RICKS, PICKET MYSTERIES SOLVED (April 25/03)

The 1874 document, the topic of last week’s column, solved what to me were a couple of minor word mysteries. As explained, the document is a leasing arrangement of Wellington Dyke land between Charles Henry Borden and the Parish of St. John.

As for the mysteries, let’s start with that once viable, long abandoned port on the Habitant River below Canning and the reference Watson Kirkconnell makes in his 1971 booklet, Place-Names in Kings County: “At the eastern end of Washington (Saxon) Street,” Kirkconnell wrote, “is the ghost port of ‘Pickett’s Wharf,’ reduced today to a few weathered pilings.”

The obvious conclusion from Kirkconnell’s spelling of Pickett is that the wharf was named in honour of some worthy individual; this may not be the case and Kirkconnell probably was following local usage.

In her book Canard Street, Elizabeth Rand uses the same spelling as Kirkconnell. However, Rand speculates that perhaps the old wharf wasn’t named after “an eminent figure,” but came from a picket fence that marked its road. Rand’s source re the picket fence was Freeman Eaton, a former wharfinger or wharf keeper in this area.

From the 1874 Borden document I believe we can conclude that the mini-mystery surrounding the origin of the wharf’s name is solved, and that Freeman Eaton was right; Pickett’s Wharf should henceforth be referred to as the picket wharf, or simply picket wharf, with or without capital letters. While the document used capital letters in reference to the wharf, the way it was used (“the Picket Wharf”) seems to confirm it wasn’t named after a person.

There’s also a question of when the picket wharf was constructed. Government sessional records indicate the wharf was built in 1845. However, Alpine’s Gazette, the 1804 edition, has a “Picket’s Wharf” listed as existing in Kings County.

Now to another mini-mystery, the meaning of “rick,” a word in common use three or four generations ago but rarely heard today.

I remember hearing my grandfather use the word and I thought he was referring to a feature of the landscape; two of my hunting companions refer to ricks frequently when we’re afield. To them, a rick is a hedgerow or a low, narrow line of trees or bushes, which they say was how their Irish Canadian ancestors used the word on the farm.

We’ve had many a friendly discussion on the correct use of rick; I argued that it wasn’t any sort of hedgerow or line of bushes since as I vaguely remember it, my grandfather used rick in reference to pieces of open land.

Anyway, the 1874 leasing agreement uses the word rick and also ricks in a couple of places; one such reference refers to the “center of the rick,” another to a piece of dykeland as being comprised of “five ricks or dales.”

I asked Jim Borden what rick referred to in the document and he said it is dykeland fields that lie between parallel ditches; rick and dale mean the same thing, Borden said. Apparently when applied to dykeland fields this old word has the same meaning today as it did in Charles Henry Borden’s time. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary has an entirely different definition for rick but does say that it’s an old word of unknown origin.

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