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Historic House Names of Nova Scotia

Historic House Names of Nova Scotia

by Joseph M. A. Ballard


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781771086684
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Publication date: 05/07/2019
Pages: 120
Sales rank: 852,763
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Joe Ballard and his wife, Melanie, reside on an old farm they call Gooseberry Cottage just outside Truro, Nova Scotia. Ballard is a member of numerous heritage associations, and his articles on heritage preservation have appeared in Saltscapes and Edifice. Ballard received the 2012 Town of Truro Heritage Award and the 2016 Helen Creighton Folklore Society research grant.

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It is remarkable how the house names of Nova Scotia endure beyond the lives of those who first thoughtfully contemplated an appropriate appellation for them. In 1879, an enchanting description of Dartmouth's Mount Amelia was penned six years after its premier owner James W. Johnston had died. "How soon will the places that know us well and on which we lavish labour and love and money, cease to know or remember us! How soon does time the great Revolutionist plant the stranger by the hearthstone once ours!"

Generally, that "stranger by the hearthstone" most often chose to retain the name bestowed by earlier owners rather than try out a new one. Research for this book has uncovered only sparse evidence of new names replacing old. Acceptance of established names by new owners seems nearly universal. Certainly, many names have been forgotten or discontinued, but this seems more the result of indifference rather than disdain. Indeed many a present-day owner, oblivious to the historic name of his demesne, appears quite delighted, even enraptured, upon learning his esteemed residence actually has a name. The effect of the revelation is pleasing to observe: all at once the perceived value of the place is elevated, its dignity revived, and the owner as expressive as if he had discovered some treasure hidden beneath the floorboards.

Although examples of swapped-out names are uncommon, some have come to light; so, too, have intriguing stories of moving names or traveling houses.


The aptly named Bellevue was one of the most attractive properties in Truro in the early twentieth century, although the residence did not always possess that name. William H. Holmes purchased the elegant mansion with the veranda on three sides from a man named H. A. Lovett in 1905. Lovett had not owned the property long. When construction began in the spring of 1901, he announced his new property would be named Grass-steppe. The house was designed by local architect Dougald Henderson for a terraced prominence in what is otherwise a remarkably level downtown. Upon purchasing the property from Lovett, Mr. Holmes announced that it would in the future be known by the name Bellevue}5 The name Grass-steppe was turfed, possibly making it the shortest-lived house name on record in Nova Scotia.

Holmes was a true patriot, the author of A Short History of the Union Jack, and owner of a brass cannon that he affectionately called "Lord Nelson." Holmes routinely fired off his cannon on royal occasions. It did not seem to dissuade Mr. Holmes that at the time of renaming his residence, nearby Bible Hill already had a Belle View, the home of C. A. Archibald.


Sometimes the name becomes the home. Sometimes the home develops a sort of spirit all its own. Sometimes a new house does not feel like home unless the spirit moves, too. Henry Piers lived in Stanyan, a house at Willow Park, Halifax, in the vicinity of the provincial exhibition grounds. The house had been in the family since 1784, and the family had been in Halifax since its founding thirty-five years earlier. In 1897, Piers purchased land at the head of the Northwest Arm. Here, alongside a stone bridge with rustic parapets, he built a new house with a commanding view of the Arm. The new house, like the old, was named Stanyan.

In Sketches and Traditions of the Northwest Arm (1908), author John W Regan explains that Stanyan had been an old family name in England associated with English author Temple Stanyan. Regan, however, neglects to point out that Henry Piers's grandfather, brought to Halifax in 1749 as a baby, was actually named Temple Stanyan Piers. With this additional piece of information, the connection to the author of the same name appears even more pronounced. Temple Stanyan (1675-1752) worked as an undersecretary in foreign relations and as a clerk of the Privy Council, but he is best remembered for authoring a book titled Grecian History. Stanyan's works recording Greek history span much of his life and are considered to be the first major English productions on the subject. What influence his writings or personal life could have had on the Piers family of Halifax is a mystery; however, one rather obscure thread does exist.

Piers family members were adherents to Sandemanianism, a small dissenting Christian sect that practised a primitive form of Christianity said to be based on the instructions of the apostle Paul. While working as a clerk of the Privy Council, Temple Stanyan signed many orders into law, including one on June 2, 1724, that dealt with an appeal from New England Quakers and other dissenting denominations. Their petition asked His Majesty to free four Massachusetts men jailed for refusing to assess a class of citizens generally called Quakers for taxes appearing to be for the maintenance of Presbyterian ministers. Whether this or some other action endeared him to the Piers family is indeterminate, but as previously mentioned, in 1747 the name Temple Stanyan was given to a Piers baby. Eventually the Stanyan name would be extended to a residence and finally the cherished name moved to a new residence.


Andrew Cobb (1876-1943) was a renowned Atlantic Canadian architect based in Nova Scotia. In 1910, he built a home for his family in Bedford and named it Cobbweb — an obvious play on his surname — and a name he apparently was much attached to. When it came time to sell the house, he again designed a new house and contemplated what its name might be. Janet Kitz, author of Andrew Cobb: Architect and Artist (2014) explains,

"In a flight of fancy, as if he were starting a dynasty, he named his homes Cobbweb and Cobbweb 2." As it turned out, he didn't stop there; Cobbweb 3 was eventually built. All three residences are located in Bedford. The suitability of the Cobbweb name is delightful in that it goes beyond Cobb's surname and connects to his occupation: a spider's cobweb is an amazing piece of architecture. Andrew Cobb similarly produced impressive projects expressive of his industry and talent.


Lumber baron Thomas Gotobed McMullen (1844–1925) was one of those rare men who seemingly possessed the bearing or means to get whatever he wanted. In 1890, McMullen wanted to build a new house at The Cedars on Truro's fashionable Queen Street, an area of the town where other successful businessmen had built impressive residences. The trees must have been quite prominent by this time as their charms were noted thirteen years earlier: "The cedar hedge, that has weathered many a storm, stands fresh and green yet. We wish that the cedar was more generally cultivated by our gardeners. It is a pretty tree, evergreen and most odoriferous." McMullen apparently admired the grounds, with its charming cedars, but this was not the house for him. He had the old residence moved to nearby Park Street and set about building himself a house worthy of his affluence. The new house, completed in 1891, assumed the mantle of The Cedars, while the moved house was forced to abdicate the title.


Perched on a summit on the outskirts of Antigonish, the palatial residence of C. Ernest Gregory presented a majestic seat from which to survey one's domain. The adjoining farmland sloped away from the imposing setting of the house, and the property encompassed 280 acres in total. Mr. Gregory's residence had been built in 1879 and named Fernwood — ferns during this time being highly esteemed for their wispy symmetry and decorative attributes both indoors and in their natural setting.

In 1907, St. Francis Xavier College obtained the property from Mr. Gregory. With the purchase, the college intended that the lands should supply it with a source of food and income; however, later that year Bishop John Cameron (1827–1910) suggested the residence would make a suitable home for aged and infirm priests. Officials agreed with the bishop's idea and in their enthusiasm they proposed the estate be renamed Mount Cameron in his honour. This new use did not interfere with the farming at Mount Cameron, where a Rev. Dr. Hugh MacPherson (1872–1960) directed agricultural practices as he played a leading role in the education and cooperative initiative that became known as the Antigonish Movement.


If the estate name Westerwold has a German sound to it, there is good reason. But that reason begins with a merchant of Scottish, not German, birth. His name was John Doull and he purchased the estate known as Elmwood in 1866 from Samuel Strong. Doull put his own mark on the property by adding an ell and changing its name. He selected Westerwold, for reasons of historic appropriateness. This area of Halifax, known as Dutch (or Deutsch) Village had earlier been known by the name Of Westerwold or Westervolt, meaning "West Wood." This western fringe of peninsular Halifax had been granted to "foreign Protestant" settlers of German origin who had come to the garrison town in its earliest days.



So many first- and even second-generation immigrants feel such a bond with the land of their ancestors that they never really let go of it. Where we come from and who we come from help form our identity. These associations with place and people can be a source of tremendous pride as well as an opportunity to accentuate or elevate social standing. Who among us does not have an ancestor who excelled in some forum: commerce, politics, religion, or the arts? And if such a connection exists, are not some of us pleased to take the opportunity to point out the esteemed relationship? A house name was a device that permitted one to draw attention to ancestors and ancestral lands.

Whether following work or following love, it is wearisome to leave friends behind in a place that has imprinted its memory on our hearts. There is an emotion — perhaps heartache, perhaps pride — which induces one to keep alive those memories that form identity, and house naming was a mechanism well-suited for wearing one's heart on their sleeve. Many of the house names in this chapter will refer to ancestral lands across the Atlantic, but the chapter closes with moves that were closer to home with the final property, Brookfield House, showing that even a distance of just eight miles can be enough to warrant commemoration in the form of a house name.


Bilton Cottage was named by owner Colonel Conrod Sawyer in fond remembrance of his home in England.


Col. Gilbert W Francklyn named his Northwest Arm home Emscote. In Sketches and Traditions of the Northwest Arm (1908), author John W. Regan states Francklyn named his residence after a village in Warwickshire, England. Indeed Emscote was a hamlet and parish in Warwickshire; unfortunately, it is difficult to confirm Francklyn's ties to the area.

Cote is a common house-naming suffix in England that simply means "small house" as in dovecote, which is a pigeon shelter. Kingscote in Bedford and Elmcote in Dartmouth are two other local examples that use the suffix but are not Necessarily small in scale.


Antigonish touts itself as "the highland heart of Nova Scotia," and with the number of residents who can claim MacDonald heritage, it is little wonder one of its citizens named their residence Armadale. Armadale is the former home of Antigonish's Dr. William Henry MacDonald. It is also a castle found on Scotland's Isle of Skye, onetime seat of the powerful Clan Donald. Although the structure is partially ruined, the site remains significant to MacDonald descendants around the world.


Erin is sometimes used as the poetic or romantic name for Ireland and may be said to represent the female personification of that country. Alexander and Emeline (Logan) Robb, both of Irish ancestry, lived at Erin Cottage in Amherst, Nova Scotia. Alexander was born in 1827 at Leicester, Nova Scotia; his father had just arrived from Ireland about 1825, while Emeline's family boasted a longer history in the area, dating back to Planter times. Erin Cottage, therefore, was a proclamation of the Robb family's proud Irish heritage.


Duntulm (Scottish Gaelic: Dun Thuilm) is a township on the most northern peninsula of the Isle of Skye. The ruins of Dunthulm Castle, dating to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, can be found in the area. Like much of the Gaelic language, the name possesses a certain poetic quality and in this regard is well-suited to the house-naming tradition.

Duntulm Cottage, Baddeck, was the home of Hon. Charles James Campbell MLA, MP (1819 — 1906). Campbell was actually born at Duntulm and left Scotland for Nova Scotia in 1830. The name honours the birthplace and heritage of Campbell, the fifth son of Captain John Campbell of Duntulm.


Bute Arran was the Baddeck home of Hon. William F. McCurdy (1844-1923). Bute and Arran are two islands located on the western coast of Scotland in the Firth of Clyde. The islands are significant to McCurdys as the family has inhabited them since before the Norwegian invasion of AD 880. The McCurdy Clan has such a long history on these islands that strong hereditary features have long been imprinted on McCurdy descendants, so that they are in many respects alike, not just in facial features but also in terms of form and disposition. So particular and identifiable are the family features that W. F. McCurdy once related his experience of walking down a New York street and of suddenly being accosted by a complete stranger who boldly asked if he was a McCurdy.


A. B. Cross of Drishane House in Brookfield, Colchester County, formerly resided in County Cork, Ireland. That corner of Ireland is home to Drishane Castle, still extant near the community of Millstreet and dating to the middle of the fifteenth century. Similarly, another property named Drishane House of Castletownshend, also in County Cork, is a generously proportioned house dating to the eighteenth century. It is believed that Cross named his Brookfield home for his connections to that part of Ireland where the Drishane estate name enjoyed a distinguished reputation at two separate sites.


William Pryor built Coburg House about 1816-1817. It was in May 1816 that Princess Charlotte of Wales married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The normal excitement that accompanies a royal wedding was made all the more memorable due to William's own marital circumstance. He, too, had exchanged vows with a German — Miss Barbara Foss — whose father had come to Halifax in its early days. It is said that he "paid her a compliment" by naming the property after Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.


The lands that comprise Belmont, the home of Henry Duncan, were obtained by Duncan in 1790. Before being appointed to council by Governor John Parr, Duncan held a number of positions in the Royal Navy, including Commissioner of the Halifax Dock Yard. Thus the Commissioner's lands were informally known as Commissioner's Farm before Duncan conceived of something more distinguished. The name Belmont "was conferred on the property probably to continue the name of Duncan's ancestral home in Dundee."


The Struan (also Strowan) name is closely associated with the Robertson and Duncan clans. Alexander Robertson of Struan, Perthshire, was a colonel in the 82nd Regiment, An 1879 illustration of Big Island, Pictou County, where Alexander Robertson had Struan House built. mustered for service in North America during the American Revolution. At the close of the conflict, the colonel, as with others in his regiment, was induced to settle in Pictou County by receiving a land grant. His generous remuneration consisted of Big Island in Merigomish Harbour. Though he never occupied it, Robertson did have a large house constructed, which he named Struan House. The area was settled by his relatives. Upon his death, his possessions passed to a nephew.

Evidently a good name for a Robertson residence, the Struan designation could also be found at Port Clyde where Struan was the summer home of William Robertson of Halifax.


She answered me in Garlic, so I was told afterwards, for I never heard it afore. It warn't French, or Portuguese, or Spanish, I knew, for I had heard them folks talk; but it was Garlic. Well, the girls all stopt, took a look at me, and then they began to jabber away in Garlic too.

— Thomas C. Haliburton, Sam Slick's Wise Saws and Modern Instances

Ardnamara, the home of W. A. Black, was situated on Halifax's grand boulevard, Young Avenue. The rear of the house faced Halifax Harbour, and it was that backdrop that inspired the Gaelic name Ard na mara, meaning "above the sea."


This is a very old name of Gaelic origin, pronounced Munnymusk, and said to mean "hill between the waters." The name is referred to as far back as the twelfth century in connection with a Culdee monastery and its lands located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. For much of its existence, the place carried on as an Augustinian priory but was destroyed by fire in the sixteenth century. It was at this time that Duncan Forbes bought the church lands and the Forbes' association with the property began. The Forbes are said to have built the House of Monymusk from the blackened remains of the priory. The four-storey stone structure is built in an ell configuration with towers that are reminiscent of the defensive tower houses built for protection from neighbouring clans.


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Copyright © 2018 Joseph M. A. Ballard.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 NAME CONTINUITY, 15,
Chapter 8 WAYFINDING NAMES, 110,
Chapter 9 NAMES TO IMPRESS, 120,
Chapter 10 MILITARY HONOURS, 128,
Chapter 11 REST AND RELAXATION, 135,
NOTES, 151,