Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pokiok : Meaning and Markers

Had I specialized in and taught Eastern Algonquian linguistics and languages rather than its Central Algonquian counterpart I would surely have been better armed to tackle the true meaning of the Maliseet toponym for my own dear Pokiok. However , another Saint Johner from the West Side of far greater renown than myself has come to my aid by proposing a solution to my query. He is William Francis Ganong ( 1864-1941) , botanist , historian , cartographer and professor at Smith College , Massachusetts ...... and yes , he was a member of the famous " sweet-tooth " family ! According to historical documents Ganong had a working knowledge of both the Maliseet and  Mik'maq languages and worked constantly with elder speakers on the meanings of native place names in New Brunswick. For Pokiok Ganong says it comes from the Maliseet word " pokweok " with meaning ....." gorge or narrows near the mouth of a stream or river ". Given the geographical layout of the whole area it seems to make sense so I think I'll leave the discussion there for the moment. Anyways it suits the poet in me ! In fact , as kids constantly going up and down the river either by boat or on foot along the shoreline , where possible , we always referred to that whole section of the Saint John River between Welch's Cove to the Greenhead lighthouse as The Narrows !

In the last thirty years two remarkable books have been published about the North End , the first in 1988 by Richard Burke  entitled Indiantown: The Forgotten Town...... the second in 1997 by Harold E. Wright and Paul James under the title Saint John\s North End. On page 20 of the former Burke states very clearly  the geographical limits of Indiantown , adding at the end that the case is closed as far as he is concerned , " Indiantown is considered to be the area along both sides of Bridge Street ,  both sides of Main Street up as far as the Public Steps. It also includes Hammond Street and Robertson's Wharf and the area once known as the Courtblock ( now Robertson Square )." On page 9 of the latter Wright and James confirm Burke's boundaries ... yet leaving the door somewhat open when they add , " Some include Pokiok within this boundary. ( Gerry Leonard family). Ah! Gerry Leonard ... I knew him well when I was a boy , a very dear friend of my Dad's.... a gentle , saintly man , indeed !

And now it's my turn to state my own viewpoint. Although I have not had a fixed domicile in Saint John since 1950 ... until last year .... I have always nourished a quasi patriotic love for my hometown... and more particularily for Pokiok , its inhabitants its topography and its memories. During this 60-year span of time I did , however , come home on a somewhat regular basis to see my parents ...... until my Mom died in 1993 and I felt myself obliged to sell the old homestead since I had made a life  and had a career far away from here in another world , another language , another country.....well , maybe not yet at least ...... Qu├ębec !!

Here goes for the confines of Pokiok. As a kid coming home from Saint Peter's School  ( 1942-1950 ) or delivering my papers ( 1947-1950) I felt I was in Pokiok as soon as I stepped off the bridge over the bridge Spar Cove..... I had Art McGuire in his store on my right and Hazel McGuire on my left in the old Snowflake Lime office at the beginning of Pokiok Road. Now if you were to turn right and walk along Spar Cove Road to where the old Bailey house was situated and stopped ..... and in your mind's eye drew a straight line from there up over the hills ........ along the western edge of Robertson's Lake the wee rocky beach we called " The Farms " ( nowadays the Wastewater Treatment Plant)  then the whole area between this line and the Saint John River to the west is Pokiok . I personally believe that the Pokiok identity intensifies or becomes stronger the farther up and out the road one lives. Another criterion would be that anyone who has not only heard tell of Robertson's Lake but who could actually lead you to it.... or maybe even point you in the right direction .....he/she is a Pokioker !! Anybody wish to accompany me to Robertson's Lake ?

P.S. Have you read  the above link....... About Pokiok ?


  1. Gerry - I don't know if you'll remember me, I'm Lynn Andrews from POKIOK road. I live in Vancouver now and have just received an email from Sylvia Johnson (remember the Johnson's)? She told me about you're Blog and, here I am. Lots of good memories of Art Maguire Store (and all the Maguires (hello Irene. What fun, in our sixties to go back to our home town. Thanks!

  2. Of course I remember you , Lynn ... as well as your big sister , Janis ,and brothers. I idolized your Mom and Dad as a young boy looking for role models back then .. trips up river in their canoe , borrowing your Dad's shirt, their overall kindness and understanding of a young man on his way to manhood , etc. I have already met up with Janis at Sears.. she sold us a table ..... and I hope to visit your Mom some day soon. Sylvia is a regular in here and I am so thankful for her comments and encouragement and Art is setting up a get-together for Irene , himself and little old me one of these days soon. Please come back and join us as often as you can.