In her delightful book, Blomidon Rose, Esther Clark Wright devotes a chapter to the Kipawo, the little ferry that once plied the upper reaches of Minas Basin. Unlike others who wrote about the Kipawo, Wright resisted explaining the mundane origin of the ferry’s name; she comes close, however, when noting that the “sponsoring towns” of the ferry were Kingsport, Parrsboro and Wolfville.

Many people on hearing the ferry’s name believe it has some exotic or historical origin. Kipawo sounds like it might be of Mi’kmaq origin; say it along with some of our Mi’kmaq place names (Maccan, Cogmagun, Hectanooga, Ecum Secum, for example) and it does have a kind of native ring.

In fact, in one history book you’ll find it written that Kipawo is of Mi’kmaq origin. The writer-compiler of this history claims Kipawo was associated with the Glooscap of Mi’kmaq legends. The historian is W. C. Milner, the book is The Basin of Minas and It’s Early Settlers. With tongue in cheek and spoofing all the way, Milner gives us a sample of turn-of-the-20th-century humour

“The origin of the name ‘Kipawo’, the C.P.R. boat on the Basin, was in answer to my enquiry furnished by a fellow traveller who professed to know and declared he always told the truth.

“He said Kipawo was Glooscap’s dog; that the latter taught him to talk and run errands for him. The first thing in the mornings Kipawo would run to an elevation overlooking the pasture and bark to the cows – they would all start and run up the hill to be milked. As a truthful man, I would not… state that from (this) the D. A. R. learned to milk the public, but I have a suspicion.”

“Glooscap had other purposes for Kipawo’s bark. He used the bark to repair the leaking roof of his cabin. I heard this from my grandfather, who heard it from his father, who claimed to have been associated with Glooscap and swapped stories with him. He told my great-grandfather that Kipawo wanted Glooscap to change him into a man, but Glooscap refused.

“He told Kipawo that if he became a man he would want to be a lawyer and get elected to the Assembly at Halifax. ‘You are honest now, keep it that way …’ Glooscap offered to make a woman of him. This offer was refused by Kipawo. He said the boys on the corners would sing out after him ‘Old Cat,’ and he did not want to be mixed up with cats. Glooscap satisfied him by telling him he was going on a tour and would take him to Chicago to see the world.

“All this may be a traveller’s tale and is not recorded as actual history,” Milner concludes unnecessarily.

This is the only example of humour that I’ve found in Milner’s work which was published in 1918 or 1919. I had written here that Milner at one time was the provincial archivist but this is incorrect. In 1913 Milner was appointed Dominion Archivist for the Maritime Provinces with offices in Halifax and St. John. As well as a historical writer, Milner was a newspaper man and was a force in the establishment of the library system in the province.

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