Ward’s Mansion loomed on a rise of land above Prospect Avenue on the southern edge of Kentville, a sentinel guarding the Cornwallis River Valley. It was a house of mystery when I was growing up around Kentville and I spent hours looking at it from my bedroom window with my old telescope. I don’t now what I expected to see – ghosts, lights, maybe Klondike Ward himself, who was said to haunt the building that was once a Kentville landmark.
Before he died in 1934, Klondike Ward planned to convert his mansion into a summer hotel. The remodelling was almost completed when Ward died suddenly at age 70. While he bad been in poor health of years, his condition wasn’t believed to be serious and his death was unexpected.
When I was growing up in the ’40s, Ward’s mansion was abandoned and it was in this period that rumours and stories about ghosts and “strange happenings” were circulated. There was just enough mystery about the mansion and Ward for some of the rumours to be taken as fact. According to newspaper stories of the period, Ward’s death had halted the conversion of his residence into a hotel. However, the story going around was that Ward lost the gold he had discovered in the far north and, being bankrupt, had been unable to complete the building of his mansion. His sudden death was attributed to the loss of his gold.
The only truth to this story was that Ward had struck gold in the Klondike and returned to Kentville a rich man. Born in North Alton, Ward joined the Northwest Mounted Police at an early age and served in the Canadian west. A page one story on his death, published in the Nov. 8, 1934 issue of The Advertiser, said that Ward quickly rose to the rank of Corporal and then “retired from the Mounties to respond to the lure of gold.”
Many men prospered during the Klondike gold rush days in the Yukon, which began in 1897. An estimated $100,000,000 was obtained from the placer deposits of the Klondike between 1897 and 1904 and Ward was one of the lucky ones. He would have been in his thirties when gold was discovered and was probably serving at the time with the detachment of the Northwest Mounted that was established in the Yukon in 1895.
Ward eventually returned to Kentville after finding gold and married a local girl. For years after, he invested in Kentville real estate and, in the words of The Advertiser obituary, “business blocks and residences stand as a monument to his faith in the development of the town.” I was unable to determine when Ward began construction of his mansion, but shortly after it was completed his wife died. Ward later became a world traveller and, perhaps saddened by his wife’s death, never spent much time at the fabulous mansion he built for her at the top of Prospect Street.
Ward’s mansion apparently stood vacant for years until Ward returned with a new wife. After his death, the mansion was again vacant for a long period. It was in this latter period that the tales of strange occurrences and hauntings began to circulate. For me, Klondike Ward and his mansion were mysteries. Through the 1934 tribute to Ward in The Advertiser I learned that the mystery man was actually one of Kentville’s most prominent citizens and his mansion its most famous landmark.