What’s in a name? For CBS, the community names are everything

By Alexandra Brothers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
September 29, 2023 Edition

The incorporation of Conception Bay South brought together nine independent communities, more if you count the communities within communities, such as Middle Bight in Kelligrews and Hopewell in Seal Cove. And while the new town that grew up on the foundation of those settlements over the past 50 years has probably dwarfed what anyone ever expected when amalgamation was first considered, one thing has remained — the names of the founding communities and their residents’ affinity for them.

Former deputy mayor and lifelong CBS resident Sandra Baggs is happy to see both – the growth of the town and the keeping of things, like those original names, that makes CBS unique.

Incorporation brought “major changes,” Baggs allowed, and proved the adage that greater things can be achieved by working together than acting alone.

“All these little towns were doing their own thing, so no one was getting anywhere,” said Baggs, who was also a longtime manager of the Kelligrews Stadium, which came to be another important unifying factor in the town’s unification.

The biggest benefit of incorporation, Baggs argued, was putting a stop to unrestricted development in each of the communities and eventually building a sense of organization.

As for the names and identities of each of the nine communities, those had already been there, said Baggs, “but nobody knew (exactly) where one started and one ended.” Still, the original names of each community were never lost and are still used today to distinguish between the different areas of town.

The names have been around for a long time, some of them dating back as far as the 16th century. While it is difficult to determine where each of the names came from with certainty, researchers have developed theories about how the communities came by their monikers.  

Several community names are likely derived from the names of early families who settled in the region. Examples include Chamberlains, Lawrence Pond, and Manuels — although some speculate this last name was imposed in honour of Manuel I of Portugal as many early visitors to Newfoundland were Portuguese. The names Greeleytown and Peachytown, which are now considered to be part of Foxtrap, are similarly derived from families who migrated to the south side of Conception Bay from the north side. The name Kelligrews is likewise commonly believed to come from the surname of a local family, but there are several other theories about the name’s origin that are more exciting. Some believe the community is named after a 17th century pirate named Captain Alphonsus Kelly who had settled on Kelly’s Island.

You can still often tell what part of CBS someone hails from by their surname, whether it’s a Tilley or Nugent from Kelligrews, a Gleason or Geehan from Topsail, a Petten, Peach or Greeley from Foxtrap, a Morgan from Seal Cove, or an Eason from Long Pond. And we could go on.

Other community names in the area derive from geographical features. Seal Cove, Long Pond, and Upper Gullies were each named for the bodies of water that define their geography. The name Topsail too is thought to be related to the region’s topography. The way the rocks are formed above Topsail Beach is what allegedly gave the community its name. Since the high bluffs are composed partly of white quartz rock, they are said to resemble the “topsails” of a schooner.

The name Foxtrap – originally Fox Trap – carries historical significance according to tradition. Some locals believe the name arose from the community’s earliest settlers who named the region Fox Trap because foxes were plentiful and often caught in their rabbit snares. More modern accounts connect the name to an 1835 document that uses the term “Foxtrap” to refer to a pair of moccasins.

Finally, the name Conception Bay itself dates back as early as 1505. It first appeared on a world chart in Portuguese as Baía da Conceição and is thought to refer to the Feast of the Conception on December 8.

The Town’s dedication to preserving the historical names of its constituent communities is important for Conception Bay’s heritage, said Baggs. The Town has made strides to promote its heritage by establishing a webpage dedicated to sharing residents’ photos and stories from the early days in the community and by placing history board panels along frequently visited parts of the T’Railway system. A series of heritage books are also available for purchase for those who are interested in learning more about the community’s history. And most recently, the Town has acquired new signage for the T’railway, which incorporates the old names.

“One of the best things we’ve got is the fact that all the little towns are there, and their names are still there,” said Baggs. “History has carried on with it.”

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