Community Names

I feel like most Calgarians have bastardized the pronounciation, and it comes out more like “MIN-da-pore”, than “mid-na-PORE”

It’s a pretty unique name. I went to high school outside The Deep South, and when I told people from other parts of the city where I lived, they noted how exotic it sounded, like it was another country. As it turns out, there is a reason it sounds like some exotic, far-off place- it is.

midnapore_neonsignPhoto courtesy of the Midnapore is Beautiful facebook group http://www.facebook.com/ilovemidnapore

The name originally comes from the city and region of Midnapore, in West Bengal, India, and is an Anglicization of the Sanskrit word “Medinipur” or “Midnapur”, much as Singapore is an Anglicization of Singapura. As Singapore translates to “Lion City”, Midnapore would translate to “Midna City”, and Midna could refer to several things. One is “Medinimata”, a local deity of the region, whose name translates to “Mother of the world”. Another would be the city of Medina, Saudi Arabia, since the Midnapore region of India, with an extensive Muslim history, supposedly had as many mosques as Medina at one time. The name could also refer to one of several individuals: 13th Century Chieftain Medini Kar, 16th century Sufi saint Hazrat Madani Shah, or the King of Odessa, Medinimallya Roy who allegedly conquered the region in 1524. The name may also refer to the “Med” clan who traditionally lived in the area. Meanwhile, the City of Calgary’s 1975 Midnapore Design Brief ignores all of that and says the name is ‘East Indian for “good crossing”’. Regardless of which story is true, how exactly did a small community in Southern Alberta get the name? That story is equally clear.

Fish Creek was the original name of the region surrounding the creek; the name change to Midnapore occurred in 1883. There are several stories regarding how the exotic name found its way to the other side of the planet. One is that a misdirected letter or parcel, far from its destination in India, arrived in Fish Creek, where the first pioneer, John Glenn, handed it to his literate neighbour Samuel Shaw, making Shaw the area postmaster. A second is that Samuel Shaw, looking to name the community, had his daughter place her finger on a random spot on a map; she pointed towards India, and Midnapore was chosen. A final story, less common than the others, is that the name came from a former British Naval Officer, Captain Boynton, who resided in the Fish Creek area, bringing the name from his worldly travels. Regardless of which story is true, the need to change the name of the growing town from Fish Creek was necessary as there was already a Fish Creek in the Northwest Territories(in present-day Saskatchewan, which, along with Alberta, became a Province separate from the territories 22 years later in 1905). Looked at this way, it’s not hard to imagine that the Midnapore name was a random or humourous choice.

midnaporesignMidnapore entrance sign on Midlake Boulevard SE. This sign replaced an earlier sign in red- brown with the Midnapore “sails” icon above the community name. Photo by author.

The Midnapore name persisted to the community of Midnapore, the first Calgary suburb built south of Fish Creek in 1977. The use of the name in reference to the general area around Fish Creek persisted for some time afterwards, due to its long history, and the remaining parts of the old town which were incorporated into the new communities. Broadly, the South Fish Creek area is still referred to this way in Calgary city planning, and in the federal electoral riding of Calgary-Midnapore. Meanwhile, the remaining subdivisions in The Deep South were named by developers, with varying degrees of meaning.

shawnessysignShawnessy entrance sign at corner of Shawnessy Drive and Shawnessy Boulevard SW. Sign painted yellow in recent years; previously reddish-brown. Photo by author.

shawneeslopessignShawnee Slopes entrance sign on Jame McKevitt Road SW. Previously used as the golf course entrance; note that sign reads “Shaw-Nee” and still says “Golf Course” behind bushes. Photo by author.

Shawnessy and Shawnee Slopes both use the Shaw prefix, obviously in reference to the Shaw family who settled primarily west of Macleod Trail. It should be noted that Shawnessy is also a homonym of Shaughnessy, referring to Baron Shaugnessy, past president of the CPR, and namesake of Lord Shaughnessy High School (which I note since growing up down south it was strange to hear inner city kids say they were going to “Shawnessy” High School). Though the Shawnessy community was south of the family’s original home along the banks of the Fish Creek, the Shawnee Slopes land was owned by the family’s descendants for generations (in writing this I now realize that explaining the Shawnee Slopes name in the future will require noting that there used to be a golf course there, hence the “Slopes” part. This depresses me to no end). The course was originally called Shaw-Nee, and does refer to the Shaw family, not the Shawnee tribe native to Ohio as the Shawnee Slopes Wikipedia page presumes.

millrisesignMillrise entrance sign at the corner of James McKevitt Road and Millrise Boulevard SW. Photo by author.

The Millrise name also commemorates the Shaws, though indirectly, as it refers to the wool mill originally run by the family which was located In Fish Creek Park, and just north of the community. Though the mill was destroyed by fire in 1917, the site is historically significant, being the first industry in the province. Also notable about the mill is that local Native tribes called the Midnapore townsite “Making Cloth”, in reference to this mill.

sundancesignSundance entrance sign on Sunvalley Boulevard SE. Note the sun and boat icon in top right for the lake. Photo by author.

Perhaps most famous for the film festival or the outlaw, Sundance is just a great name. The term originally referred to the Sun Dance of the Native Americans, particularly plains tribes like those from Alberta. The name is pretty common throughout the province, with Sundance Provincial Park west of Jasper and Sundance Lodges in Kananaskis.

evergreensignEvergreen entrance sign at the corner of James McKevitt Road and Shawnessy Boulevard SW. Photo by author.

People in the area like to joke that this young community, with barely any trees should be called “Evergreen”. The flora around the entrance sign is pretty misleading; the boulevard around it looks more like this. Of course, the older part of Evergreen, north of James McKevitt, is along the western ridge of Fish Creek Park, which is full of natural evergreen trees. And in ten years, the rest of the community will fill out, and nobody will know the difference.

bridlewoodsignBridlewood entrance sign at corner of James McKevitt Road and Bridlewood Road SW. Note the horse icon. Photo by author.

Bridlewood refers to the “bridle” placed on a horse’s head for riding. Horse imagery is commonly used in the community, which makes sense with the community being literally across the street from horse-jumping grounds Spruce Meadows.

somersetsignSomerset entrance sign at 6 Street and Somerset Gate SW. The “radiant” icon above the name is commonly used in the community. The hedges in front are blocking the name of the community-builder Genstar, at lower right. Photo by author.

Somerset was designed to be like an English garden, hence the neighbourhood’s circular design and central greenspace. In line with this, its name is taken from an English town, whose tourism site uses the tagline “Somerset, The Jewel of the South West”. I gotta say, I would be damn impressed if Somerset, Calgary were to adopt this as well.

chaparralsignChaparral entrance sign at corner of 194 Avenue and Chaparral Drive SE. Photo by author.

Beyond these, The Deep South keeps going, and going, further and further south, to the point that the aforementioned communities, roughly 150 blocks south of downtown, aren’t really that “deep”, with the city pushing well past Stoney Trail. These other communities are similarly named, with varying degrees of local relevance. Chaparral, like Sundance and Midnapore, is basically a lake community, which takes its name from a biome native to Baja California. Looking at pictures of chaparral, I actually see some resemblance to the ridge and valley regions of Chap. Chaparral began construction in 1995, and there have been several more built since:  Silverado, which reminds me of Chevies or Eagles’ classic cowboy ballad, both of which are appropriate for Cowtown; Walden’s name is either fitting or damn presumptuous, depending on which book it’s named after, the solitude of Thoreau or the proposed utopia of Skinner; and Legacy seems like a fitting name for a neighbourhood that’s closer to downtown Okotoks than downtown Calgary.

Then there are the ones east of the Bow River, that have even looser ties to this area, but are similarly a very remote part of Calgary, but a part nonetheless. McKenzie and Cranston, which were both named after homesteaders in their respective areas, etc etc, I could keep going, just like the city does. If you’re interested in reading the origins of some of those place names and others in the city, I’d recommend looking up the volumes of Whats in a Name? by Donna Mae Humber. A great book, though long out of print, there are some copies on Amazon, and nearly every branch of the Calgary Public Library has both volumes.

2 thoughts on “Community Names

  1. Great site, I was having the discussion with my father in law about the naming of Midnapore and how it has such an Indian sounding name. Thanks for the clarity.

    1. Thanks, it’s a really unique name. I actually heard another story about how Midnapore got it’s name- that it came from an Indian labourer who started a farm in the area, and named it after his home town. I haven’t found any evidence to support this, but it’s still interesting.

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