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An Aboriginal Presence

Naming the Land

As Europeans moved across the continent, they passed through hundreds of named places. Every Aboriginal society had a system of place names. Villages, lakes, rivers, mountains, berry-gathering grounds, resting places on trails - all could be named. Along the west coast of Vancouver Island there was a named place every half-mile.

As European place names were superimposed on the land, many of the Aboriginal place names were overlooked. Others were adopted for common use, although often in modified form. Some, like Quebec, Ottawa and Toronto, became the names of cities.

Today many Aboriginal people are reclaiming original names for settlements long known by English or French names. The restoration of Aboriginal place names to the map of Canada is discussed at treaty tables.

Researchers have recorded place names in many different spelling systems. Names shown here are in the spelling system used in the original source.

The name Canada comes from the Wendat word, kanata, meaning population or village. Quebec comes from the Algonquin word, kebec, signifying the narrowing of the river in the area around the City of Québec.

Ottawa comes from the Algonquin term adawe, "to trade." This was the name given to the people who controlled the trade of the river.

Toronto is generally believed to be a Huron word which means "a place of meeting." A large number of Aboriginal peoples landed at this spot on their way to trade or hunt in Huron country.

Some names were humorous, such as damliwas, "place of vibrations," the Kwakwaka'wakw name of Hansen Island, south of Malcolm Island.

"A woman who had married into the village at the mouth of the Nimpkish River was very homesick. She walked to the beach, and sat on a big rock, looking longingly down the straits to where her village was. While she was there she farted (broke wind). So powerful was the event that it disintegrated the big rock into tiny pebbles and the vibrations from the explosion were felt on Hansen Island down the straits."

Gloria Cranmer Webster

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