What's in a Peace Country name?
Updated: Feb 25
Whether you're a traveler or a local, it's fun to find out how places got their names. Sometimes they give you insight into a community, sometimes not.
1) Where do most of the names come from? In a place like Canada that was colonized, there is an overabundance of names giving homage to motherlands, or people who came from there, which are sometimes a pretty boring and simplistic way to name a place. The more interesting ones are strange or provocative words. Sometimes it takes a lot of digging to find out why the place was named what it was, especially if it has lost population over the years, like so many rural communities these days.
2) Peace, River, Peace River? Since the town of Peace River was incorporated in 1919, it has had the name of the river. It was the amalgamation of two communities at that time, Peace River Crossing and Peace River Landing Settlement.
Some still dispute that choice, due to the confusion ensuing from when people say 'Peace River', whether they are referring to the river, the region (which extends into British Columbia) or the town. According to Ronald Kelland, "The 1,923 kilometer long Peace River takes its name from Peace Point, a projection of land into the river close to the place the river flows into Lake Athabasca. It was at Peace Point where the Cree and Dunne-Za people ended a long-standing dispute".
It's not exactly clear who made this momentous decision, which is the case for many place names. Interestingly, Peace Point is many hundred kilometers from the town of Peace River, at its confluence with the Athabasca.
3) Some of my top picks: Since I first started traveling the Peace River country, some names intrigued me more than others. Here are some of them:
Deadwood - It just sounds like a bad place to be from... (though not near as bad as something like, say "Swastika" in northern Ontario). Actually it is a lovely, somewhat remote, agricultural area. It was named by the first Postmaster in Deadwood, after his hometown in South Dakota, which was named after some dead trees found there. Not sure why he thought two towns in the world needed such a compelling name?
High Level- It's a cool name because as Ronald Kelland relates: “The community is located on the height of land between the Peace River watershed and the Hay River Watershed, so it is at a high level comparative to the surrounding countryside. It was a high point between two distinct topographies in the region" and a natural stopping place. According to Wikipedia, in comparative terms of Alberta topography, it is actually quite low.
HIGH LEVEL MUSEUM
Watino: I like when colonial names are changed to something that reflects the local natural reality. Like Pruden's Crossing in the Smoky River valley, that was renamed Watino, a cree word meaning 'valley'.
WATINO BRIDGE ON THE SMOKY RIVER
Battle of the Battles: Some old names can't be shaken, even after they are changed for so-called logical reasons by the powers that be. The area north of Manning was called the 'Battle River' area back in the day, due to the fact that one of the three rivers in the area actually had that name. The Notikewin river was named after the cree word for 'battle'. In fact the three rivers in the Manning area ( Notikewin, Hotchkiss, and Meikle) are colloquially still called the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battles today by the locals, as you cross each of them consecutively when travelling the highway from Manning to High Level. This reference had something to do with consecutive indigenous wars on the banks of each of these rivers way back in the history, which is apparently also how the other Battle River, that flows through central Alberta and Saskatchewan, was named.There were apparently lots of such battles way back when. Anyway, like so many things in Alberta, the central region won the claim to the name 'Battle River', but at least we in the north get to keep the prettier name, 'Notikewin'.
NOTIKEWIN PROVINCIAL PARK - AT CONFLUENCE OF NOTIKEWIN AND PEACE RIVER
If you have any cool stories about place names in the Peace, I would love to know about them.