A photo of the skyline of Calgary, Alberta
Photo by maureen (flickr)

Host of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, Calgary, Alberta, was founded by the North West Mounted Police as Fort Brisebois to control American whiskey traders operating in the area. In 1876 Colonel James Macleod changed the name to Fort Calgary, after the town of Calgary, in the Island of Mull, in Scotland, and in 1894 the city was incorporated as the City of Calgary.

So, if Calgary, AB, is named after Calgary, Mull, Scotland, then how did Calgary, Scotland get its name? It turns out that there are two possible stories, and there is some disagreement within those stories:

First Story: The name Calgary comes from two Gaelic words. In this story Calgary comes from Cala ghearraidh meanining “beach of the meadow/pasture” This makes sense since Calgary, Mull, has a meadow beside a beach. Or, the Galic words could be caladh garaidh meaning “Haven by the dyke.”

Second Story: The name Calgary comes from two Old Norse words, (vikings inhabited the region for a while). Again, there are at least two stories on the exact words and meaning of those words, they could be kalt gart meaning “cold garden” or they could be Kali geiri. Kali is a person’s name, so this means “Kali’s triangular plot of land.”

I’m not sure which story to believe, but the first story, (Gaelic names), seems to be slightly more accepted and definitely more believable than “Kali’s triangular plot of land.”

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

A lady standing below an image of a falling buffalo.
Photo by Eric, (flickr)

Here is a place with a fitting name. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a cliff in southern Alberta where the natives hunted buffalo by driving entire herds over the cliff starting about five thousand years ago. It would make sense, then, that the place would be called Head-Smashed-In, after all, the buffalo’s heads were probably smashed in, right?

Wrong. Apparently, the name comes from a young man who wanted to watch the buffalo going over the cliff from below. There was a larger-than-expected herd that year and when they pulled him out from under the buffalo it was his head was smashed in.

Head-Smashed-In is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s near Fort Macleod, Alberta, and there’s a museum & interpretive centre there where you can learn more.

Medicine Hat

Photo by ffunyman (flickr)

Finding out the origins of the name Moose Jaw yesterday I started to wonder about the other prairie city with a funny name, Medicine Hat, Alberta so I looked it up.

The name Medicine Hat is an English translation of the Blackfoot word “Saamis.” A saamis is the headdress worn by medicine men, and therefore is a “Medicine Hat.” According to Wikipedia, there are “several” legends associated with Medicine Hat.

One story tells of in incredibly tough winter for the Blackfoot people. The elders chose a young man to try to save his nation, and he set off with his wife and dog to the “breathing hole,” a hole in the ice of the South Saskatchewan River located in modern-day Medicine Hat. The Blackfoot believed that this is where the spirits came to breathe. After they arrived the man and his wife summoned the spirits and a giant serpent came from the water. The serpent said that if the young man sacrificed his wife, he would receive a saamis, which would give him special powers and make him a great hunter. The man tried to sacrifice his dog instead, but the serpent figured out what was going on and required the wife, so, the man threw his wife into the breathing hole and the serpent was satisfied. The serpent told the man to spend the night on a nearby island and in the morning he would find his medicine hat at the base of the nearby cliffs. He did, and with his newfound hunting skills and magical powers was able to keep his people alive through the winter and became a great medicine man.

Another story simply tells of a battle between the Blackfoot and the Cree, and during a retreat a medicine man lost his headdress in the South Saskatchewan River.

So, what is there in Medicine Hat? I’ve eaten at the Greyhound station, but it’s probably best known for having the world’s largest teepee, visible at the side of the Trans-Canada highway as you go through town.