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Published November 17, 1998

The A to Z of Canadian Maritime Place Names
By Sandra Devlin

Some Maritime place names predate the discovery of North America by European explorers. A great many originated in tandem with various settlement patterns. Others are of a relatively more modern ilk. Still others have been called different names in different eras.

Liverpool, Nova Scotia like many other Maritime towns and cities under went name changes over the course of its history. It was originally called Ogumkiqueok by the Indians, then Port Rossignol by the French before being named for its counterpart in England by Planter settlers in 1759.

Moncton, New Brunswick, originally spelled Monckton, was so called in 1855 in honor of the British commander who captured Fort Beausejour in 1755. Moncton was earlier known as Le Coude (the elbow) by the Micmacs and Terre-Rouge by the French Acadians (for the red banks of the Petticodiac River which runs through the heart of the city). The Philadelphia covenantors who arrived in 1766 called it The Bend.

Summerside. Prince Edward Island was originally named Green’s Shores Bedeque in honor of pioneer Daniel Green, a Quaker Loyalist from Pennsylvania. But Green was instrumental in the change after a visitor’s remark on one bitterly cold, winter’s day: "it's like a summer side here.”

In more recent times, Dominion No. 4 post office in Cape Breton changed its name in 1931 to Passchendaele to memorialize the Canadian lives lost at one of the worst battles of World War One. Passchendaele remains the name of a neighborhood of Glace Bay. In southeastern New Brunswick, Dieppe took its name in 1947 from the coastal town in France assaulted by Canadian troops in the Second World War.

Place names continue to evolve. In 1995 the village of Memramcook in New Brunswick was incorporated to take in the former village of Saint-Joseph; and the local service districts of Breau Creek, Cormier's Cove, La Hêtrière-McGinley Corner, Memramcook, Memramcook East, Pré-d'en-Haut, Shediac Road and a portion of the parish of Dorchester. Also in 1995 Miramichi City was formed from the former towns of Newcastle and Chatham, the villages of Douglastown, Loggieville and Nelson-Miramichi, as well as several adjacent unincorporated rural communities: Nordin, Chatham Head, Lower Chatham Head, Douglasfield, Bushville, Craigville, Nowlanville, Nelson Junction, Northwest Bridge, Back Lots, Ferry Road, Millbank, Moorefield, Morrison Cove, Curtis Park, South Nelson Road and Cross Roads .

Legends invented to explain the early origins of other place names, while colorful have no basis in fact: Tormentine, New Brunswick from the torment of mosquitoes; Red House, P.E.I. when a coroner supposedly ruled that a man who committed suicide was to be buried at the crossroads immediately in front of the red house, with a stake driven through his body and Quaco from the racket of quacking ducks. Quaco (later St. Martins in Saint John County, N.B.), in fact, means home of the hooded seal in Malecite.

Many of our most colorful place names originating from native Indian or early Acadian raise a knowing grin from the locals when attempted from the lips of visitors. Cascumpeque, Nauwigewauk, Tatamagouche, Tabusintac, Antigonish, Kouchibouguac, Passamaquoddy and Kejimkujik, to name but a few.

Also from the Micmacs we inherit: Abegweit, meaning cradled in the waves; Shediac, running far in; Canso (Canceau), beyond the cliffs; Chedabucto, far-in harbor; Chebeucto, big or chief harbor; Miramichi, land of the Micmacs; Penobsquis, a blend of Micmac terms for stone and brook, Chignecto, the great marsh district; Shubenacadie, the place of the potato; Pugwash from the Indian name Pagweak meaning deep water and Tignish, a corruption of “mtagunich”, meaning paddle.

From the French we have: Beauséjour, meaning good stopping place and Mahone Bay, N.S. after a type of pirate boat called mahonne. Bay of Chaleur, an inlet separating New Brunswick from Quebec, was named in 1534 by French explorer Jacques Cartiers because he and his crew suffered from the heat while there (chaleur is French for heat).

At first glance Bras d’Or, the beautiful lake region of Cape Breton, appears to be of French origin with the fancifully translation “arm of gold.” But Bras d’Or is actually a corruption of Labrador, the origins of which is uncertain but probably derives from lavrador (ancient term in the Azores for farmer).
Burnt Church, N.B. got its name when an Acadian village and church were destroyed by the marauding English in 1758.

Many Maritime locales were named after illustrious people: Charlottetown for Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III of England. Parrsboro, for John Parr, Governor of Nova Scotia from 1782 to 1791. Halifax, founded in June 21, 1749, was named for George Montagu Dunk, Earl of Halifax (1716-1771), then-president of the board of trade.

Fredericton was assigned by order-in-council Feb. 22, 1785 as "a town at St. Anne's Point, on the River Saint John, to be called Fredericktown after His Royal Highness Prince Frederick, Bishop of Osnaburg.” The "k" and "w" were soon dropped. Port Hawkesbury named to honor Admiral Edward Hawke who served during the Seven Years’ War. Canning, N.S., known to Planter pioneers as Apple Tree Landing, received its current name about 1830 in honor of prime minister of Great Britain George Canning. Cardigan, P.E.I., was named in 1765 by land surveyor Capt. Samuel Holland for his friend George Brudenell, fourth earl of Cardigan. The Micmac name for Cardigan was Samkook, a sandy shore.

Towns named for their founding families include: Abram Village for Ile-St.-Jean (P.E.I) Acadian pioneer Abraham Arsenault, Dawson Settlement, Baker Brook, Harrisville, Jacquet River, Chapman Settlement, Lewisville, Edgett’s Landing, Secord Siding, Wolfville, Rogersville, Charlo’s Cove, Truemanville and Wood’s Harbor, among many others.

Other places were named by their pioneer settlers for other places held dear in their hearts: Truro, suggested in 1759 by New Englanders and Ulster Scots for Truro in Cornwall, England; Londonderry named by settlers from Northern Ireland; Lunenburg named by Foreign Protestant settlers for Luneburg in Hanover and Yarmouth, settled by Planters in 1761 thought to be named after the town of the same name in Massachusetts.

New Glasgow, New Annan, New Perth, New Edinburgh, New Salem, New Waterford, New Horton and New Canaan all kept a former place alive in the minds of residents in a new homeland.

Under the heading of pure whimsy, these are hard to beat: Bible Hill, Shamrock, Village Green, Five Houses, Blue Mountain, Lake Echo, Wine Harbor, Sunny Corner, Hardscrabble, Seal Cove, Tea Hill, Five Fingers, Frosty Hollow, Springhill, Old Barns, Singing Sands, Travellers Rest, Moose Land, Trutle Creek, Ha Ha, Plaster Rock, Magnetic Hill and Nancy’s Cellar.

Stellarton, N.S., early called Albion Mines, was renamed in 1889 after the grade of stellar coal mined there, which during combustion sends off starburst sparks.

Shag Harbor, N.S. was named for the sea bird of the same name which frequented the place. The shag is better known as cormorant.

To top it off, there’s an Alaska in P.E.I.; a Denmark in Nova Scotia and a Loch Lomand in New Brunswick.

From Aboujagane to Zealand Station, the A to Z of East Coast place names, and for everything in between, it’s small wonder Maritimers believe there’s no place like home.

Relevant sources and resources:

  • Excellent resource for pinpointing place names across the country, Canada's Geographical names, Natural Resources of Canada webpage: Canadian Geographical Names Database

  • Place Names of Atlantic Canada by William B. Hamilton (1996) University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

  • The Macmillan book of Canadian place names, by William B. Hamilton, (1978) Macmillan of Canada, Toronto

  • Encyclopedia Canadiana

  • From Terra Nova to Pacific Rim and north to Auyuittuq: the diverse origins of our National Park names, Parks Canada brochure.

  • Concise Gazetteer of Canada (1997), ISBN 0-660-60185-0

  • Naming Canada - stories about place names from Canadian Geographic by Alan Rayburn (1994) University of Toronto Press, Toronto

  • Aboriginal Canadian Geographical Names:an annotated bibliography(1997)Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names

  • Gazetteer of Canada Series, Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (print or mincrfiche)
    New Brunswick (1994)
    Nova Scotia (1993)
    Prince Edward Island (1990)

  • Lovell's 1873 Gazetteer of British North America originally published by John Lovell in Montreal in 1873. Reprinted 1998 in Milton by Global Heritage Press.

  • What's in a Toponym? The story of Canada's Geographical Names, 11-minute video available from Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names.
    Free to schools in VHS format; English and French.

  • Place Names of Prince Edward Island - With Meanings, compiled by R. Douglas

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