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New interactive map highlights Canadian places named after women

Natural Resources Canada launches the project on International Women’s Day
A new map shows Canadian places named after women.

Zoom in on the Sea to Sky corridor using a new interactive map called Recognizing Women with Canadian Place Names and you will find one small brown dot.

It represents Mount Taylor, east of Mount Currie, which was named after Ada Taylor, the first nurse in Pemberton.

North of Pemberton Meadows there’s another pink dot for Mount Pauline, named for Pauline Fraser, said to be the only woman to ride a horse to the top of that mountain.

In total, the new map, which Natural Resources Canada launched on March 8, International Women’s Day, documents nearly 500 place names like this, approved by federal, provincial, and territorial naming authorities in Canada named after women.

“It gives [people] access to a piece of information, a piece of our history that they otherwise wouldn’t see,” said Janice Sharpe, senior director with Natural Resources Canada. “What I also like about this map is it’s not a static point in time like a paper map would be; it’s evergreen. We can continuously update the information as we get it.”

The map offers a sample of place names with categories like Indigenous cultures, early settler/ pioneer, political figure, community service, medicine/ science, arts/ literature, royalty/ religion, familial, and unknown.

“We were trying to get an equal number of places across all our jurisdictions in Canada and also places that maybe had some background information on them,” Sharpe said. “What stood out … [is] the diversity of places, the rationale as to why they were named after women. In some cases, it was because of a family member or prominent family in a particular area, and in others, it was because a woman made a significant mark on Canadian society. So there’s all those ranges in between.”

The project took nearly a year to put together, in part because of the process of fact-checking all the data that pops up with each place name.

“Many of these names have a very minimal story,” says Steve Westley, geographer at Natural Resources Canada. “What we’ve put on the map is the best that we have in our historical archives, the best we can find from researching with our partners in the provinces and territories. Some names have a lot of information behind them, whereas others, the record simply doesn’t state why a particular town or lake was named for a woman. And part of the reason for having this map is to try to encourage feedback from the public. If they know more … let us know and we’ll add it to our database.”

For her part, Sharpe hopes the map will help Canadians gain a deeper understanding of their own geography.

“I really hope that this map gets spread across all generations as well, that young people are able to access it, particularly our academic institutions can promote this kind of learning,” she said. “Little bits of information can be gleaned that you would never get in a textbook … It gives us the female perspective of that history as well, which I think is an important and timely way of looking at our country.”