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Kamloops History: How place names came to be in the area

The Indigenous people of the area, the Secwépemc, had many names for features describing the land, but only orally until white explorers and fur traders started to write down the names they heard
Jean Baptiste Lolo St. Paul and his family
Jean Baptiste Lolo “St. Paul” and his family in Kamloops in 1865. In 1859, Lt. Richard Mayne asked Lolo to ride with him to the top of what Mayne christened Paul’s Peak.

Place names, or toponyms, reveal a great deal about the history of our area. George and Helen Akrigg were UBC professors well-known for their research on place names of the province.

They created categories that can be used for our local names. Names are descriptive (such as Mauvais Rocher or Bad Rock along the Trans-Canada Highway west of Savona), possessive (Spences Bridge without the apostrophe), nostalgic (Knutsford, after a place in England), episodic (Deadman River, after the murder of a fur trader), memorial (Thompson River after explorer David Thompson) or honorific (Mt. Paul, named for Jean Baptiste Lolo “St. Paul” by Royal Navy surveyor Richard Mayne).

The Indigenous people of the area, the Secwépemc, had many names for features describing the land, but only orally until white explorers and fur traders started to write down the names they heard.

George Mercer Dawson, a geologist, surveyor, geographer and anthropologist, was responsible for recording many of the Secwépemc names in the late 1800s, although in a rudimentary way. Dawson placed many Secwépemc names on his Kamloops map sheet, published in 1895, using his own manner of spelling them.

It was not until the 1950s that an orthography began to be developed that gave the Secwépemc a written language and way of writing their place names. Indigenous toponyms are mainly descriptive, such as Chuwels Mountain, meaning “many ravines,” or Silwhoiakun Plateau, meaning “caribou place”.

Some name historic and heroic events, such as the “balancing rock” (Stseq.qiqe) near Savona, which invokes the story of a battle between the Secwépemc and syilx (Okanagan).

Kamloops is one of the earliest names recorded by the fur traders, spelled “Kameloops” by Alexander Ross in 1827, from the Secwépemc name Tk’emlúps, but changed and written for the first time as “Kamloops” in 1833.

The name refers to the confluence of the two rivers, or the “point” where they come together. One of the earliest non-Indigenous toponyms in the Kamloops area is Bonaparte, named after the French emperor, who died in 1821. The name was likely applied to the river by the French-Canadian employees of the fur trade companies. Bonaparte Lake, however, was not named until the 1880s, when Dawson found the river’s source.

Monte Creek and Monte Lake are other examples of a French name for the creek and hill from the Thompson Valley to the Okanagan. “Monte” means “to climb,” referring to the hill fur brigades had to ascend to reach the divide. Tranquille is another name from that period for a chief (also known as Pacamoos). It may refer to his quiet disposition. Savona is a name that did not come into existence until the gold rush.

FranÇois Saveneux settled here to run a cable ferry across the mouth of Kamloops Lake. He died in 1862. The name became spelled Savona about 1910. Scheidam Flats is named for a Dutchman who squatted on Paul Creek until 1870. Barnhartvale was once two words, a hamlet named after Peter Barnhart, conductor on the first CPR train in 1886. In 1905, he settled along Campbell Creek and opened a post office with his own name — “Barnhart Vale,” — a highly unusual decision.

Logan Lake is an instant town developed for the Lornex mine in 1970, but the name for the lake is much older, after a Secwépemc man and his wife named Tslakan, whose family trapped and farmed in the area. Batchelor Hills, mistakenly misspelled “bachelor” on early maps, was officially corrected in 1959, named after Owen Salisbury Batchelor, who owned a stamp mill that failed to make him rich.

Vidette Lake, contrary to popular explanations, was not the site of Hudson’s Bay Company post. Ore veins there were known to prospectors as early as 1898; however, active development did not take place until the late 1920s, when the name first appeared on the map Sahali, meaning “high up” or “heaven above,” is a fairly recent name on the map, based on Chinook jargon, a lingua franca used by fur traders to communicate with Indigenous peoples.

Chinook was used extensively in the Pacific Northwest until the 20th century, so, as once might expect, there are several earlier Chinook names around Kamloops. Frederick was a CNR siding on Kamloops Lake, named after a C.B. Frederick, who died in 1940.

The locals living there today have nicknamed the place “The Fred,” an example of how people can change or modify a name. Countless Indigenous names have disappeared from the modern map due to colonialization and dispossession.

But in recent years, some names have been translated to their Indigenous form — and have been reinstated — incuding the former Kamloops Indian Band, now called T’kemlúps te Secwépemc.

Ken Favrholdt is a freelance writer, historical geographer, and former curator/archivist of the Kamloops Museum and Archives.