Wapusk National Park of Canada

Cree Names and the Landscape of Wapusk National Park

Sheldon Kowalchuk, Acting Superintendent, Wapusk National Park and Manitoba North National Historic Sites

Wapusk News - Volume 5, Number 1, 2012

Map of Wapusk National Park with Cree names Map of Wapusk National Park with Cree names
© Parks Canada

The landscape of what is now Wapusk National Park (NP) has been travelled, made use of and intimately known by people for thousands of years. The Cree names for geographical features can tell us much about the people’s enduring relationship with the land.

The Hudson-James Lowlands natural region contains thousands of lakes, ponds and small waterways. Most of these are nameless, or lack official names. There is a long history of Aboriginal peoples living in northern Manitoba, including the area that is now Wapusk NP. When the Hudson’s Bay Company established York Factory and Prince of Wales Fort more than 250 years ago, travel likely increased between these two sites through what is now the park. As a result, some unnamed landscape features in Wapusk NP may have been given local or Cree place names, but these geographical names are not officially recognized today.

In 2002 Maria M’Lot completed her thesis, “Kâ Isinâkwâk Askîy: Using Cree knowledge to perceive and describe the landscape of the Wapusk National Park Area”, towards a Masters of Natural Resource Management Degree at the University of Manitoba. Maria, originally from Cross Lake in northern Manitoba, now works for the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources in Winnipeg. While working on her thesis, Maria forged relationships with the Cree people of Churchill, York Factory First Nation and the Fox Lake Cree Nation and developed a map of Cree place names in the region. Maria met and interviewed Elders and community residents to learn how the Cree language was used to describe the surrounding landscapes, landforms, and bodies of water. She found that each place name carries rich and descriptive information about the individual landscape feature such as its physical characteristics, how it was used by people, or the plants and animals that were often seen there. Some of the geographical features in Wapusk NP for which Cree names are known can be seen on the map. In the chart below are some of the meanings that have been given for these Cree names.

Cree Term TranslationContext 
Kîhcikamîy great body of water Used when referring to Hudson Bay.
Kîyâsk Ministik Gull Island Offshore island in Hudson Bay that has lots of gulls on it.
Namekosîpîsis Salmon Creek Refers to Salmon Creek.
Ôhô Sîpîy Owl River Used to see lots of owls along the river.
Âsawâpaskosîpîsis --- Refers to Asawapuskun Creek; people used to see polar bears down this creek.
Asinîy Sîpîy stony or rocky river Refers to Rupert Creek, which is often called Stony River by the people.
Wâskahikanisîpîsis a creek of houses Refers to Waskunhikunis Creek (also known as Duck Creek); there used to be houses or cabins along the creek.
Nôchewan Sîpîsis --- Refers to Noochewaywan Creek (also known as Sam's Creek); could refer to a good trapping area because nocitakawin means 'trapping around'

Kîhciwaskahikan

the great house Used when referring to York Factory due to its sheer size.
Âpîhtisîpîy the river that is bruised Used when referring to Hayes River due to the blue/black colour of the water and mud.

From “Using Cree knowledge to perceive and describe the landscape of the Wapusk National Park Area”, by Maria M’Lot, thesis towards a Masters of Natural Resource Management Degree, University of Manitoba, 2002.

Do you know any traditional names for places in Wapusk National Park? Parks Canada would like to hear from you!

As the number of people visiting, conducting research and working in Wapusk NP increases, it will be helpful to have names for more of the larger unnamed lakes, streams and other geographical features. Being able to identify the local geography by name will help with navigation and will provide reference points in this vast park, especially in emergency situations.

Parks Canada will be working with the Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC) to officially name some of the larger unnamed bodies of water in Wapusk NP. To do this, we will be seeking input from the public about any Cree or locally-used names that they may be aware of for lakes, creeks, rivers and geographical places in the park area. When considering a new name, GNBC prefers descriptive names, local names and names relating to the history of an area.

If you have any information on the names of geographical features that you would be willing to share, please contact the Superintendent of Wapusk National Park at (204) 675-8863 or at wapusk.np@pc.gc.ca