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What is in a name? - Contemplating Tuft's Cove on National Truth and Reconciliation Day

I have always been fascinated by the names we give things. Maybe it’s being from the island of Ktaqmkuk (Newfoundland), where the white settler’s religious roots are on full display in many town names: St. John’s, St. Anthony, St. Bride’s, St. Jones Within, St. Vincents, Marystown, Marysvale, Cape St. Mary’s... Etcetera! The religious names are only rivaled by the inadvertently filthy names we also celebrate: Conception Bay, Come by Chance, Virgin’s Arm, Dildo, Granny’s Hole, Blow-me-down… Etcetera!

Maybe it’s being a writer and understanding that the words we choose matter on many levels. They have broader societal implications and can communicate unknown biases. A few years ago, I was honoured to win the Rita Joe Poetry Prize for my Red Bridge Pond Series—which explored the complicated history of a summer encampment for the Mi’kmaq people near my house, which is virtually unrecognized as such. Instead, the pond is named after a structure built by colonists that no longer exists.

Recently, I was struck by another example of this while visiting the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. After perusing the special Maude Lewis exhibit, and the ceramics collection, a painting by Alan Syliboy caught my eye. It was created in 2009 and is part of the permanent collection. My interest was further piqued when I saw the name: Tuft’s Cove Survivor.

Credit: Alan Syliboy

I’m a member of the Tufts Cove Writers’ Collective (TCWC). In fact, I founded it. When picking a name, I knew I wanted something unequivocally Dartmouth. Something that celebrated my adopted home in all its gritty and complicated glory.

The red and white smokestacks that stick out like hammered thumbs along the horizon seemed perfect. Of course, the smokestacks are bad for the environment. Of course, from a design perspective, they are kinda atrocious. Still, we celebrate those candy cane polluters, loving them in the way only Dartmouthians can.

Photo Credit: @shaunclicks

But my feelings about them are a little more complicated after learning about the Mi’kmaq history of that site via the Alan Syliboy painting and subsequent research. I had no idea that uft’s Cove was named Turtle Grove by the Mi’kmaq, nor that it was the last Mi’kmaq village left standing in Mi'kma'ki (Nova Scotia)—continuing despite white settler complaints when the British Crown granted the land to Gersham Tufts in 1790.

Negotiations to move the Mi'kmaq residents of Turtle Grove began in 1905 after a prominent Dartmouth businessman, Vincent Farrell, complained that the native people at Turtle Grove were squatting on his sister’s land. After years of harassment and threats of expulsion, a deal was reached in 1916, when the Tufts family offered the government a 94.5-acre plot near Albro Lake. The land would be designated as a reserve, and the government would fund medical supplies, housing, and some moving expenses. The Mi’kmaq accepted (not that they had much choice).

However, before any move commenced, the Halifax Explosion leveled the community of Turtle Grove, killing or injuring many of its residents. It was never rebuilt, nor did the promised reserve at Albro Lake ever materialize. The surviving Mi’kmaq residents had no choice but to relocate, scattering around the province.

After many more developments (the building and subsequent abandonment of Shannon Park, and the construction of the Generating Station with its signature red and white pillars, and the McKay Bridge connecting it more closely with Halifax) and lengthy negotiations, in 2014, 3.89 hectares of the Tuft’s Cove (Turtle Grove) site was transferred to the Millbrook First Nation, who plans to build a reserve community and economic development opportunities for the nation. I for one, can’t wait to see how they utilize the space that they finally have back.

So, this week with National Truth and Reconciliation Day around the corner, I’m thinking a little more closely about the names we give things, why they matter, and what we should do about it. I don’t know if there is a quick or easy answer here—but I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

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