History

Queen Elizabeth II’s geographical connections to Canada

From noble mountains to local elementary schools, the Queen’s reign and the bonds she’s forged with Canadians are reflected across the map of Canada

  • Apr 21, 2022
  • 1,047 words
  • 5 minutes
The Queen Elizabeth Ranges in Alberta comprise 15 mountain peaks. (Photo: Don Johnston_WC/Alamy Stock Photo)
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The story goes that to honour the coronation of Canada’s new monarch in 1953, Arctic explorer Lt.-Col. Patrick Baird suggested that a peak that soared over Pangnirtung on Baffin Island be named Mount Queen Elizabeth. But, on further review, the proposal was turned down: in the estimation of Governor General Vincent Massey, it was said, the mountain wasn’t quite mighty enough.  

That’s not to say Canada’s new Queen went uncommemorated in northern Canadian geography: Baird’s recommendations for naming Coronation Fiord and Coronation Glacier did go ahead in ’53. That June, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent’s government announced a token of toponymic respect befitting the occasion, introducing Alberta’s new Queen Elizabeth Ranges, comprising 15 mountain peaks around Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, the tallest of which, Mount Unwin, climbs beyond 3,200 metres. 

“Enough beauty has gone into the composition of this area,” said Robert Winters, Canada’s minister of resources at the time, “to make a dozen regions famous.” In this case, the Queen herself approved the proposal.  

Seventy years later, the year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, her reign and the bonds she’s forged with Canadians continue to be reflected across the map of Canada.

Canada’s record of regal naming has been steady throughout her reign, according to Connie Wyatt Anderson, chair of the Geographical Names Board of Canada. While the practical business of naming geographical features — toponymy — falls within the purview of individual provinces and territories, the federal names board acts as a coordinating body providing oversight and resources. It maintains a database of 360,000 named geographical features across the country, from straits and inlets to pingos and prairies, rivers and gulches to brandies and seamounts.

RCGS Fellow Frank Wolf skis along the toes of Coronation Glacier, named for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 after she took the throne. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Wolf)
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In the Queen’s case, the Albertan ranges in 1953 were followed by an Arctic archipelago in 1954. Originally (and for 130 years prior) named for Arctic explorer William Parry, the Queen Elizabeth Islands are Canada’s northernmost cluster, and include Ellesmere (Umingmak Nuna), Devon (Tallurutit) and Cornwallis islands. In 1985, three associated undersea features were designated when Queen Elizabeth’s name was added to a rise, a slope and a shelf, respectively. As Anderson points out (and Vincent Massey would recognize), there’s something of a statement in the scale of the features associated with the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II was on hand in August 1978 to open the provincial park that was renamed in her honour at Lac Cardinal in northern Alberta. Now noted as a destination for birdwatchers, Queen Elizabeth Provincial Park greeted its namesake with a different kind of airshow. “The Queen was attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes,” an Edmonton newspaper reported, “and had to repeatedly bat the bloodthirsty insects away from her face.”

In 2002, on the occasion of her 50th year on the throne, the Queen made a Golden Jubilee tour of Canada. In Ontario, she was recognized with the christening of another provincial preserve, this one near Minden. Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park is home to bears, moose and rare northern ribbon snakes; the Queen has yet to visit them. That royal tour generated a flurry of celebratory nomenclature, including the naming of Golden Jubilee parks in the Ontario cities of Hamilton and Haliburton, and a rose garden in Moose Jaw, Sask. Travelling north — her first visit to Nunavut since its creation in 1999 — the Queen stopped in Iqaluit, where she inspected a city byway that had been dedicated to her: the road formerly known as Ring Road was now Queen Elizabeth II Way.

The majestic Coronation Glacier painted by the late Cory Trépanier, is located on Baffin Island. (© Cory Trépanier)
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Don’t be fooled: many a Canadian monarchical name predates the incumbent. The reigns of other queens, some of them also named Elizabeth, have been honoured in the local geography going back to the summer of 1576, when Martin Frobisher sailed a flotilla in search of a Northwest Passage in what’s now the Davis Strait. He thought the shore he was looking at was Labrador when, in fact, it was the southern edge of Baffin Island: no matter, he named it Queen Elizabeth Foreland. Elizabeth I is also commemorated in British Columbia’s Interior, with a peak (Mount Queen Bess) and in ice (Queen Bess Glacier). 

Toronto’s central Queen Street was named Lot Street before 1837, when it was renamed to honour Queen Victoria. While Queen Elizabeth II has now reigned six years longer than her great-great-grandmother, it’s worth noting that Victoria still reigns supreme when it comes to the Canadian map: no individual is honoured in name more than her. 

Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park is named for the Queen Mother and was dedicated by her on her 1939 state visit to Canada with King George VI. The same goes for Ontario’s Queen Elizabeth Way, which she opened on that same visit. Oddly, Ontario’s 400-series highways, of which the QEW is one, are still officially designated as the King’s Highway.

While no new grand naming gestures are in the cards for this year’s Jubilee, a notable gardening effort is underway, coordinated by Queen Elizabeth’s provincial and territorial vice-regal representatives. The Platinum Jubilee Gardens project involves all 13 provinces and territories, each developing a garden of their own, designed for local climates and conditions, to be unveiled over the course of the summer. As part of the effort, all 13 vice-regal offices have received tobacco seeds from the Chapel Royal at the University of Toronto’s Massey College. In 2017, the Chapel Royal was officially designated Gi-Chi-Twaa Gimaa Kwe Mississauga Anishinaabek Aname Amik, or the Queen’s Anishinaabek Sacred Place. The inclusion of this tobacco in each Jubilee garden represents the enduring relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples.

On the grounds at Government House in Regina, the Jubilee Garden is a circle, with benches and signage with a particular focus on Indigenous reconciliation, according to Heather Salloum, executive director and private secretary in the office of Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant-Governor Russ Mirasty. A member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and Saskatchewan’s first Indigenous lieutenant-governor, Mirasty was the first of Queen Elizabeth’s vice-regal representatives to deliver her greetings in Woodland Cree at his formal installation ceremony in 2019. Enclosed by a hedge of pasture sage, Saskatchewan’s Jubilee Garden plantings in recognition of Her Majesty’s 70-year reign include Labrador tea, prairie smoke, common yarrow, western silvery aster and, of course, Queen Elizabeth roses.

This story is from the May/June 2022 Issue

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