THE ORIGIN OF COUNTY PLACE NAMES (September 12/97)

“The river up which the fish went to spawn was called by the Acadians the river of the gasparot and the name carried over into the English regime,” Esther Clark Wright said in Blomidon Rose.

While this revelation explains the origin of at least one Valley place name, to me it implies that the Acadians had little imagination. Even less imaginative were the Horton settlers who took up the land vacated by the Acadians. The Planters, following the Acadian’s example, applied the name of the “gasparot” to a river, a village on its banks, the valley the river flowed through and a lake at its headwaters. Thus we have the redundant Gaspereau River, Gaspereau Village, Gaspereau Valley and Gaspereau Lake.

The Planters adopted other Acadian place names – Melanson, Pereau, Canard and Grand Pre immediately come to mind – either because they found it convenient, were preoccupied with the serious business of carving out a living in a new land, or had the same lack of imagination as their predecessors.

Whatever the reasons, the early Annapolis Valley settlers cheerfully saddled us with many dull, dreary, run-of-the-mill, unimaginative place names. It seems as if our ancestors couldn’t be bothered to think, for example, when they used geographical features to name places such as Black Rock, Black River, Blackhole, Whiterock, Coldbrook, Upper Dyke, Greenfield and Whitewaters. In some cases the Planters seem to have simply brought place names with them from New England. Kings County has at least 24 according to Watson Kirkconnell in his 1971 study of place name origins. Alton (North and South), Cambridge, Kingston, Greenwich, Brooklyn and Weston are prime examples. All are established and often used place names in the areas from which the Planters came.

Another unimaginative Planter method of establishing place names – a method also extensively used by later settlers – was to name areas after prominent families. Thus today we have Billtown, Bishopville, Starr’s Point, Chipman Corner, Wallbrook, Lockhartville, Porters Point and Sheffield Mills, which come from Planter surnames. And Baxter’s Harbor, Morden, Lake Paul, Northville and Welton, which are United Empire Loyalist surnames.

In the study mentioned above, Watson Kirkconnell lamented the fact that in Kings County we have no surviving Micmac place names and only a few place names of Scottish, Irish and Acadian origin. Kirkconnell concluded that the majority of our place names came directly from New England Planters and the Loyalists.

Kirkconnell gives us a host of Micmac place names and in many cases they seem preferable to many of the mundane appellations used today. What place name would you prefer? Penooek or Kentville? Mtaban or Wolfville? Starr’s Point or Nesoogwitk? Long Island or Mesadek? Cape Split or Plekteok? Cornwallis River or the Chijekwtook River? Boot Island or Kadebunegek? Gaspereau Lake or Pasedoock? Delhaven or Upkowegun?

What magic and mystery in these old Micmacs place names! And in contrast, how dull and ordinary the place names commonly used today.

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