Everyone knows the town of Spuzzum, but what about the Houdini Needles? Or Miniskirt? Or a place called Elephant Crossing? They are three of the thousand-plus names for towns, rivers, mountains and lakes explained by George Philip Vernon and Helen Akrigg in 1001 British Columbia Place Names, a landmark volume based on more than 40 years of collaborative research.

Houdini Needles, located in the Adamant Mountains, northeast of Revelstoke, is "so named because only a contortionist like Houdini could ascend these peaks."; Miniskirt, northwest of Victoria, is near Skirt Mountain. The derivation of Elephant Crossing, near the Canadian Armed Forces base at Holberg, west of Port Hardy, is more complex. When a logging truck is unloaded, the trailer portion is hoisted up behind the driver's cab and carried piggyback for the return journey, with the "reach"; (the long connecting bar) jutting out above the cab. Upon seeing this strange sight at a roadway crossing, a warrant officer, newly arrived from Ontario, remarked that the empty trucks looked like elephants holding up their trunks. This intersection on Vancouver Island was recorded in the Gazetteer of Canada as Elephant Crossing.

The Akriggs were self-publishing pioneers when they released 1001 B.C. Place Names under their Discovery Press imprint in 1969 (updated in 1997). Another classic in this field is Walbran's British Columbia Coast Names. Remembered as the namesake for the Walbran Valley, Walbran Creek, Walbran Rock and Walbran Point, Captain John T. Walbran produced his seminal work derived from his hobby of investigating place names. For much of the 20th century it was said that any captain worth his salt on the B.C. coast had to travel with a well-thumbed copy of Walbran's 546-page British Columbia Coast Names, 1592-1906, To Which Are Added a Few Names in Adjacent United States Territory; Their Origin and History. With Map and Illustrations (1909), reprinted in 1971.

Exactly 100 years after Walbran's omnibus appeared, former Western Living editor (1980-1987) and longtime Georgia Straight travel columnist Andrew Scott produced his 650-page lighthouse of a book, The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names: A Complete Reference to Coastal British Columbia (2009), that supplies the origins and meanings of more than 5,200 names, with photos and maps.

The Akriggs also produced a valuable two-volume history about the origins of the province, British Columbia Chronicle, 1778-1846: Adventures by Sea and Land (1975) and British Columbia Chronicle, 1847-1871: Gold & Colonists (1977).


As UBC professors, G.P.V. Akrigg and his wife Helen Akrigg wrote two widely-used B.C. histories, British Columbia Chronicle: 1778-1846 and British Columbia Chronicle: Vol. II 1847-1871, plus they produced a perennial bestseller, 1001 British Columbia Place Names, which includes anecdotes, maps and historical characters. The couple were pioneers in the field of self-publishing under their imprint, Discovery Press. He also wrote books as a Shakespearean scholar; she contributed numerous historical essays on B.C. history.

Born in Calgary in 1913, he received a B.A. in 1937 and an M.A. in 1940 from UBC and a Ph.D. from the University of California in 1944, the year the Akriggs were married. He began his UBC teaching career in the Department of English in 1941. In 1946-47 he was a Research Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. He was a Fellow at the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Historical Society. George and Helen Akrigg won the Government of British Columbia's first Heritage Award in 1995. He died in 2001.

[For other authors pertaining to place names, see abcbookworld entries for Aitken, Neil; Allen, Richard Edward; Balf, Edward; Bell, Aula Agnes Louise; Brown, Harrison; Ford, Helen; Havinga, Marlene; Little, C.H.; Manning, Helen Brown; Middleton, Evelyn Maude; Nelson, Denys; Parizeau, Paul; Rozen, David Lewis; Snyders, Tom; Speare, Jean E.; Swanson, James L.; Vancouver, George; Walker, Elizabeth; White, James.] AT 2010.


Jacobean Pageant, or the Court of King James I (Hamilton/Harvard University Press, 1962).
Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968 / Harvard University Press, 1969).
Letters of King James VI & I (U. of California Press, 1984).

Co-authored with Helen B. Akrigg

Akrigg, G.P.V. & Helen Akrigg. 1001 British Columbia Place Names (Discovery Press, 1969).

Akrigg, G.P.V. & Helen Akrigg. British Columbia Chronicle, 1778-1846: Adventures by Sea and Land (Discovery Press, 1975).

Akrigg, G.P.V. & Helen Akrigg. British Columbia Chronicle, Vol II, 1847-1871: Gold & Colonists (Discovery Press, 1977).

Akrigg, G.P.V. & Helen Akrigg. H.M.S. Virago in the Pacific (Sono Nis Press, 1992).

Akrigg, G.P.V. & Helen Akrigg. British Columbia Place Names (UBC Press, 1997).

[BCBW 2010]