History of the Name of the Herbert River

History of the Name of the Herbert River in Hants County, Nova Scotia

Author: P. Michael Hebert. Michael Hebert is a retired lawyer and University professor from Austin Texas. Many years ago, he traced his ancestry from Louisiana to Maryland where his Acadians ancestors were deported in 1755 from Nova Scotia. In 1997 Mike visited his ancestral home on the Avon River for the first time. He has since made several trips to this area where he has made many friends and acquaintances. Mike observed that, in several old Acadian districts, the Acadian surname ‘Hebert’ was still in use as a place name, or the name of a river. Trouble was, most of these names had been Anglicised to ‘Herbert’. This adding of an ‘r’ intrigued Mike, so he undertook a study to try to find the reason. This study has resulted in a paper titled “History of the Name of the Herbert River in Hants County, Nova Scotia”. Mike has given the West Hants Historical Society permission to publish his paper on this website. He will be visiting the area again in July and August of this year.

Download a pdf version of this paper here.

*Note from web manager: There may be small formatting differences between the report presented here and Mike's original pdf. There are also images included in the pdf that are not viewable online here. Please download the pdf from the link above to see the images included in Mike's report.*

History of the Name of the Herbert River in Hants County, Nova Scotia

By P. Michael Hebert1

Because the surname "Hebert" looks so much like "Herbert",  it is frequently misspelled, and when I first saw reference to the Herbert River in Hants County, Nova Scotia, what came to mind was the Bear River at Digby, Nova Scotia. It appears as "Hebert R" (probably for early explorer Louis Hebert) on Lescarbot's  1609 map2. By 1720, "Hebert R" had become "Beare R".3

When spoken, the name Hebert is pronounced in French as "a BEAR" and in my native Louisiana as "A bear". So, it is understandable  that an English-speaker on hearing it would write it as "bear".  Likewise, when the name is written, human instinctive pattern recognition causes people to add an extra "r" to write the familiar English version of the Germanic name, "Herbert".  In Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, the name is spelled correctly in River Hebert and is pronounced by local residents as "Hibbert".4

A Search for Maps

In 2011, I was given a copy of a map showing today's Herbert River in Hants County, Nova Scotia as "R. Hebere". It is labeled in hand "Piziguit, Les Mines 1755"5. Since then, I obtained a copy of this same map hand-dated "1749". Subsequent research proved that this map is a detail of A Map of that Part of Nova Scotia contain 'd Between Lunenburgh and the Bay Vert by Halifax and Pisiguit including Cobiquit and Tatmagouch. A copy can be found in Libraries and Archives Canada. It shows no author and no date. Historian Ronnie-Gilles LeBlanc6  believes that it is possible to date it to 1755-56 because when it was drawn, Fort Beausejour had already fallen to the British who renamed it Fort Cumberland in June 1755.

In August 2014, I contacted Tracy Lenfesty, Librarian for the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. I asked if she could help me verify my supposition that surveyors' field notes in the original grants along the river might have spelled the river as "Hebert". She conclusively proved my supposition by locating in her records the following:

  • A grant dated 1812 with a drawing by Charles Morris, Surveyor General, locating the river and calling it "River Hebert",
  • A grant dated 1813 with a drawing by Charles Morris, Surveyor General, locating the river and calling it "River Hebert",
  • An undated map in the portfolio for Hants County and apparently quite old, showing the map as "River Hebert", and
  • A map dated 1928 drawn by C.H. McClare and in the same portfolio titled Plan of Central Hants, Nova Scotia Showing Original Grants in Rawdon Made in 1784 &  1786,  which shows the "River Hebert".

(It was later determined that the "undated map in the portfolio for Hants County" is a portion of the original  1761 Newport township map which was drawn in large sections.) Tracy Lenfesty also found that the river is called "Herbert River" on the A.F. Church map of 1871  and on the Faribault Fletcher geology map of 1909.  She determined that the river was not officially named until 1951.

The river was described in The Report Upon the Condition of the Rivers in Nova Scotia in Connection with the Rivers ofthat Province, printed 1884, that contains the diary entry of noted observer Frederick H. D. Veith dated July 1881  referring to the river as "River Hebert".

Further aiding my search, both Ronnie-Gilles  LeBlanc and Halifax Archeologist Sara Beanlands 7 furnished me with other maps and references, as follows:

  • Map of the Township Newport, by Surveyor General Charles Morris8, undated but containing a detail describing a deed dated 1825. According to Tracy Lenfesty, this map is a copy of the original plan of Newport Township that has been dated by the Department of Crown Lands at July 1761.  It shows "River Hebert".
  • A Plan of the Township of Newport Nova Scotia by Geo.  Hallyburton, April 10, 1775,  Copied July 271866,  by Dept. of Crown Lands, containing additional grantee information added by John V. Duncanson, cartography by Walter K. Morrison. It shows the river as "Herbert".  It also shows the "Avon (Pisiquid) River" and the "River St. Croix (Dugas)", and it shows the Meander River continuing beyond its confluence with the Herbert.

In 2015, I returned to Halifax and did additional research at the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, the Crown Land Information Management Centre, and the Nova Scotia Archives. In the first two offices, I was able to determine that the "undated map in the portfolio for Hants County" is in fact just one large page of the original plan of Newport Township by Charles Morris in 1761. The Crown Land Information office located in its records the section of the map containing the legend, which reads, "A Plan of the Township of Newport, This Plan is an exact copy taken from the one filed in ye Supreme Court upon the Partition and Division of the Township of Newport on which many of the Courses between the Lots were Wrote Backwards in the same manner as Inserted in this Copy. Charles Morris".

The Crown Land office also located the original  1866 tracing of the 1775 Plan of Newport Township by Geo. Hallyburton. Both the 1761 map and the 1775 map show the "River Hebert".

Additional research led to the source of the Morrison and Duncanson map. It is found as an appendix to a book written in 1985 by John Victor Duncanson.9 Morrison and Duncanson treated the Herbert River differently from the St. Croix (Dugas) and the Avon (Pisiquid). In the latter cases, they used both the historical and modern names, but in the case of the Herbert, they chose only the modern name. In a letter from Duncanson to Morrison in December of 1981  regarding the St. Croix, Duncanson suggested retaining the French name but having it appear in brackets under the St. Croix.10  It appears that the spelling of the Herbert was intentionally changed to reflect the present usage.

With the assistance of Garry Shutlak, of Nova Scotia Archives, I located additional maps, as follows:

  • Map of the Province ofNova Scotia including the Island ofCape Breton, by William Mackay, 1834, also known as "The Great Map". It shows "Hebert R".
  • Plan and Section of the main road Between Herbert and Meander River in Newport,  dated June 2d, 1842. This map is curious because writing on the reverse side has leached through the paper so that it is legible as a mirror image. When held up to a mirror, the river is labeled on the reverse side as "R. Hebert" whereas it is labeled as "River Herbert" on the front.

Oral History

According to Sara Beanlands, Pere Pacifique de Valigny in his publication Le Pays des Micmacs states that the river was first known as "Magamegoisisg".

Through the assistance of Kentville-based  historical tour guide Richard Laurin and West Rants County Councillor Randy Matheson, I was shown extracts from the 1992 book, Brooklyn in Retrospect, by Edith McGray and Rev.  George McGray, who state that the French called the river the "Aubare"11. They cite the book North Along the Shore by Edith Moser, who refers to the river as ''the 'Aubrae' (Hebert), the original French name for the Herbert".12  The McGray book has a copy of an undated map showing the river as "Hebbert" written in the original hand but with "Herbert" typed at a later date. The McGrays also refer to the French village "Village Aubre".13  This is likely a reference to the village Riviere Hebert described by Ronnie-Gilles  LeBlanc in his work. He believes that the Acadian Village named after Jean Hebert was located near the mouth of the river.

The Meander River

The McGrays also cite an oral tradition that at an earlier time the conjoined Herbert and Meander Rivers was called the Herbert, not the Meander, as it is today.14 Evidence of this can be found in the original  1761  township map of Newport which names the River Hebert but shows no name for the Meander. The Morrison and Duncanson map of 1985 confuses the question of the name of the conjoined rivers by moving the location of the name of the Meander on the original 1775 map to a point below the confluence of the two rivers.

Conclusion

From 1756 and well into the 1800s, English and Canadian mapmakers consistently spelled the river as "Hebert".  The earliest map that I located spelling the river as "Herbert" was the 1842 drawing of a road section, and it spelled the name of the river differently on front and back. The 1871  A.F. Church map is the first large map that I found spelling the river as "Herbert".  In 1881, noted observer Frederick Veith described the river as "Hebert", and as late as 1928, C.H. McClare drew a map with the river named "Hebert". In 1951, "Herbert"  became the official name of the river. It would be conjecture to conclude whether the initial spelling changes resulted from simple spelling error or from a conscious choice by the mapmakers to reflect a change in pronunciation.

The story of the name is best told by the maps in the attached Appendix  containing copies, in estimated chronological  order, of relevant maps or details from them.

Appendix: Maps

  1. Detail of a map made about 1756 entitled A Map of that Part of Nova Scotia contain 'd Between Lunenburgh and the Bay Vert by Halifax and Pisiguit including Cobiquit and Tatmagouch.15
  2. Detail from the original Charles Morris Map of the Township Newport dated by Crown Lands at July 21,  1761.16
  3. Surveyor's  map by Charles Morris, Surveyor General, attached to grant dated December  15,  1812 to the Reverend William Cochran and Andrew William Cochran, Book p. 57.
  4. Surveyor's map by Charles Morris, Surveyor General, attached to grant dated July 22, 1813 to John Bond the Younger, Book D, p. 32.
  5. Detail of a copy of Map of the Township Newport, by Surveyor General Charles Morris, undated but containing a detail that dates the map post-1825.17
  6. Detail from the Great Map of Nova Scotia.18
  7. Plan and Section of the main road Between Herbert and Meander River in Newport, June 2, 1842.19
  8. Tracing made July 27, 1866 by Department of Crown Lands of the Plan of Township Newport dated April 10, 1775.20
  9. Undated map of one half of the Newport #27 sheet from the Department of Lands and Forest records.21
  10. A.F.Church & Co Topographical Township Map of Hants County, 1871.22
  11. Detail of Map dated 1928 by C. McClare showing the Original Grants in Rawdon made in 1784 and 1786.23
  12. 1985 map by John Duncanson and Walter K Morrison drawn  from the  1866 tracing  of the 1775 Plan of Newport Township by Geo. Hallyburton.24

 

The West Hants Historical Society is a non-profit organization based in Windsor, NS and serving the Avon area. The WHHS has been in operation since 1973, and operates a Museum, genealogy department and the national historic site of Fort Edward in Windsor, NS.