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History: Alberta place names

Reprinted from the August 1951
 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

By Reverend James W. Morrow, Medicine Hat, Alta., 
abridged from the August 1951 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

By Reverend James W. Morrow, Medicine Hat, Alta.


Dunmore is named after a well-known British nobleman who visited Western Canada in 1888, and who was a very large shareholder in the company floated by Sir Lester Kaye in England, which tried farming on a large scale from 1885 to 1894, having many thousands of acres around Rush Lake, Swift Current, Gull Lake, Forres (now Halton), Dunmore, Stair, Bantry, Namaka and Langdon. The Earl of Dunmore was also a large shareholder in the Canadian Agricultural Coal and Colonization Co. Largely through his efforts, farming was commenced on the old “76” Ranch at Dunmore as it was afterwards known. The ranch received its name because when fenced, it was seven miles one way and six miles the other. Through the instrumentality of his lordship, Dunmore, with the assistance and co-operation of Canadian Pacific Railroad, became the shipping point for coal mined at Lethbridge.

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Bull’s Head Creek

Bull’s Head is named after the creek which runs near by and thence into the Saskatchewan. The late Jas. Sanderson told the writer that Bull’s Head Creek got its name from the Sarcees, who were camped up near the Swan coal mine just across the river from the present site of Redcliffe in the early seventies. Runners brought in word of a considerable herd of buffalo near Stark’s Ranch. The Indians mounted on their best war ponies chased the stampeding herd towards Dunmore Junction, when an angry old bull turned “on the prod,” charging the buffalo runner Bull’s Head was mounted on. Hard pressed, he just managed to jump into the creek, and take cover under the side of the bank. He was fortunate in escaping with his life while the enraged animal took after the flying cayuse. Hence the title given to the creek to commemorate the narrow escape of Bull’s Head.

Seven Persons

Seven Persons gets its rather extraordinary name from a very remarkable Indian legend or tradition: that seven white men were found dead outside their tents on the creek. While it is much more probable that they were massacred by a band of Crees or Blackfeet, the Indian legend is that they were mysteriously stricken dead by the fiat of the Manitou for venturing into territory belonging strictly to the Red man. Ever since the scene of this occurrence has been known to the Indians as the-place-where-seven-persons-were-found-dead. This was afterwards abbreviated and the place called Seven Persons. George Dunn, an old-time trader who hunted and trapped with the Indians between Medicine Hat and Swift Current, said the Cree Indians gave currency to a story that seven men were drowned crossing the creek in very high water during the spring-time flood, hence the name which was given to commemorate this old-time tragedy. The name given by the Blackfeet Indians was “Kitsuki-a-tapi,” which being interpreted means in the English tongue, Seven Persons and this title is given by Dawson in his survey.

Bow Island, Winnifred

Bow Island, the centre of a good gas field which supplies Lethbridge and intermediate places as far as Calgary, is a purely descriptive name taken from the circle of loop in the Bow River three miles north of the place.

Winnifred is named in honour of a shareholder in Alberta (Railway) and Coal Co.

Burdett, Coutts, Purple Springs

Burdett, like Coutts, down near the International Boundary, is supposed to take its name from a well-known woman very prominent in philanthropic work in the Old Country — Baroness Burdett-Coutts. The Baroness was a daughter of Sir Francis Burdett and gained great distinction by the very liberal use of the great fortune she inherited. She built a number of churches among which is the beautiful edifice named St. Stephen’s, at Westminster; endowed the bishoprics of Adelaide, Cape Town and British Columbia; aided many emigrants to better themselves in the overseas Dominions and provide a “Home” for such women as had lapsed into evil ways at Shepherd’s Bush, London. In 1881 she was made a baroness in her own right. The baroness was interested in ranching and invested considerable amounts in development of Western projects.

Purple Springs does not get its name from Nellie McClung’s book, but received its name by way of a joke, because of a local spring where purple flowers were few and far between.

Grassy Lake

Grassy Lake, like Chin Coulee at the head of the irrigation ditch, is a purely descriptive name. Sargeant Bray, for many years stock inspector at Medicine Hat, said that after Fort Walsh was built in 1876, a party of police were going back to Macleod, among whom was a very inquisitive member who kept continually bothering Jerry Potts, all the time keeping up a running fire of cross-examination. As Potts was, generally speaking, very non-communicative, soon the patience of the famous guide was completely exhausted. Passing near the present site of Grassy Lake, his tormentor ventured another query, asking Potts if he could get water in the lake or slough covered with reeds which they saw in the distance. In reply Jerry contemptuously spat out a quid of tobacco, saying “the only thing you can get in a lake around here in August is plenty of grass: in fact, they are all grassy lakes. This is the driest part of Alberta. You need a permit to get water around here. There are bull frogs here ten years old that don’t know how to swim. If you expect to get water you’ll have to put the slough through a wringer and then you’ll have have to do it quite a few times before you get enough to make a cup of tea.” The description of the adjacent country by the well-known guide has apparently stuck to Grassy Lake. The Blackfoot name of the place is “Moyi-Kimi” according to early surveys which, being interpreted, means the same.

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