I wasn’t the first to suggest we should change the name of the Cornwallis River. Also, it’s likely immodest to believe that one of my columns, written 13 years ago, spurred the move to change the river’s name.
However, I may have been the first to promote the idea of a name change in a Valley newspaper. In an issue of The Advertiser in September 2004 I wrote about a conversation with Mi’kmaq elder Dr. Daniel Paul regarding what he said was the inappropriate use of the Cornwallis name. In a follow-up column a few years ago (March 3, 2015) I suggested that the Mi’kmaq name for the river, Chijekwtook, was more authentic and perhaps should be considered if a name change is made.
With apologies to my Mi’kmaq friends who were the first to use the land here – and who find the Cornwallis name objectionable, to say the least, there are precedents for considering something other than calling the Cornwallis River by a Mi’kmaq name. If the decision is ever made to change the river’s name there are historical precedents for considering something other than the Mi’kmaq designation for the watercourse. The fact is that Chijekwtook (or the latest spelling Jijuktu’kwejk) is more a topographical description than a river’s name. In his book on place names in Kings County, Dr. Watson Kirkconnell says that this translates into “deep narrow river.” Kirkconnell was quoting Dr. Silas Rand who compiled a Mi’kmaq dictionary.
Let’s agree that the name of the Cornwallis River should be changed. In all fairness, as well as the Mi’kmaq designation for the Cornwallis, we should also consider what the Acadians called the river. For the most part, the Mi’kmaq had no permanent settlements in Kings County but there were seasonal camping grounds depending on the time of year. On the other hand, the Acadians had well-established settlements in several places in Kings County – Grand Pre, New Minas and Canard, for example, and they had non-topographical names for the rivers, names that were recorded on some of the first maps the French made of this region centuries ago.
Quoting Dr. Watson Kirkconnell again, the Acadians called the Cornwallis “la Riviere Grand Habitant (or St. Antoine).” Other sources that confirm this: A map published by the French in 1755 (which was based on a 1649 map) shows the Cornwallis River as “R. Habitant.” A website, the Acadian & French-Canadian Ancestral Home, indicates the Cornwallis was “the Riviere St-Antoine or la Riviere Grand-Habitant.” Also, in his book Sods, Soil, and Spades, J. Sherman Bleakney included a map based on observations made in Kings County in 1649, in 1700 and in 1751. In this map, which was published in 1755, what was to become the Cornwallis River is shown as R. Habitant.
Then there’s the Planter name for the Cornwallis River, which also should be considered. One source says that at first the Kings County Planters referred to the Cornwallis as the Salmon River but I was unable to confirm this. However, one map from the Planter period indicates that for a while the Cornwallis was known as the Horton River.
In Haliburton’s History of Nova Scotia, published in 1829, the author writes that the Horton River divides the townships of Horton and Cornwallis, which pins it down as being today’s Cornwallis River. Haliburton adds an interesting footnote to the effect that the Horton River is “indifferently called by the name of either Township, and is as often known by the name of Cornwallis River as the other.”
So there you have it. Rename of the Cornwallis River if we must, but let’s not only consider what the Mi’kmaqs called it.