Thursday, 5 January 2012

Take Gert's Road

Names have power. What we choose to call people, pets, things or places says a lot about who we are. Rightly or wrongly, we are judged by our names (as individuals and as communities). If you know why and when a community, family, or person game something a particular name, you have real understanding into their character and how they think. For a historian, understanding the origin of names is integral to appreciating the identity and beginning of the community (which is why my Place Names of Lethbridge book is always close by my desk when I'm researching).

Names are about identity. Which names you use (when there are choices) also provides unique insight.


Some names are used only within small groups. Only someone in my family would understand "take Gert's road, not the old Prairie Trail" and know exactly where I was.


But if you say to someone in Lethbridge "I'll meet you at the Sugar Bowl", chances are most people will know where to meet you.


Many places have several names. Gert's Road and the old Prairie Trail have township numbers (though I have no idea what they are). Names also change over time. Leavings become Granum. Blaney becomes Barons. And so on.


Names may also reflect different people's and different culture's names for the same place. Throughout history, Lethbridge's river valley has had almost 20 different names in several different languages. Each name reflects the time period it was used as well as various cultures and groups.


That's why I was very glad to have time over this holiday to read the Central Alberta Historical Society's latest book: Three-Persons and the Chokitapix: Jean L'Heureux's Blackfoot Geography of 1871.


This book is a translation of Jean L'Heureux's 1871 24 page manuscript written while he was traveling around Alberta with the Blackfoot. The edited book provides English, French and Blackfoot names for some places and geographical locations in Alberta. In addition to names, for many of the places it also gives the origin of many of the names. The map (because of where Jean L'Heureux traveled) has more emphasis on central Alberta than southern but is still interesting for those of us here in the south. It gives a different way of looking at this place we call home and a chance to see it from a different perspective.


Blanche Bruised Head and I have long talked about creating a map of southern Alberta with English and Blackfoot names for places, rivers, towns, etc. About time we stopped talking about it and actually got it done, don't you think?

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