When a friend suggested it would be interesting to look into the origin of Kings County place names, I told him the research had already been done and was published. Actually, it was done in three separate publications. One is a massive book of some 750 pages which gives the origin of place names in every county in the province.
This “massive book” is C. Bruce Fergusson’s Place-Names and Places of Nova Scotia, which was published in a limited hardcover edition by the Public Archives in 1967. Of the other two publications dealing with the origin of place names, one is a little known hardcover book published in 1922. Compiled by Thomas J. Brown, Nova Scotia Place Names is tiny compared to Fergusson’s work, containing 158 pages. However, it must be looked upon as a “first” for this sort of publication and possibly it inspired Fergusson who was the provincial archivist.
The third book (actually a booklet) was compiled by a past president of Acadia University, Dr. Watson Kirkconnell. Place-Names in Kings County was published (perhaps privately) in 1971. While only containing 39 pages, this is a much more readable, more interesting publication than Fergussons and Browns since Kirkconnell also discusses surnames long associated with various county communities from the Acadian period and from the time the Planters arrived.
All three publications are out of print. At least the original edition of Fergusson’s book is, but Mika Publishing released a facsimile edition in 1976 and a copy can be found in the local library. As mentioned, Brown’s work must be considered a rarity and I know of only two hardcover copies that are extant locally. A paperback issue was released last year by an American publisher but I haven’t seen it in local bookstores.
Of the three publications, Fergusson’s work is the more authoritative. As the provincial archivist, Fergusson could delve into historical records Brown and Kirkconnell had no access to. But even with the archives at his fingertips, Fergusson sometimes skipped over some of the more interesting details on the origin of place names. One example is the community of Melanson on the Gaspereau River. Fergusson notes that it originally was an Acadian village of that name, overlooking the Scottish origin of Melanson.
Of course with the entire province to cover, Fergusson of necessity had to keep his place name descriptions concise. But there are omissions in his book. I’d like to know, for example, how Atlanta, a community near Sheffield Mills got its name. Kirkconnell mentions Atlanta briefly, as an example of a community that came into being due perhaps to the railway running through the area. There’s no listing for Gibson Woods either, or Harriston and Blue Mountain on the road to New Ross, and Chettaly on the north mountain behind Canning. I’m sure other place names have been left out as well by all three writer/researchers.
However, despite a few omissions, Kings County has many interesting place names, which thanks to Fergusson and also to Kirkconnell generally have their origins explained. Some of it is guesswork, of course. On Medford, Black Rock and Auburn, for example, Fergusson guesses that the first two were named after natural features, the latter after a village in England. The same with Aylesford and Burlington which may have British connections, Fergusson suggesting they were named after British Lords.
Kings County has various place names like Aylesford and Burlington that originated in England, Scotland and Ireland. Canard, with its divisions into Upper and Lower Canard, is an exception, being one of the few Acadian place names that survived after the Planter and Loyalist influx. It’s really unusual that the people who ousted the Acadians would let this place name survive and also keep the Acadian name for the river. In contrast, the Planters quickly changed the Acadian name for the Cornwallis River (which was the Grand Habitant) first calling it Horton River until someone decided to rename it in honour of Governor Edward Cornwallis.