Meet the Names Guy

For all of you looking forward to learning something new about the wonderful and exciting world of geographical names, you may be disappointed by this post. Today you get to learn about me.

Taking the cue from two of my colleagues (Carlo Laforge and Michael Thome), who have introduced themselves in their own introductory posts; I have elected (been pressured) to do the same.

My name is Ronald Kelland, but most people call me Ron (actually, my family calls me Ronnie, but please don’t do that). I started working for the Government of Alberta on December 1, 2007 as an intern with Athabasca University’s Heritage Resources Management Program. While taking online classes with the university, I did research and some administrative tasks for the Historic Places Designation Program. This mainly consisted of researching the history of buildings and other cultural sites for designation as Provincial Historic Resources. Most of my duties consisted of writing Statements of Significance for these resources to explain why they are valued. Of the ones I have written, my favourite ones are the Canadian National Railways Locomotive 6060, the Northern Defence Radar Station near Cold Lake, and the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter (say that five time real fast!) near Three Hills. In July 2009, I left the intern program and became a proud member of the public service. It was at this time that I also became the Coordinator of the Geographical Names Program. In this position I research the origin and meaning of Alberta’s place names and I evaluate proposed new names for geographical features and advise the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation in their deliberations and decision-making on these names.  I also maintain the Alberta Geographical Names Database and other records about Alberta’s naming heritage. In December 2010, I assumed the role of primary historian for the Rutherford House Historic Site and Museum, researching the history of the house and the Rutherford family and using this information to aid in developing interpretive displays.

Prior to my current job, I worked for the Alberta Legislature Library. I was a researcher and writer for the book The Mantle of Leadership: Premiers of the North-West Territories and Alberta, 1897-2005, part of The Centennial Series (a four-volume set of books published by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta). Once that project wrapped-up, I worked as a researcher and report writer for the Committees of the Legislative Assembly, primarily the Public Accounts Committee and the Standing Committee on Government Services.

I was born in St. John’s and I still feel a strong connection to Newfoundland. I was raised in Alberta (primarily Red Deer) and have a great appreciation of the heritage and history of this province. I have been able to use my connection to both Newfoundland and Alberta to great advantage, successfully completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in History at the University of Calgary in 1998 (for which I concentrated on Western Canadian history) and a Master of Arts degree in History at Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2001 (for which I concentrated on Newfoundland’s history). Apparently one graduate degree was not enough to satisfy me, so I entered the Master of Library and Information Studies program at the University of Alberta, which I completed in 2010.

In my personal life I am married to an incredibly patient and understanding woman (I think that one has to be patient and understanding to be married to a historian – we do tend to go on about our work and research). We have three great kids (a five year old boy and three year old twin girls), making us a very happy, but very busy family. In my spare time I like to read (voraciously), cook (reasonably well), sing (badly) and play computer games (probably too much). I also build model cars and planes and am about to embark on a model railroading project in my garage (if it ever warms up again).

Back at my job, my priorities over the next year are to begin travelling the province more and meeting with local history groups and societies, spreading (and hopefully receiving) information about Alberta’s place names. I am also working on making the Alberta Geographical Names Database publicly available through the internet.

I welcome any inquiries about our province’s place names. So, if you ever wanted to know why we call that lake, creek, mountain or whatever by such-and-such a name, or if you are interested in proposing a name for a geographical feature, please feel free to get in touch with me or drop a comment into our blog. I hope that I will hear from many of you over the upcoming months.

Ron Kelland

11 thoughts on “Meet the Names Guy

  • I may as well take you up on your offer. 🙂

    I’m heading out on the weekend to check out the old townsites along the old Retlaw railline — where the towns were named so they would spell Retlaw.

    R – Retlaw
    E – Enchant
    T – Travers
    L – Lomond
    A – Armada
    W – Wheat Centre

    I’m curious to know if you have any information on when Wheat Centre was renamed to Pageant or any other history behind the names of these towns. I know Retlaw is Walter spelled backwards and was named for an early postmaster in the area, correct?

    • Mr. Overes,
      Thank you for your comment and question. I hope that this will be the first of many such received.

      The RETLAW line was started about 1913 and there was a plan to establish a station with the first letter of each station spelling RETLAW. According to our records, the planned station names were to be Retlaw, Enchant, Travers, Lomond, Amada and Walter (or Waldeck). The Walter/Waldeck station was never built. Retlaw was named for Walter Reginald Baker, Secretary of the CPR and former Aide-de-Campe to the Earl of Dufferin, Governor-General of Canada . A short bio is available at

      I would like to say more about these place names, so I will make the RETLAW line the subject of my upcoming blog posts.
      As for Wheat Centre and Pageant; they are (or at least were) two distinct communities.

      Wheat Centre was established as a post office in 1910. It is listed in the 1928 Place Names of Alberta (published by the Geographic Board of Canada) as being located in Twp 16 – Rge 18 – W4 (about 17 kms ESE of Lomond) and appears on the “Macleod” Sectional Sheet produced by the federal government in 1923 and 1941. The name is likely a statement about the local people’s belief that their district would become a major agricultural centre. The community never developed, likely due to being bypassed by the CPR. The post office closed in 1947 and the name was officially rescinded in 1951.

      The date of Pageant’s establishment is not known. It is listed in the 1928 Place Names of Alberta as being located in Twp 18 – Rge 21 – W4 (about 10 km NW of Armada) and appears on the “Blackfoot” Sectional Sheet produced in 1948. The origin of the name is not known, but was possibly conferred by the CPR, which had established the community as a railway stop. Interestingly, it is located approximately where the “W” station on the RETLAW line would have been.

      Feel free to get in touch with me any time about this or other naming questions.

      Ron Kelland

    • Hi Dan, Thank you for sharing your story with us. I hope you have a great weekend exploring RETLAW. If possible, please share some of your photographs.
      Cheers, Brenda

    • Hi Dan, Thank you once again for sharing – we appreciate your support for our site and for sharing your passion of Alberta places with us.

  • Hi Ron,

    Would you be able to tell me how Seven Lakes on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore got their names? The lakes are Porters Lake, Thief Lake, Conrod Lake, Canoe Lake, Bell Lake, Fiddle Lake and Thompson Lake.
    Any information you are able to be find would be most helpful.
    Thank you.

  • Just outside Athabasca, AB, (to the north and west i do believe) is a place, smaller than a hamlet, listed as Apathy Valley which was originally settled by escaped slaves fleeing Kansas and given this land to farm… or so I think. Local rumour i once heard or perhaps yet another fascinating tidbit of Alberta’s history. Please enlighten me to the true story of Apathy Valley

    • Hello Bruce and thank you for the comment.

      I do not have any record of a place called “Apathy Valley” in Alberta, but based on your description of the place and its history, are you referring to Amber Valley, a short distance east of Athabasca? If so, starting in 1911, African American settlers from Oklahoma migrated to Canada seeking an escape from discrimination in the United States. A significant number settled at Pine Creek north of Edmonton creating a community that would become known as Amber Valley. These settlers continued to face significant discrimination in Canada and their arrival prompted the enactment of immigration policies and legislation aimed at restricting the immigration of African Americans to Canada. In spite of this, the community of Amber Valley thrived until the post Second World War period when people, particularly its young people, began to leave for jobs and other opportunities.

      RETROactive has featured some previous blog posts about Amber Valley and the history of Alberta’s African American communities:

      Obadiah Place, Amber Valley Provincial Historic Resource [Note: sadly, Obadiah Place burned down in January 2021]

      Black History month at the Provincial Archives of Alberta

      African American Immigration to Alberta

      Additionally, in 2020, we were asked by Canada Post to be involved in the creation and launch of a special issue stamp feature Amber Valley. The stamp was released by Canada Post in February 2021.

      Canada Post commemorates an Alberta Community for Black History Month

      I hope that this information helps you out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s