John, Taylor-Hood, a friend of mine, recently posted some place names in Atlantic Canada comparing interesting pronunciations versus spellings of local placenames, and asked about other strange or interesting cases. I had a few minutes of fun doing this (Newfoundland has an amazing variety of names that are interesting for many reasons) and threw in a few bad plays on words in the process.
Then I noticed that he had a number of First Nations place names (mostly Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) in his list, and I tried to come up with a number of Aboriginal place names in Newfoundland that might have weird and wonderful sounds. Off the top of my head I could come up with none. For Labrador there were a number of names that came to mind, mostly because they have weather stations that I use. They are mostly Innuit with possibly a few Montagnais or Naskapi names. These include Makkovik, Cape Kiglapait, Cape Kakkiviak, and Sheshatshui (pronounced shesh-a-sidhe, I think). For the Innuit names pronounce every vowel, and if you say the words fast it usually comes out fairly well, and at worst people don’t have a lot of time to catch the errors.
The fact that I knew of no Beothuk names, lest alone Mi’kmaq names, on the Island disturbed me. The history of the Beothuk’s interactions with the European settlers, and the consequent destruction of their people by a combination of distrust, displacement from their coastal hunting and fishing areas, violence, and European disease has haunted me since I was a child. Because of the minimal interaction between the settlers and the Beothuks, I would have expected that only a few names would survive, but I remember absolutely none. Regarding the Mi’kmaq, they came to Newfoundland as scouts and hunters for the settlers, and they are basically the only Aboriginal people in significant numbers remaining on the Island. On that basis I should have been aware of at least a few names, but again I came up empty.
I went of Geonames Canada (just google it), and tried Beothuk with no luck. Then I tried Micmac and got half a dozen places in Newfoundland and Labrador; a Hill (actually a mountain when you walk down it), a brook, a river, a lake, and and island. Then I tried Eskimo and Inuit and found a few points in Labrador. Finally I did a bit more searching on the web.
Here are a few that I know or suspect refer to the Beothuks:
- Red Indian Lake (the Beothuks were the Red Ochre People, and the not so politically correct term Red Indian refers to the tone of their ochre-adorned skin)
- Western and Eastern Indian islands (Fogo)
- Indian Cove Island (Bay of Exploits)
- Ochre Pit Hill (Terra Nova National Park)
- Oche Pit Cove (Conception Bay)
- Indian Lookout (Trinity Bay)
- Indian Harbour (near La Poile)
- Indian Bay Pond, and sadly
- Indian Burying Place (Baie Verte Peninsula)
As to actual Aboriginal place names in Newfoundland and Labrador, here’s what I came up with after a cursory search:
- Aguathuna (possibly derived from aguathoonet meaning grindstone). On the Port au Port Peninsula, it was named in 1911 by Archbishop Howley, who though it was Beothuk for white stone. Still, this is not a place name given by the Beothuks
- Shannoc Brook (Beothuk name for Mi’kmaq) Joseph Jukes, Geological Surveyor for Newfoundland from 1839-1840, believed the brook was named this way
- Kaipokok Bay (“frothy water”)
- Makkovik (“two places”?)
- Nunatsiavut (“our beautiful place”)
- Sheshatshui (“narrow place in the river”)
- Torngat Mountains (from “turngait” or “spirit”)
- Meepaeg Resevoir
- Ebegunbaeg Hill
- Kepenkeck Lake
- Kikupegh Pond
- Awachanjeesh Pond
- Kaegudeck Lake
- Other Aboriginal Languages
- Wabush (Innu for “rabbit ground”) western Labrador
- Wabana (Abanaki for “east land”), named by Thomas Cantley of the Nova Scotia Steel Company in 1895 on Bell Island in Conception Bay
The names labelled Mi’kmaq were done so based on the fact that they are inland from Hermitage Bay in the Bay D’espoir region and personal supposition. Many of the Mi’kmaq still in Newfoundland settled in this region, and I’m guessing that European settlers didn’t explore into these regions much until the latter half of the 20th century. By this time it was more usual to allow native place names to be accepted by white Newfoundlanders and Canadians, so these inland features in the Bay du Nord region kept their Aboriginal names. However, all I have at this point is names on a map that resemble Mi’kmaq names from Nova Scotia. Some of them may be Beothuk.
In summary there is a scattering of First Nations based place names in Newfoundland and Labrador, with more in Labrador due to lesser and later European intrusions. The Moravian missionaries were also more accepting of the native cultures in Labrador. For the Island, if the names near Bay D’espoir are Mi’kmaq, then my supposition that their names would be more common than the Beothuks seems to be born out.
The saddest aspect is that I could only find two placenames with a good possibility of Beothuk origin. One of them may be the Beothuk word for Mi’kmaq, and the second may be the Beothuk word for grind stone. Only one of them may have been given by the Beothuks. Without Demasduit and Shawnadithit, we would have known almost nothing of this people, their language and their culture. But as long as we do remember, something of their culture will survive. For those who aren’t aware of this, if you take our provincial flag and rotate it 90 degrees clockwise, it is the design of a Beothuk pendant that used to be on display in the old Newfoundland Museun and is probably in The Rooms. It is the main reason I like the flag, and reminds us to avoid our ancestors mistakes, and to do what we can to remember the people who lived on and loved this land before we came.