Calgary

Pour a wee dram, heat up the haggis and discover how many Alberta places have Scottish roots

Calgary got its name from a castle on the Isle of Mull, but it's far from the only place in southern Alberta to get its name from Scottish roots.

Banff, Airdrie, Canmore, Strathmore and a whole lot more named after Scottish locations

There's a Banff Springs Hotel in Scotland, left, and in Alberta. (Andy Taylor Photography/Hedwig Storch)

Calgary got its name from a castle on the Isle of Mull, but it's far from the only place in southern Alberta to get its name from Scottish roots.

To start, there's also Banff, Canmore, Strathmore and Airdrie.

And that's just the tip of a very Scottish iceberg. 

According to Visit Scotland, the Scottish tourism board, other Alberta places named after Scottish ones — or people — include (but are not limited to):

  • Alness.
  • Alyth.
  • Ardmore.
  • Ardrossan.
  • Bankhead (ghost town).
  • Barrhead.
  • Blairmore.
  • Bon Accord (the motto of Aberdeen).
  • Bonnie Doon.
  • ​Bonnie Lake.
  • Broxburn.
  • ​Butedale Falls.
  • Caldwell (ghost town).
  • Carstairs.
  • Chisholm.
  • Clyde.
  • Colinton.
  • Coutts.
  • Craigmillar.
  • Craigmyle.
  • Cromdale.
  • Dalmuir.
  • Dunmore.
  • Dunvegan.
  • Eaglesham.
  • Erskine.
  • Ferintosh.
  • Fort Macleod.
  • Fort McMurray.
  • Gartly.
  • Halkirk.
  • Hazeldean.
  • Holyrood.
  • Innisfail.
  • Inverness River.
  • Irvine.
  • Islay.
  • Kilsyth.
  • Kirriemuir.
  • Lenzie.
  • Lomond (Loch Lomond).
  • Mackenzie County.
  • Mallaig.
  • Mintlaw (ghost town).
  • Mount Hector (after James Hector).
  • Mount Lady Macdonald (after John A's wife).
  • New Stirling.
  • Pitlochrie.
  • Scotfield.
  • Stirling.
  • Strathcona.
  • Strathcona County.

"Part of it is the reflection of a [certain] desire of a city — and this is true of all these places," said Calgary-based Aritha van Herk, an academic and author of Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta and other books.

This photo shows the Edradour Whisky Distillery, by Pitlochry in Scotland — inspiration for the Pitlochrie near Lac la Biche in northern Alberta. (Visitscotland.com)

"When it was just a railway stop, the people who came there wanted them to mean more than that, and so they would name them in the hopes it would become a big city."

Renaming

Van Herk says naming things — or renaming them from the Indigenous names that pre-dated them — reflects a kind of mindset that characterized the time.

"It seems both a mixture of names that were put onto places were recognition of someone, one of the settlers — clearly, the Indigenous names were completely erased — or it was some weird nostalgia for the places that they left," van Herk said.

These people try out some Canadian-style canoeing in the River Tummel at Pitlochry in Scotland. (Visitscotland.com)

"Here they were in what they read as the middle of nowhere … and they desperately tried to comfort themselves, by dragging a place from their history to here."

It was almost as if by naming a place, they imagined they could exert a degree of control, she said.

"The desire to name, I think, is an act of possession: if I name it, I have it — I own it," van Herk said.

"That's an old colonial impulse."

Here's the story behind the names of a few of the more prominent southern Alberta places named after Scottish ones.

Banff

Banff is a Scottish town located in Aberdeenshire. It's located on Banff Bay, and faces the town of Macduff, across the River Deveron. 

The Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta looks more Scottish than the Scottish hotel of the same name. (Hedwig Storch)

Oddly enough, there is a Banff Springs Hotel in Scotland that looks a little like a ranch house motor hotel that you'd find driving across the Trans-Canada Highway, while in Alberta, there is a magisterial Banff Springs Hotel that looks like something a Scottish king might call home.

Canmore

Canmore was officially named in 1884 by Canadian Pacific Railway director Donald A. Smith.

It was named after Malcolm III, whose nickname was "Canmore" — Gaelic for "Big Head."

The Three Sisters are an iconic series of peaks that tower above Canmore, Alta. The town was named after the nickname of Scotland's king in the 11th century, Malcolm III. It means 'Big Head.' (Kurt Stegmüller/Wikimedia Commons)

He was probably best-known for killing — don't say the name! — Macbeth in 1058 and Macbeth's little-known son, Lulach, in quick succession, setting up a 200-year run for his clan to rule Scotland.

Airdrie

Airdrie, which means "The King's Height," was named after a village near Glasgow. It was named by engineer William McKenzie in 1889, probably because its elevation makes it one of the highest cities in Canada.

It may look like it's straight out of the Canadian Prairies, but this Scottish farmer is harvesting in Strathmore near Alyth — both names that were duplicated in Alberta. (Visitscotland.com)

The Scottish Airdrie is located about 19 kilometres east of Glasgow, in North Lanarkshire. In 2012, it had a population of around 37, 000 people.

The town name evolved, too, from Ardre (1373) to Ardry (1546) to Ardrie (1587). By 1630, it had morphed into Airdrie and has stayed that way ever since.

Strathmore 

Some say Strathmore was named after a title bestowed upon Claude Bowes-Lyon, a.k.a., the Earl of Strathmore (whose granddaughter was Queen Elizabeth II).

Others claim the name stemmed from a geological phenomenon back in the old country — a large valley or "strath" running between the Grampian mountains and the Sidlaws somewhere in the Scottish highlands. 

According to the Town of Strathmore's own website, the Canadian Pacific Railway named the hamlets that sprung up as it laid rail across the country.

"Although it is not recorded who named the original site 'Strathmore,' it is known that a Scot named James Ross was in charge of the project and he was inclined to giving Scottish names to the sidings," the town's website says.

The earliest mention of Strathmore in Scotland dates back to when the Romans established several marching camps in the area to support their invasion and planned northward expansion.


About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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