When George Grant crossed the Yellowhead Pass in 1872, his guide mentioned the old local titles of the mountains. “But every passer-by thinks that he has a right to give his own and his friends’ name to them over again,” Grant noted, “according to our custom of discarding musical expressive Indian names for ridiculously inappropriate European ones.”

George Monro Grant [1835–1902], 1873

Canadian Board on Geographical Names — Orders in Council Defining the Authority and Powers of the Board, December 18, 1897

His Excellency, by and with the advice of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada is pleased to create a “Geographic Board” to consist of one member for each of the Departments of the Geological Survey, Railways and Canals, Post Office, and Marine and Fisheries, such member, being appointed by the Minister of the department; of the Surveyor General of Dominion Lands, of such other members as may from time to time be appointed by Order in Council, and of an officer of the Department of the Interior, designated by the Minister of the Interior, who shall act as Secretary of the Board; and to authorize the Board to elect its Chairman and to make such rules and regulations for the transaction of its business as may be requisite. His Excellency is further pleased to order and direct, that all questions concerning geographic names in the Dominion which arise in the departments of the public service shall be referred to the Board, and that all departments shall accept and use in their publications the names and orthography adopted by the Board. Extract (December 14, 1899) “That the Order in Council constituting the Board be amended by giving to the government of the Northwest Territories and to each Province the right to nominate one of their officials as a member of the Board who shall advise the Board with reference to names in his Province, provided that the several governments undertake to be guided by the decisions of the Board.”

– Quoted in Place-names of Alberta, 1928

This method of nomenclature, namely, calling peaks after individuals, has been in vogue since the early days of discovery in the Rocky Mountains. As there are no Indian names at present, and, as far as one can find out, there have never been — for the country has never been inhabited — the custom is justifiable, as serving in many cases to prepetuate the connection of individuals with the country.

Hugh Edward Millington Stutfield, 1903

Tracing the Divide to Elk Pass [during the 1916 Boundary Survey], Wheeler saw “the striking peaks… dominated by Mount Joffre,” which he named for “distinguished generals who have rendered such names immortal through their splendid service to France in the great war now in progress.” Similarly, in the Palliser Pass area he named high mountains to honour the Royal family–another example of his strong feelings for Empire.

— Esther Fraser, Wheeler

Since A. O. Wheeler did the topography for the Alberta-BC boundary survey, he also had the opportunity to name the geographic features along the Great Divide.

Wheeler subscribed to the “empty land” theory regarding the geographical features in the area he was surveying. Since very few of them had official names, Wheeler believed that his position as BC commissioner and his survey work along the divide gave him the right to name the features he mapped. Although the names had to be officially approved by the Geographic Board of Canada, it generally accepted Wheeler’s recommendations.

Wheeler seldom consulted anyone about naming the geographical features, and he ignored the principle of naming peaks to reflect the natural or human history of the area.… Unlike 19th-century scientists and explorers, Wheeler and his survey party rarely met indigenous people who could provide names for the features of the Rocky Mountains, but he made no effort to consult them when making his maps.

— Jay Sherwood, Surveying the Great Divide

Coleman and his various teams were exploring uncharted land in the Rockies. When he reached rivers, creeks, mountains and glaciers that had not been previously drawn onto maps, he would name them. Coleman was keen to use Cree names if places had already been identified and named by the Stonies. In a number of cases he named places after guides and first nations leaders; other sites were named for their atmosphere, (Misty mountain), family members (Mount Quincy), architectural likeness (Fortress Lake) or expedition association (Pinto Lake). Coleman’s names for places appear in his notebooks, on his maps, and in his publications.
Individuals naming previously uncharted land formations was not unusual. It was, however, problematic for the government of Canada and could lead to much confusion. The Geographic Board of Canada was established in 1899 in order to bring order to the map of Canada, and create nationally accepted place names The members representing federal and provincial ministries and departments, were a cross-section of surveyors, geologists, mineralogists, engineers and geographers. They held regular meetings, and submitted an annual report to the Department of the Interior. Decisions were published in the Canada Gazette, and the Sessional Papers of the House of Commons. Not all of Coleman’s place names made it through the vetting process.

— “A.P. Coleman: Geologist, Explorer”


  • Grant, George Monro [1835–1902]. Ocean to Ocean: Sandford Fleming’s Expedition through Canada in 1872. Being a Diary Kept During a Journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific with the Expedition of the Engineer-in-Chief of the Canadian Pacific and Intercolonial Railways. Toronto: James Campbell and Son, 1873. Google Books
  • Stutfield, Hugh Edward Millington [1858–1929], and Collie, John Norman [1859–1942]. Climbs and Explorations in the Canadian Rockies. London: Longmans, Green, 1903. University of British Columbia Library
  • Douglas, R. “Notes on Mountain Nomenclature.” Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 10 (1919):31-35
  • Canadian Board on Geographical Names. Place-names of Alberta. Published for the Geographic Board by the Department of the Interior. Ottawa: Department of the Interior, 1928. Hathi Trust
  • Fraser, Esther Augusta [1919–1978]. Wheeler. Banff: Summerthought, 1978
  • B.C. Geographical Names Office. British Columbia’s Geographical Naming Principles, Policy and Procedures (2000). Government of B.C.
  • Sherwood, Jay. Surveying the Great Divide. The Alberta/BC Boundary Survey, 1913-1917. Qualicum Beach, BC: Caitlin Press, 2017
  • A.P. Coleman: Geologist, Explorer (1852–1939) – Science, Art & Discovery. 2022 Victoria University Library. Victoria University Library
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