategic priorities for the 2020-2025 Strategic Plan:

  • Review Role, Mandate and Governance
  • Enhance Internal Communication and Collaboration
  • Improve Database Content and Management
  • Enhance External Profile and Collaboration

Strategic Priorities are implemented though several Working Groups comprised of GNBC members.

A Brief History of the GNBC

The need for a Canadian names authority was recognized in the late 1800s, when resource mapping beyond the frontiers of settlement and extensive immigration made it an urgent matter to manage the country's geographical names - to standardize their spelling and their application to particular features. The Geographic Board of Canada was established in 1897, and became the Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC) in 2000.

Soon after 1897 the provinces and territories were invited to provide advice on the use, spelling and application of names, although until 1961 decisions were ultimately made in Ottawa. At that time, the responsibility for naming was transferred to the provinces. Since 1979, the authority for naming in Indian reserves, national parks, and military reserves has been jointly held by the appropriate federal department and the province concerned. In 1984, Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories assumed responsibility for the names in their own jurisdictions.

Among today's roles of the GNBC as a national coordinating body are the development of standard policies for the treatment of names and terminology, the promotion of the use of official names, and the encouragement of the development of international standards in cooperation with the United Nations and other national authorities responsible for naming policies and practices.

The Geographical Names Board of Canada celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2022! Learn more!

GNBC Secretariat

The GNBC's Secretariat is provided by Natural Resources Canada. In concert with the GNBC Chairs and the representatives of the various federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions, it handles all routine toponymic matters relating to Canada, on behalf of the GNBC.

The Secretariat also coordinates the information to be included in the national database and has an important role in encouraging the official use of names and in stimulating the development of standard policies. It provides a focus for contacts with other national names authorities and promotes international cooperation with the United Nations and other organizations concerned with the global standardization of names.

Contact the GNBC Secretariat at Natural Resources Canada:

Geographical Names Board of Canada Secretariat
Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation
Natural Resources Canada
580 Booth Street, 5th Floor
Ottawa ON  K1A 0E4

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