Showing posts with label place names. Show all posts
Showing posts with label place names. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

How old is the name Chain Rock? Older than you might think. #askafolklorist

The approach to St. John's in 1813, by Chappell.

Dale Jarvis, Heritage NL

I love placenames, and over the past decade of intangible cultural heritage work, local names for places come up time and time again in our discussions of local history. Sometimes those discussions of toponymy pop up in unlikely contexts.

Earlier today, an online discussion of the word “lazaretto” - an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases, especially leprosy or plague, or a building/ship used for quarantine - included a reference to quarantine procedures on Signal Hill in this quote from the Evening Telegram (St. John's, N.L.) of 1892-09-30:
There is access to it by water and on two sides by land, by a path from the lazaretto, which can be made good enough for a horse at the expense of ten dollars, and by a road from Chain Rock, which is not finished yet.
That quote raised the following question from Twitter user Rick Magill:
I always assumed chain rock got its name during WWII when they had torpedo/sub curtains across the narrows. Clearly much older. Anyone know how and why it got its name?
Historian Dr. Heidi Coombs was quick to respond, stating:
They referred to Chain Rock during the 1832 cholera quarantine, so it’s at least that old. Ships were not permitted to proceed into the harbour beyond Chain Rock.
She also shared the proclamation requiring ships to anchor at "the first Buoy within Chain Rock," from the Colonial Secretary's Office -- Quarantine Letters, 1832-26 (GN 2/17) at The Rooms.

Going back a bit further, we find a reference to Chain Rock in the long-titled work “Voyage of His Majesty's Ship Rosamond to Newfoundland and the Southern Coast of Labrador: Of which Countries No Account Has Been Published by Any British Traveller Since the Reign of Queen Elizabeth,” by Edward Chappell and published by J. Mawman in 1818.

In February of 1813, His Majesty's ship Rosamond, commanded by Captain Donald Campbell with Edward Chappell as his Lieutenant, received orders from the Admiralty. They were to repair forthwith to Cork, Ireland, in order to collect the first spring convoy bound for Newfoundland, Halifax, and the St. Lawrence River. This, they did, arriving first at Cape Broyle, and then heading to St. John’s.  Of their entrance into the port, Chappell wrote,
At about two-thirds of the distance between the entrance and what may properly be termed the harbour itself, there lies a dangerous shelf called Chain Rock; so named from a chain which extends across the street at that place, to prevent the admission of any hostile fleet. Mariners, on entering this place, ought to be aware of approaching too near the rocks beneath the light-house point. At the time we sailed by them, the masts of a large ship were still visible above the water, that had a short time before been forced by the swell upon those rocks, where she immediately foundered.
By 1813, the name Chain Rock was already well-established Historian Paul O’Neill summarized one version of history of the Rock in his book The Oldest City, published in 1975. He writes,
About 1770 a heavy chain was stretched across the Narrows from Chain Rock to Pancake Rock, and it was the duty of the troops to raise this chain each evening so that an enemy vessel or privateer could not sneak into the harbour under cover of darkness. During World War I a chain boom was again put into use. In World War II the Narrows were protected by a series of metal mesh anti-submarine nets.
1770, however, is not the oldest reference to Chain Rock. Former Parks Canada historian James Candow, in his book “The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill,” notes that a plan of St. John’s Harbour from 1751 includes the placename. He writes,
The same 1751 plan includes an early use of ‘Chain Rock’ to denote the navigational hazzard in front of the old North Battery site, and to which the chain of the Narrows boom had been affixed earlier in the century. [emphasis mine]

Archaeologist Steve Hull of the Provincial Archaeology Office pointed out an even earlier possible date. This map, "Plan du port et du fort de Saint Jean en l'Isle de Terreneuve, 1726"  shows a chain across at least part of the mouth of the Harbour (see detail below).

The map key in the upper-right records R as follows:

"la chaîne qui empêche l'entrée aux vaisseaux" - the chain that prevents entry to vessels.

So, the name Chain Rock goes back at least to the early 18th century. An earlier map of the harbour, drawn by David Southwood in 1675, notes the locations of both North Fort and South Fort, but not Chain Rock. Any use of the name earlier than the 1700s would, for now, be based on speculation. A research project for a future placenames researcher!

Local folklore aside, the name is definitely, and dramatically, older than the submarine nets of WWII.

Want to know more about NL archaeology and history? You can read Dr. Amanda Crompton's report on her 2008 fieldwork around Signal Hill, which included work near Chain Rock, starting on page 21 of the PAO Report

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Placenames and Neighbourhoods of Carbonear Afternoon Tea - Aug 6th

Placenames and Neighbourhoods of Carbonear Afternoon Tea

Tuesday, August 6th
Princess Sheila Senior's Club Building
163 Water Street, Carbonear

Do you have a memory of Harbour Rock Hill? Did you grow up on Valley Road? Where does Irishtown begin and end? If you can answer any of these questions, Carbonear’s Green Team wants to meet you!

On August 6th, Heritage NL and the Town of Carbonear Summer 2019 Green Team are hosting an afternoon tea and conversation based around old Carbonear place names, neighbourhoods, trails, rocks, and coves. The groups want to collect and record old names and memories about local areas and landmarks.

Dale Jarvis is the provincial folklorist with Heritage NL, and says there is value in bringing back the use of these historic names as Carbonear continues to evolve.

“People had very different local knowledge based on which neighbourhoods they grew up in,” says Jarvis. “We want to collect this information, which could be the foundation for future town signage, trails, or even new street names.”

The celebration of local places is free open to the public, and will include refreshments. The organizers extend a special invitation to any seniors who grew up in Carbonear.

“We want to make sure their knowledge is passed on to the next generation,” says Jarvis.

Facebook event listing here:

For more information, contact:

Kerri Abbott
Economic Development & Tourism Officer
Town of Carbonear
P.O. Box 999, 256 Water Street
Carbonear,  NL  A1Y 1C5
Tel: (709)596-3831 Ext. 235
Fax: (709)596-5021

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A trip to Indian Rock, Petty Harbour

I've been doing a little bit of digging into the folklore surrounding this glacial erratic in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. Locally, it is known as Indian Rock, Injun Rock, and Engine Rock. Based on a historic photograph in the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Indian Rock is probably the historic name, with "Injun" and then "Engine" being later reinterpretations of the name.

It is also referred to in a couple places as a logan stone, from an old English or Cornish word meaning to rock back and forth.  The earliest reference to Indian Rock as a logan stone is from William Grey's Sketches of Newfoundland and Labrador, (Ipswich, England: S. H. Cowell, Anastatic Press, 1858). Accompanying a sketch of Petty Harbour, Grey writes,
"On the hill opposite the church is a curious rock, which Druidical antiquaries would call a Logan stone."

This name for the rock was referenced in an article by folklorist Philip Hiscock in 1998 (Downhomer, 11.5 pp 18-19) and then later by popular Newfoundland author Jack Fitzgerald in 2009 (Remarkable Stories of Newfoundland, Creative Publishers, pp 3-5).

I'd love to know anything people remember about this rock, particularly about the origin of the name Indian Rock. If you have a memory or a story, email me at

- Dale Jarvis

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Move over, Dildo - The new best placename in Newfoundland

This gem of a placename comes to us from a friend who is obviously spending too much of his worktime exploring Google Earth. But we all benefit from him slacking off.

I'd love to know if there are residents of St. Shott's who can explain the origins of the name of "Lumpycock Pond," located at 46.638ºN by 53.586ºW.

There must be a story to this place name! Drop me a line at if you know one!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sharing Community Oral History Workshop – West St. Modeste, Labrador

On Thursday, 7 May 2009, a group of eleven women from communities along the Labrador Straits gathered at the Oceanview Resort in West St. Modeste to take part in a day-long workshop on sharing community oral history. The group included business owners, tourism operators, heritage volunteers and workers, oral history researchers and community development officers, all of whom shared an interest in preserving the oral traditions of the Labrador Straits.

The event was organized by SmartLabrador, an organization founded in 1997 to ensure effective utilization of information technologies (IT) in business, human resources and community economic development in Labrador. The goals of SmartLabrador include:

- Increased awareness of the benefits and potential of information technology;
- Equal access to the information highway, for all communities;
- Skilled population to meet the demands of the knowledge economy;
- Increased development of IT business opportunities and partnerships.

Facilitated by Dale Jarvis, Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Officer for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the day started with a discussion of local community memories and the material being collected as part of the Smart Labrador oral history project. Part of the goal of the overall project is to return the stories to the community, and to develop programs that see the collected stories shared and performed by community members.

Participants talked about personal memories and the link between place and oral history. The group worked on a short individual mapping project, drawing personal maps of the communities of their childhoods, then guiding other participants through their map, eliciting stories and memories of those locations.

The afternoon saw the participants work with some of the primary research material collected by the SmartLabrador workers. It also utilized material collected along the Straits as part of earlier oral history projects, particularly those related to adult literacy projects, such as the publication “Crooked Top of a Safety Pin” published by Partners in Learning. Using a basic six-frame storyboard process, the participants took the historical source material and shaped it into stories that followed a more narrative, rather than purely descriptive or anecdotal, format.

The day concluded with a group discussion on next steps, returning to the issues raised at the beginning of the day. The group decided that they would hold a further organizational meeting by the end of the May, with the goal of holding a public oral history sharing event, or storytelling circle in June, possibly based on the community “Mug Up” model developed by the Labrador Institute. The “Mug Up” sees a theme or topic of discussion set, and then community members gather over a lunch to share traditional knowledge, stories and memories about that topic.

Stay tuned for more news on the project as it progresses!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Clarenville Place Name Project

On the evening of Wednesday, March 4th, I was invited to give an address on intangible cultural heritage for the Clarenville Heritage Society’s annual general meeting. I started off with a folktale about names and naming that I had learned from a past resident of the area, and spoke on the folklore of naming and some of the possible origins of the name “Clarenville” itself.

The Society also used the AGM to inform the public about a place name mapping project they are working on. The group has hired on Carol Diamond as a researcher for the project, utilizing funding through the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation’s Cultural Economic Development Program. Carol, a Clarenville native, is a Master’s student in Ethnomusicology at Memorial, studying Takudh hymnody of the Gwich’in (an Athapaskan First Nation), focusing specifically on communities in the Yukon.

After the meeting, the group moved from the lecture hall to another room, where we had unfurled maps showing Clarenville and the surrounding area. While some people chatted and shared stories amongst themselves, Carol gathered others around the maps. They pointed out areas they knew, rhymed off names of others, and suggested other residents who might be good sources of local information.

  • Download Dale’s address to the Clarenville Heritage Society as an mp3 podcast
  • Listen to streaming audio of the address, or download in other formats
  • See some of the named rock formations around Clarenville, in this pdf prepared by Society member Darlene Feltham
  • Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    The Naked Man and a Bunch of Hookers: Two ICH Events

    It is not nearly so shocking as it sounds, I swear! We've got two exciting (and PG-rated) intangible cultural heritage events coming up this March, in Clarenville and Shoal Brook.

    The Naked Man and Other Place Names
    Clarenville Heritage Society AGM and Lecture
    Wed, 4 March, 7pm
    Room 109 (Lecture Theatre) College of the North Atlantic, Clarenville

    At this year’s event, we will present our proposed historic map project! Why not come out, help us identify unique place names, and enjoy an entertaining evening with storyteller, Dale Jarvis. Come and find out what Intangible Cultural Heritage is all about and discover why place names are so important. For example, you probably know where Manitoba Drive is located, but have you ever wondered why it's called Manitoba Drive? How about Mills Siding - what exactly is a 'siding' anyway? Do you know where Red Beach is? Stanley Park? How about Sally Hunt's Hole, the Naked Man or Iron Latch Gate Road? Names often bear significance to past events and/or stories within a community. The Clarenville Heritage Society is currently working to identify some of these older place names with the intention of developing a historic map. In the process, we are hoping to learn some of the unique stories that helped shape our community. So… what's in a name? Clues to the past! If you know of a unique place name that's in danger of being lost or that has an interesting story attached to it, we’d love to hear from you! . Refreshments will be served.

    Tea... with Hookers!
    Wed, 11 March, 2pm
    Red Mantle Lodge, Shoal Brook
    The Tablelands Rug Hookers and the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador invite you to Tea... with Hookers! The Red Mantle Lodge Shoal Brook, Gros Morne, Newfoundland Wed, March 11th, at 2 p.m. Provincial folklorist Dale Jarvis will be joined by Molly White, Rose Dewhirst, and Florence Crocker, to discuss the history, tradition and art of rug hooking and mat making. Come hear their stories, and explore this colourful part of the province's past and present. Everyone is welcome