Last winter when I invited Dr. Daniel Paul to be a guest speaker at a Kings Historical Society spring meeting he graciously accepted. However, during a conversation with Dr. Paul he said in effect that when he saw the Cornwallis Street address of the Society, he had qualms about addressing it.
Frankly, Dr. Paul doesn’t think that Edward Cornwallis, after whom the street was named, should have been honoured by preserving his name. Cornwallis, the founder of Halifax, became the Governor and commander of all British forces in Nova Scotia in 1749. Dr. Paul points out that during his tenure, Cornwallis was guilty of barbaric cruelty amounting to genocidal action against the Mi’kmaq people. He suggests that the correct thing to do is remove Cornwallis’ name from the various streets, edifices, rivers, military bases and that like.
Following Dr. Paul’s talk a member of the Kings Historical Society requested that the group lobby to have the name of Cornwallis removed wherever it is used in the county. A discussion on this request, written by Andrew Clinch, can be found in the Society’s May newsletter. Readers interested in the pros and cons of this issue may also wish to read the follow up in the September newsletter.
It’s unlikely that we will eliminate the use of Cornwallis’ name on our streets, business firms and so on, even if Dr. Paul has made a plausible argument for doing so.
But even if we considered doing it, where would we start and what would be historically correct? Take the Cornwallis River, for example. In Haliburton’s 1829 history of Nova Scotia, the Cornwallis River is shown as Horton River. The Acadians called the river by various names, Riviere St. Antoine in the 1600s and Riviere des Habitants in the 1700s. Then we have the Mi’kmaq name for the Cornwallis, which Dr. Watson Kirkconnell says was Chijekwtook, meaning deep, narrow river. Kirkconnell’s source for the native name for the Cornwallis most likely was Dr. Silas Rand who helped preserve the Mi’kmaq language and compiled a Mi’kmaq dictionary in the 19th century.
It has nothing to do with the fact that the Cornwallis River honours a man of questionable actions but I’ve never liked the name. Even before Dr. Paul spoke up about the use of Cornwallis I toyed with the idea of a tongue in cheek column suggesting we revert to the original name for the Cornwallis and other county streams. To me, Chijekwtook River has more of a flavour and authenticity than commonplace and unoriginal Cornwallis River. Couldn’t our ancestors come up with something better?
I’m surprised, by the way, that the Canard River has retained its Acadian designation and someone didn’t rename it after some dignitary. With apologies to Dr. Paul, the Mi’kmaq name for the Canard is quite a mouthful and probably wouldn’t fit on a roadsign; the Mi’kmaq called the river Apcheechkumochwakade, which Dr. Kirkconnell says, undoubtedly quoting Dr. Rand again, translates into “place abounding in little ducks.”
Dr. Kirkconnell and A. W. H. Eaton in his Kings County history give the Mi’kmaq names for various locales here. I’m not suggesting we revert to these names and I give them only to show that they’re much more original and more interesting that today’s designations. Wolfville, for example, was Mtaban, Gaspereau Lake was Pasedoock, Grand Pre was Umtaban, the Gaspereau River was Magapskegechk, and so on.