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Origin of the names of Canada’s provincial and territorial capitals

  1. Ottawa, Canada
  2. St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
  3. Halifax, Nova Scotia
  4. Fredericton, New Brunswick
  5. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
  6. Québec, Quebec
  7. Toronto, Ontario
  8. Winnipeg, Manitoba
  9. Regina, Saskatchewan
  10. Edmonton, Alberta
  11. Victoria, British Columbia
  12. Iqaluit, Nunavut
  13. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
  14. Whitehorse, Yukon

Ottawa, Canada

The name Ottawa is derived from the Algonquin word “adawe”, which means “to trade”. The settlement was originally incorporated as Bytown in 1850. The name was changed to Ottawa in 1855.

(Sources: Canadian Geographical Names Data Base, Geographical Names Board 18th Report)

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St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

There is some disagreement regarding the history behind how St. John’s acquired its name. The most widely accepted explanation comes from the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real, who recorded the area as Rio de San Johem in 1519. The earliest recording of the modern day spelling came from an English merchant who travelled to Newfoundland in the 1570’s.

(Source: City of St. John's )

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Halifax, Nova Scotia

The name of the city was derived from George Montagu Dunk, second Earl of Halifax, who as president of the British Board of Trade aided in the foundation of Halifax and the colonization of Nova Scotia. The name was chosen in 1749 when approximately 2500 settlers landed on the Chebucto peninsula to establish a permanent settlement.

(Source: Canadian Geographical Names Data Base)

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Fredericton, New Brunswick

This city was originally called “Ste. Anne’s Point” until 1785. Governor Thomas Carleton assigned it the name “Fredericstown” after Prince Frederick, Duke of York. Shortly after this it was shortened to the name Fredericton.

(Source: City of Fredericton)

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Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

In 1764, Captain Samuel Holland was appointed as Surveyor-General for the British Empire and tasked with surveying Britain’s newly acquired land in North America. He arrived on Prince Edward Island (then called Island of St. John) and recommended both the current location of Charlottetown as well as the name “Charlotte Town” to honour Queen Charlotte, wife of George III of England.

(Source: City of Charlottetown)

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Québec, Quebec

The origin of the city’s name, Québec, comes from the Algonquin language “narrow passage” or “straight”. Originally, it was used to describe the narrowing of the St. Lawrence near the current site of the City of Québec.

(Source: Commission de toponymie du Québec, in French only)

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Toronto, Ontario

The name Toronto is derived from an Iroquois term meaning 'where there are trees in water' in reference to a weir for catching fish. Toronto gradually came to refer to a larger region that includes the site of the present city.

(Source: Canadian Geographical Names Data Base)

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Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Cree named the lake to the north “Win” (muddy) and “nipee” (water). In 1873, Winnipeg was incorporated as a city. (Source: City of Winnipeg)

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Regina, Saskatchewan

Cree hunters stacked buffalo bones in the area of Regina, and named it Oskana-Ka-asateki or "the place where bones are piled." Early explorers, fur traders and settlers called the area “Pile of Bones.” It was decided in 1882 when the town began to grow that it required a more regal name. Princess Louise suggested that the town be named Regina in honour of her mother and the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria.

(Source: City of Regina)

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Edmonton, Alberta

This city was originally named “Fort Edmonton” by the Hudson Bay Company in 1795 when it was used as a fur-trading post. It became incorporated as the City of Edmonton in 1904.

(Source: Canadian Geographical Names Data Base)

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Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria started as a trading post founded by the Hudson Bay Company in March 1843 and was officially named as “Fort Victoria”, after Queen Victoria. In 1852, the name was changed to “Victoria” and it was incorporated as a city in 1862.

(Source: City of Victoria)

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Iqaluit, Nunavut

Iqaluit means “place of many fish” in the Inuktitut language. From 1955 to 1987, the settlement was named Frobisher Bay, after the explorer Martin Frobisher who searched for the Northwest Passage. In 1987, the town officially reverted to its original Inuktitut name, Iqaluit, and was designated as a city in 2001.

(Source: City of Iqaluit)

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Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Yellowknife acquired its name from the aboriginal group known as the “T'atsaot'ine”, or “Yellowknives”. It became the capital of the Northwest Territories in 1967. Known for its valuable minerals, it has the traditional name of Smbak'è, which means money place.

(Source: Canadian Geographical Names Data Base)

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Whitehorse, Yukon

Originally called White Horse, the name came from the foam in nearby rapids on the Yukon River which looked similar to the manes on white horses. Whitehorse was incorporated as a city in 1950, and replaced Dawson as the capital of the Yukon in 1953.

(Sources: Canadian Geographical Names Data Base)

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