Advertisement

What's in a name? Why Nova Scotia has many duplicate place names

One Cole Harbour, N.S., is well known for the hockey superstars who grew up in the community, while the other is a picturesque seaside community. (Pat Callaghan/CBC/Submitted by Heidi Arbeau-Wood - image credit)
One Cole Harbour, N.S., is well known for the hockey superstars who grew up in the community, while the other is a picturesque seaside community. (Pat Callaghan/CBC/Submitted by Heidi Arbeau-Wood - image credit)

Michael vander Putten had to be the bearer of bad news one day when a visitor came looking for directions from the Cole Harbour, N.S., resident.

The visitor had travelled well off the beaten path to end up in the tiny Guysborough County community, far from his intended destination.

"It was getting late in the day and that person had to turn around and go all the way back to Halifax, which was, from here, 300 kilometres. So yeah, that was an eye-opener for him," said vander Putten.

He's lived in the lesser-known Cole Harbour for around 35 years. The 70-year-old, his wife and their cat are one of a handful of families who live in the community year-round, which is located almost as far northeast as you can go on mainland Nova Scotia.

Among Nova Scotia's roughly 2,000 communities, there are 78 names that are duplicated, accounting for 178 communities, according to Nova Scotia's geographic names database.

There are two Cole Harbours in Nova Scotia, one in Halifax County and the other one in Guysborough County. They located roughly 300 kilometres away from each other by car.
There are two Cole Harbours in Nova Scotia, one in Halifax County and the other one in Guysborough County. They located roughly 300 kilometres away from each other by car.

Nova Scotia's two Cole Harbours are located roughly 300 kilometres away from each other by car. (CBC News Graphics)

The most common duplicate name is Pleasant Valley. There are five communities with that name. Pleasant Valley, N.S., can be found in Halifax, Yarmouth, Colchester, Antigonish and Pictou counties.

Other repeat offenders include four Brooklyns, four Centrevilles, four Mount Pleasants, four Little Harbours, four Riversides and four Greenfields.

The Cole Harbour in Guysborough County is only home to a handful of families who live there year-round.
The Cole Harbour in Guysborough County is only home to a handful of families who live there year-round.

The Cole Harbour in Guysborough County is only home to a handful of families who live there year-round. (Submitted by Heidi Arbeau-Wood)

Why do so many communities have the same names?

"The community names that appear more than once are names that were already commonly used by the community long before they were officially approved," Geoff Tobin, a Service Nova Scotia spokesperson, wrote by email.

His department oversees GeoNOVA, which administers the province's geographic naming process.

The most common community name in Nova Scotia is Pleasant Valley. There are five of them.
The most common community name in Nova Scotia is Pleasant Valley. There are five of them.

The most common community name in Nova Scotia is Pleasant Valley. There are five of them. (CBC News Graphics)

Tobin said they couldn't find any complaints or inquiries about duplicate place names.

He said duplicate communities are typically found in different municipalities so they don't cause problems for 911 services, for instance.

A century-old process for approving names

Official place names in Canada have been authorized since 1897 through a national committee. Today, it's known as the Geographical Names Board of Canada.

Its 2011 guidelines include an entry on duplication.

An aerial photo shows the Cole Harbour area in Guysborough County, N.S.
An aerial photo shows the Cole Harbour area in Guysborough County, N.S.

An aerial photo shows the Cole Harbour area in Guysborough County. (Submitted by Heidi Arbeau-Wood)

"During the first half of the 20th century, there was considerable concern about duplicating the names of populated places in the same province, and of duplicating the names of physical features within the same general area," it said.

"Large numbers of features with the names Mud Lake, Trout Lake and Long Lake were renamed, often with no consultation with the local population."

Fittingly, there are 45 Mud Lakes, 23 Trout Lakes and 59 Long Lakes in Nova Scotia.

Duplication less common in some other regions

The Geographical Names Board of Canada's guidelines say: "Duplication of names in western and northern Canada is less prevalent, perhaps because there has been a greater concern in naming in the past 100 years to avoid misdirecting mail and goods."

Before he retired, vander Putten ran a business that built boat trailers. He said when he ordered parts, they'd often end up at a warehouse in Halifax because the delivery people couldn't find his address. Once vander Putten alerted them, a courier would deliver the product.

When vander Putten moved to Nova Scotia, oddly enough, he moved from a place called Coal Harbour, B.C. It was while driving through the province that he stumbled on his Cole Harbour and decided to move to the scenic seaside community.

NHL superstars Nathan MacKinnon, left, and Sidney Crosby are from Cole Harbour, N.S., the one near Dartmouth, N.S.
NHL superstars Nathan MacKinnon, left, and Sidney Crosby are from Cole Harbour, N.S., the one near Dartmouth, N.S.

NHL superstars Nathan MacKinnon, left, and Sidney Crosby are from the Cole Harbour that is near Dartmouth. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

While his Cole Harbour may not be well known, the two names best associated with the other one are that of hockey stars Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, who grew up in the community.

Vander Putten said their names often come up in discussions with people when he says he's from Cole Harbour.

"And then you have to say, 'Yeah, the wrong Cole Harbour. Yeah, that's the one in Dartmouth,'" he said. "And then they say, 'Oh, is there another Cole Harbour?' And then you have to do the whole story again."

MORE TOP STORIES