Commentary – The one that got away

Joe McWilliams

Nobody seems to know how Canyon Creek got its name. The local assumption is the hamlet on Lesser Slave Lake was named for the creek, but that might not even be the case.
For one thing, why would anybody name that little trickle ‘Canyon’ anything? If you follow it up into the hills you would probably find a ravine or two, but who would bother? All the traffic back in the day was either on the lake or near to it. Nobody, looking at the stream near or at the mouth of it would think of the word ‘canyon.’ It makes no sense.
A joke? A deliberate exaggeration? Such things have happened before. Greenland was called that [so the story goes] as a selling point to lure more Danes over there. Somehow ‘bleak, barren, rocky fringe with a bit of lichen on it, dominated by a gigantic ice cap’ didn’t sound as attractive.
One story we heard from an oldtimer was that Canyon Creek was a name of [or maybe from] a popular book or movie, back in the day. Somebody liked the sound of it, and dubbed the little creek thus, or maybe called his homestead by that name. It’s as good an explanation as any.
Who knows, it might even be true!
The reason we got looking into it is because somebody from the M.D. called, asking if we knew something about it. Apparently, a local student was writing a report on it and was asking people he knew.
Others have asked before, and the best they were able to come up with was the standard, “It’s named after the creek” explanation. That includes Henry M. Sanders, the author of The Story Behind Alberta Names: How Cities, Towns, Villages and Hamlets Got their Names, a book that came out in 2003, published by the Red Deer Press. As far as we know, the compilers of Pioneers of the Lakeland [The Slave Lake and area ‘homespun’ history book] did not have an answer either, unless the information is buried in one of the family histories that compile the ‘West Along The Lake’ chapter of that book.
A lot of Alberta communities were named by whoever set up the first post office, or by railway companies, needing names for the sidings they were establishing every few miles as they pushed steel across the prairies. That’s how Wagner and Faust got their names, apparently.
Smith, too. Joussard and Falher were named in honour of Catholic priests, or missionaries. Widewater is obvious enough. Kinuso is named for Chief Kinosayo, a signer of Treaty 8. Either that or for a Cree word for ‘fish.’ Mr. Sanders favours the latter explanation.
On one hand, it’s too bad if the historical details of a place get lost. On the other hand, no real harm is done in a case like this if it remains a mystery. People tend to come up with explanations that are as much myth as anything; they may not be reliable, but they are often more colourful and fun than the plain old facts.
The plain old facts say there isn’t and never was a canyon of any kind at Canyon Creek. But who cares! It’s a nice name. The founders of the Canyon Creek Soup Company certainly thought so, naming their brand after the hamlet on Lesser Slave Lake.
And let’s face it, Canyon Creek is an attractive moniker. Much more so than Slave Lake.

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