Has anyone asked you, after learning where you live, why the canyon is named Emigration and not Immigration? Do you know the answer? A simple trip to the dictionary tells us that “immigration” is coming to a new country or region, and “emigration” is leaving a country or region. Today it might seem like splitting hairs, but during the great westward expansion of the mid-1800s, pioneers were actually leaving the United States for opportunities “out west.”   Of course, destinations soon cropped up (for “immigration”), but the precedence had been set.   New maps of America’s West became peppered with references to pioneer’s journeys (Emigrant Pass, Emigrant Springs, etc).

And even the word “canyon” has a history. Westward pioneers were new to the huge mountains called the Rockies, as well as to the deserts of America’s southwest, which were owned by Mexico. “Cañon” was a Spanish term, used to describe what were called “Gaps” in the east’s Appalachian Mountains.   Various English spellings emerged (cannion, kanyon), finally landing on “canyon” as the preferred option.

When the first Mormon Pioneers entered the canyon in 1847, they didn’t name the canyon. But they named the creek – Last Creek. So it would follow that the canyon would be called Last Creek Canyon. But not so fast. The “canyon” was thought to be only the rocky narrows that thwarted travel (at Donner Hill).

It only took a few weeks for city fathers to name the canyons and creeks bordering the Salt Lake Valley. And they only complicated the issue, ignoring “Last Creek” in favor of “Canyon Creek.” And some preferred “Little Canyon Creek” to distinguish it from Parleys Creek, which they called “Big Canyon Creek.”   So, was the name now Little Canyon? Or maybe Little Canyon Creek Canyon?   Clearly, names would have to be adjusted as the new residents became more familiar with their surroundings.

And that’s just what happened. In a couple years, by the time the first government surveyors arrived to map the Great Salt Lake (and its environs), the map-makers labeled “Emigration Kanyon.” Shortly after that, the city assigned timber rights in the mountains and saw fit to mention “the canyon commonly known as Emigration Canyon.”

-Jeff Carlstrom