Colonial settlers have referred to this river as the Cornwallis River, named after Governor Edward Cornwallis, a British military officer who founded Halifax as a military garrison in 1749. Cornwallis was infamous for issuing bounties on the scalps of Mi’kmaq people, including women and children. Here, as elsewhere in the province, and across the country, when Indigenous land was appropriated, Indigenous place names were often erased and replaced, many with names like Cornwallis that signify, not heroism for Indigenous people, but rather terrible histories of genocidal violence and oppressive behaviour. (Recently steps have been taken to rename the river and a host of other sites bearing Corwallis’ name again; you can read about this process from an Indigenous point of view here).
This river is known to Mi’kmaq peoples as Jijuktu’kwejk, or Chijekwtook, which is pronounced “gee gee WOK tok”. Jijuktu’kwejk has been a highway to travel, a space to gather nourishment, and an important gift from the Creator since time immemorial. All rivers are part of a large system of waterways that help sustain life on Mother Earth. Indigenous peoples have always understood the importance of water and that is should be protected and honoured.
This river is important to both Indigenous and settler histories. The town of Kentville’s website states, “While the Cornwallis River had a minor role in a relatively small region of Canada, it was of major importance to the first settlers and the people that followed them. Kentville owes its location to the fording place on the Cornwallis River.” That history owes everything to the Mi’kmaq peoples who welcomed newcomers and agreed to establish an ongoing reciprocal relationship within the framework of the Treaties of Peace and Friendship (1725-1761).