Women are on the Map ~ Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names

To mark International Women’s Day, Natural Resources Canada released a new interactive map called ‘Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names’. The map showcases locations across Canada named after women.

‘Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names’ is an initiative by Natural Resources Canada ~ it is a collaborative effort, facilitated by Janice Sharpe, Senior Director, Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation, Natural Resources Canada and Steve Westley, Manager, (GNBC) Geographical Names Board of Canada Secretariat at Natural Resources Canada. It has been a mammoth undertaking ~ and one that both Janice Sharpe and Steve Westley will tell you, has been a most meaningful and fulfilling project to undertake.

The project is Canadian story-telling. Cartography aficionados are going to love this ~ however its reach is one that should be found in every single classroom, virtual and otherwise, across this country ~ and frankly, beyond our geographical boundaries.

The GNBC is the national coordinating body responsible for official place names. It is composed of representatives from each provincial and territorial naming authority, as well as several federal departments and agencies. The members of the GNBC work to research, standardize, approve, record and promote the official geographical names of Canada.
The GNBC is supported by NRCan, which provides a secretariat and maintains the national database of authoritative geographical names.

‘Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names’ is a legacy project for the country. And a piece to keep in mind while you are exploring around the interactive map, is that it is a living document ~ there are untold stories yet to be made known. The project’s mission is to document Women on the Canadian Landscape ~ the map is a living document.

“Women founded this country, women built this country. This map tells their stories, preserves their memories and pays tribute to so many names that deserve to be remembered.” said Seamus O’Regan Jr., Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources.

Geographical names are the result of the interaction between people and the lands they know or inhabit. Names are given to places and geographical features in Canada, such as mountains, lakes, rivers, cities and towns, for the purpose of identification and referencing, and to remember persons or events. Place names are a visible link to those people and events we consider important enough to commemorate and, in doing so, reflect who we are as a society. Throughout history, women have accomplished great things. However, these vital accomplishments have often not been recognized within society.

Until recently there had been little effort to identify place names by gender across Canada. However, the new map endeavours to tell the often untold or forgotten stories of women who have contributed to Canada’s rich history. It is the first national map of its kind to commemorate and present geographical features that are named for women.

‘Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names’ brings to the forefront stories of women in Canada whose accomplishments have not always been fairly, equitably or publicly recognized.

Cartography is a specialty where art and science come together. ‘Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names’ offers a sample of close to 500 official place names approved by the federal, provincial and territorial naming authorities of the Geographical Names Board of Canada. The selected geographical features are named for women from a range of backgrounds who have been remembered for different reasons.

Each point on the map is categorized by a theme — pioneers, family ties, royalty and religious figures, Indigenous cultures, community service, arts/literature, medicine/science and political figures — and contains a description about the person behind a place name.  Place names are a visible link to people and events we consider important and thus reflect who we are as a society.

There are examples across Canada of geographical features named for women, and this commemorative map presents some of these places. Preserved in each geographical name is a woman’s association with a landscape or a place. Collectively they reflect a diversity of women’s histories and cultural origins from across the country. By hovering over a particular dot on the map, a person can click on the marker and read a note about the history behind the place name. Here are a few examples:

  • Sault Ste. Marie – French Jesuit missionaries began calling this site Sault Ste. Marie in the 1600’s after St. Mary of Nazareth.
  • Elizabeth Bay – This bay is named after Elizabeth Bayfield, mother of hydrographic surveyor Henry Bayfield.
  • Elizabeth Township -Named for Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. After her father King George VI’s death, she was crowned in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. Queen Elizabeth continues to champion public and voluntary service around the world.
  • Lake Peloquin –  Named after Theresa Peloquin, the eldest daughter of Pete Peloquin, a local trapper who had his trapline in the vicinity of this lake.
  • Helen Mine – The mine and community were named after Helen Clergue, sister of Francis H. Clergue, who established an iron mine on the site in 1900.
  • Mrs. M.G. Poole – Feature Type: Shoal – This shoal was named after Mrs. M.G. Poole, sister-in-law to William J. Stewart, Chief Hydrographer.
  • Cathy’s Lake – Named after Catherine Bouchard (née Achneepineskum), a Pays Plat First Nation community member and wife of Chief Gerald Bouchard. In 1976, a plane went down near the family’s trap line. Cathy assisted with locating the crashed plane at this lake, and the lake was eventually named after her for her assistance.
  • Annette Lake – Named after Annette Lillianne Marie Allard (née Dionne). The lake is named after one of the Dionne quintuplets. On May 28, 1934, Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne were born to a Franco-Ontarian family in Corbeil, Ontario. The birth and survival of these five identical sisters became an international sensation that brought intense attention to the “Quints” and their small Ontario town.

The categories are colour coded and organized thusly ~

Women of:

  • Indigenous Cultures
  • Early Settler/Pioneer
  • Political Figure
  • Community Service
  • Medicine/Science
  • Arts/Literature
  • Royalty/Religion
  • Familial
  • Unknown

The first national map of its kind, the map also illustrates how geospatial information plays a major role in defining our national identity. The new map tells untold or forgotten stories of women who have contributed to Canada’s rich history and to its life today. Happy exploring ~ Women are on the map.

Thank you to Louisa Coates ~ Science Communications | Promotion de la science / Natural Resources Canada for the encouragement on this article, and facilitating the zoom interview with Janice Sharpe and Steve Westley. She ‘rocks’.