Featured Place at IKBLC: Muskwa River

Interestingly, many of the group study rooms in the Irving K Barber Learning Centre are named after rivers in British Columbia. Room 416, a group study room on the fourth floor of the Barber Centre, is named after the Muskwa River, a river that runs 257 kilometres through northern British Columbia. The Muskwa River, a major tributary of the Fort Nelson River, flows east and north to merge with the Prophet River, before joining the Fort Nelson River.

Using some of the place name resources mentioned in the previous blog post on Keremeos, we are able to trace the different names that have been applied to the Muskwa River throughout the years; the “official” name of the river has changed a number of times since the beginning of the 20th century.

According to BC Geographical Names , on Gotfred Emile Jorgensen’s 1895 Map of the Province of British Columbia, it was labeled the “Sicannie River.” The Sikanni (Sekani) people, “dwellers of the rocks,” traded, hunted and lived near the river for hundreds of years. To read more about the history of the Sekani people of British Columbia, you may wish to read Sekani Indians of British Columbia, by Diamond Jenness.

However, what is now called the Muskwa River was labelled “Sikanni River” on BC Land’s map 1A, 1912 and then, in 1917, labeled the “Musqua River” on BC map 1H. It seems that there is some disagreement as to why the river was finally given the name Muskwa. According to George Philip Vernon and Helen Akrigg’sBritish Columbia Place Names, Muskwa is the Cree word for “bear.” Described by BC BookWorld as “self publishing pioneers”, the Akriggs first published their “landmark’ 1001 British Columbia Place Names in 1969; many editions followed through the years.

Other researchers believe that since the “custom apparently is for a separate band of the Sikanni Indians to hunt on [one and only one] of these rivers, […] the rivers receive the names of the leaders in each band…..thus Musquah’s River, Prophet’s River, Sikanni Chief’s River and Fantasque’s River” (BC Geographical Names http://archive.ilmb.gov.bc.ca/bcgn-bin/bcg10?name=8364).

Tracing the history of the name of the Muskwa River is a good reminder that one should consult multiple sources when doing research!

Cross-posted at UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections.

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