The Acadians called it the river of the gasparot; as we know, those bustling Planter people, once they saw the tremendous runs of herring-like fish up the river every spring, thought the name was appropriate.
The Planters called it Salmon River at first. But eventually, by anglicizing the Acadian name slightly, the stream became the Gaspereau River. Eventually, Gaspereau was applied to the river, to the village on its banks, to the valley the river flowed through and the lake at its headwaters.
If Esther Clarke Wright is correct, Gaspereau applies to more than a fish, a river, a village and a lake. It also indicates a state of mind, says Wright respectfully in her book Blomidon Rose, noting that the early settlers along the river were “God-fearing, tight-fisted, house-proud, farm-proud people.” It all had something to do with the Gaspereau Valley being relatively isolated from other communities in the area, Wright implies, that isolation perhaps creating a Gaspereau mindset.
The oddest thing about the word Gaspereau is that a few people believe it’s has nothing to do with the Acadians and their prized fish. Years ago I heard that the Gaspereau River, and the village, valley and lake weren’t named after a fish. In all seriousness, a friend told me Gaspereau came from the surname of a man named Gasper. I scoffed of course, but the friend insisted it was true; it’s documented in history books and it is common knowledge, he said.
The Acadian origin of Gaspereau, for the fish, the river and so on, is so well known I couldn’t believe the friend was serious. Then I discovered the booklet I wrote about in a recent column – the Souvenir of Wolfville and Grand Pre published in 1897 and written by D. O. Parker. There it was in the book. Just what my friend told me, that the word Gaspereau came from a man named Gasper. Here, word for word, is what the author of the book says about the origin of Gaspereau:
“Legend says (Gaspereau) is a compound of Gasper and eau. Gasper was a gentleman who died on his way to Acadia and was buried near the mouth of the river. Eau is the French word for water; hence the water near his grave was called Gasper-eau, i.e. Gasper water – Gaspereau. Others say it takes its name from a river in France and is sometimes spelt with an x, eaux, the plural for water.”
This is remotely possible, I suppose, but I suspect Parker wasn’t serious and simply was passing along a whimsical, curious piece of county folklore. I hope so. I see that Parker signs off his book as Rev. D. O. Parker; a man of the church, in other word, and well educated enough to know fact from fiction.