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How Canada Got Its Name

The Origin of the Name Canada


Jacques Cartier, Explorer

Jacques Cartier, Explorer

Rischgitz / Hutton Archive / Getty Images

Updated: 05/29/2014

The origin of the name "Canada" comes from the expedition of explorer Jacques Cartier up the St. Lawrence River in 1535. The Iroquois pointing out the route to the village of Stadacona, the future site of Quebec City, used the word "kanata," the Huron-Iroquois word for village. Jacques Cartier used the word Canada to refer to both the settlement of Stadacona and the land surrounding it subject to Chief Donnacona.

By 1547, maps were showing the name Canada applied to everything north of the St. Lawrence River. The St. Lawrence River was called the "rivière du Canada" by Cartier, and the name stuck until the 1600s.

In the 1600s, the name Canada was often used loosely to refer to New France, and as land opened up to the west and south in the 1700s, the name Canada was applied to what is now the American midwest and as far south as present day Louisiana. But it was not official.

In 1791, the Constitutional Act or Canada Act divided the Province of Quebec into two - the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada. In 1841, the two colonies were united again, this time as the Province of Canada.

At Confederation in 1867, the British North America Act officially joined the Province of Canada (Quebec and Ontario) with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to become "one Dominion under the name of Canada."

Canada wasn't the only name considered for the new dominion though. Other names suggested at the time of Confederation were:

  • Victorialand
  • Borealia
  • Cabotia
  • Tuponia (The United Provinces of North America)
  • Superior
  • Norland
  • Hochelaga

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