How Calgary got its name

This piece is supplied courtesy of the Glenbow Museum, 130 - 9th Avenue S.E., Calgary.

Have you ever wondered how Calgary received its name? The story, like many other tales of the West, is closely linked with the scarlet-coated Mounted Police.

In 1875, shortly after they had completed their famous march west to Alberta, the Mounties built a fort near where the Bow and Elbow rivers join. The officer in charge of the fort, Inspector Ephrem Brisebois, called the new post Fort Brisebois.

Unfortunately, Brisebois was strongly disliked by his men, and this name for the post was very unpopular. Brisebois' superior officers also disapproved because Brisebois had not asked permission to name the post after himself. As a result, it was decided to find a new name for the fort.

Colonel A.G. Irvine, the Assistant-Commisioner of the Mounted Police, sought the advice of Colonel James Macleod on the matter. "Colonel Macleod," wrote Irvine to his superiors in Ottawa, "has suggested the name of Calgary, which I believe in Scotch means, 'clear running water', a very asppropriate name, I think." Ottawa promptly agreed, and the name of the post was officially changed to Fort Calgary. After several years, this was shortened to Calgary - the name our city bears to this day.

For many years, people accepted Irvine's explanation that "Calgary" meant "clear running water" in Gaelic. Then, however, an expert pointed out that the correct Gaelic translation for the phrase would be *sruthain shoilleir* or *uisge soilleir*. Obviously there had to be another explanation for the origin of the city's name.

Cala Ghearraidh, An t-Eilean Mhuileach, Alba

As it turns out, the name comes from an entirely different source. Long before the formation of the NWMP, James Macleod had visited Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, where his sister's relatives through marriage owned a small castle named Calgary House. Macleod was entranced with the unforgettable beauty of the area. And so, years later, when the NWMP decided to rename their fort on the Bow River, he suggested that "Calgary" would be an ideal choice. Some people believe that the valley of the Bow and Elbow rivers resembled the countryside of the Isle of Mull, and that Macleod was struck by the similarity. But at any rate, thanks to Colonel Macleod, Calgary, Alberta was named after a beautiful bay in Scotland.

In Scotland as well in Alberta, the name "Calgary" has had an interesting history. The original name in Gaelic was *Cala-ghearridh* [sic], with the first part *Cala*, meaning "harbour" or "bay", and the second part, *ghearridh* [sic], meaning "preserved piece of pasture", "enclosed pature", or "farm". Therefore, a translation of "Calgary" would be "preserved pasture at the harbour", or "bay farm".

In its early years, Calgary was spelled in several ways. In 1675 a man named Lauchlan M'Lean of "Calligourie" was charged with an offence by the Earl of Argyll. In 1679 the rental rolls showed an income of £53/6/8 from "Callagorie", while in still another tax record it was spelled "Calligory".

Calgary Bay had its own role to play in Scottish history. In 1822, when the oppressive lairds began to evict poor farmers, or crofters, emigrant ships were anchored in the bay so that the unfortunate refugees could be loaded on board and shipped to North America.

Traigh Chala-ghearraidh, an t-Eilean Muileach

Calgary Bay today is a remote, beautiful place of white sands, black rocks, and heather-covered hills. The only buildings are Calgary House and two small cottages near the sea. The castle itself is a late Georgian-style mansion with gardens of eucalyptus trees and exotic plants. Fitted out with accomodations for tourists (many of them from the "other" Calgary), it combines all the modern conveniences with an aura of history, touching two Calgarys in two different parts of the world.

Calgary here, or Calgary there, it is still "God's Country".

1999-09-27 CPD