His father was a representative of Cumberland Country in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly before Canadian Confederation. His grandfather was William Donkin, Jr., one of the first settlers of River Philip, Nova Scotia, who immigrated from England in 1772.
Donkin was a charter member and five-time councilor of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (1887). He played a major role in the design and construction of Nova Scotiaès railway, coal and steel enterprises.
In 1940, when a small village in Nova Scotia known only as Dominion No. 6 needed a new name to correct errors in postal delivery, its citizens voted in a community meeting to rename the village Donkin. This was in honour of Hiram Donkin, who was the second General Manager of the Dominion Coal Company.
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