Athabasca River

River. Alberta: Flows 1,290 kilometres from Columbia Icefield to Lake Athabasca
58° 40′ 0″ N 110° 50′ 0″ W — Map 74L10 — Google
Earliest known reference to this name is 1800 (David Thompson).
Name officially adopted in 1948

“Athabasca” is from the Cree language and is said to mean “an area of grass or reeds.” The name likely refers to the muddy delta of the river where it flows into Lake Athabasca.

In 1790, the name of the river was recorded as “Great Arabuska.” In 1801 it was labelled “Athapasco.” The Arrowsmith map of 1802 shows a slight variation as “Arthapescow.” In the late eighteenth century, the Dunne-za people who lived along its banks called it the “Elk River,” and it appears as “Elk River” on Alexander Mackenzie’s map dated 1801.

David Thompson and Peter Fidler, who explored the middle section of the river in 1799–1800, both referred to it in their journals as the “Athabasca.”

In 1820, George Simpson, the governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, referred to it as the “Athabasca or Elk River.” Today, local residents also refer to the feature as “Big River,” the Cree version of which was in use in 1880 when George Mercer Dawson labelled it as “Athabasca River or Mus-ta-hi-sî-pî.”

References:

  • Thompson, David. David Thompson’s Narrative of His Explorations in Western America, 1784-1812. Toronto: Champlain Society, 1916. University of British Columbia
  • Simpson, George [1786 or 1787–1860]. Fur trade and empire. George Simpson’s journal entitled Remarks connected with fur trade in consequence of a voyage from York Factory to Fort George and back to York Factory 1824-25. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931. UBC Library
  • Aubrey, Merrily K. Place Names of Alberta. Volume IV: Northern Alberta. University of Calgary Press, 1996
  • Aubrey, Merrily K. Concise Place Names of Alberta. University of Calgary Press, 2006
  • Athabasca River. Wikipedia

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