Places around BC with Indigenous names, and what they mean

Sep 29 2021, 2:50 pm

You can’t travel around BC without seeing the mark made by Indigenous Peoples in this province.

You may have driven up the Sea to Sky and seen a road sign for Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh), and wondered what it meant, since many of us are not necessarily familiar with Indigenous languages.

Here in BC, many popular destinations in the province feature Indigenous names, or anglicized versions of Indigenous names.

But, what do those names mean, and what is the origin of those names?

Vancouver

 

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While Vancouver isn’t a name of Indigenous origin, the early roots of Vancouver could be tied to the name K’emk’emeláy, which was based around an Indigenous village situated near the Downtown East Side.

The origin of the name K’emk’emeláy has ties to the Squamish Nation, and it means place of many maple trees.

Bella Bella

Located on Campbell Island, BC, Bella Bella is a Heiltsuk village.

There are numerous origin stories around the naming of Bella Bella.

According to the Heiltsuk Nation, Pélbála was an early geographical name tied to this region, which may have been the origin of Bella Bella.

Capilano

Capilano was named after the former leader of the Squamish in the late 1800s, named Joe Capilano.

Cariboo

 

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The Cariboo region of BC, which includes places like 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, and Quesnel, has roots in the Mi’kmaq language, which is spoken by approximately 11,000 people in Canada and the USA.

It means pawer, or scratcher, and has origins related to the caribou, also known as a reindeer in other parts of the world.

Chilliwack

A little closer to home, Chilliwack’s name comes from the Halqemeylem language, and means ‘going back up.’

It can also mean ‘quieter water on the head’ or ‘travel by way of a backwater of slough.’

It has historically been spelled other ways, including Chilliwhack, Chilliwayhook, Chil-whey-uk, Chilwayook, and Silawack.

Comox

Rooted in either Chinook  for ‘dog’, or Kwak’wala for “place of plenty.”

Coquitlam

 

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Coquitlam comes from the Halqemeylem language like Chilliwack, and means “small red salmon.”

Cultus

 

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Stemming from Chinook jargon, Cultus actually means “bad, of no value, worthless.”

It is likely due to legends that this now popular summer destination was inhabited by evil spirits.

Kamloops

 

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Kamloops is the anglicized version of the Shuswap word Tk’emlups, which means “where rivers meet.”

Kelowna

 

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Kelowna comes from the Okanagan language, and it means male grizzly bear.

Nanaimo

 

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Nanaimo is named after the Snuneymuxw people, who have lived in the region for thousands of years.

Osoyoos

 

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Osoyoos is a variant of suius in the Okanagan language, which means “place where two lakes meet.” The O was added to created harmony among other places in the region that had ‘O’ names.

Penticton

 

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Also in the Okanagan language, Penticton roughly translates into “place to stay forever.”

Qualicum Beach

A popular summer destination, Qualicum comes from the Comox language, and means “where the dog salmon run.”

Sechelt

Sechelt is named after the Shishalh people, who have historically lived in the area.

Squamish

 

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Squamish means “mother of the wind,” due to the nature of the strong winds present in the Howe Sound area.

According to the Squamish Nation, “in the long ago there was no word for ‘nation’ and the Squamish simply called themselves Skwxwú7mesh (pronounced Squ-HO-o-meesh) or ‘the Squamish People.’ The Skwxwú7mesh Snichim (Squamish language), although critically endangered, is still a vital part of the Squamish culture.”

Tsawwassen

 

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From the North Straits Salish, Tsawwassen means “looking towards the sea.”

Amir AliAmir Ali

+ Curated
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