At first glance, it might seem ridiculous to compare the Cornwallis River with the St. Lawrence, the former being a mere trickle compared to its mightier big brother.
Yet from a historical point of view, there are similarities. Both rivers played important roles in colonization. And while the Cornwallis had a minor role in a relatively minor region of Canada, it was of major importance to the first settlers and the people that followed them.
Much has been written about the St. Lawrence River; much more than will ever be written about the Cornwallis. Regretfully, no one has penned a history of the Cornwallis and the people who toi1ed by it, and had their lives molded by the river over the centuries. It’s a story that should be told and it would be an interesting tale.
Again compared to the St. Lawrence, a history of the Cornwallis would be rather uneventful; as uneventful perhaps as the quiet rising of the river in a bog near Aylesford and its pastoral flow to the Minas Basin. But let’s put the Cornwallis in perspective and reveal its true character. Collected from various sources, the assortment of trivia and quotes that follow lend credence to what I said above about the river.
“The Cornwallis (River) should have a book of its own, and perhaps the History of Kings County may be considered primarily a book on the Cornwallis, for the townships of Horton and Cornwallis, on the south and north sides of the river, and the settlers in each, and what those settlers did, constitute the major part of Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton’s history.” Esther Clark Wright in Blomidon Rose.
“We know the Micmacs roamed the area now Port Williams. Artifacts have been found on the banks of the Cornwallis River south of the Prescott House. There was also an Indian camp on the river…south of the house occupied by Eric Hatt. This is thought to have also been a burying ground,” From the Port Williams history, The Port Remembers.
The Micmac name for the Cornwallis River was Chijekwtook, meaning a deep, narrow river. When Champlain explored the Minas Basin, he named the Cornwallis the St. Antoine. The Acadians later called the river the Grand Habitant. – From various sources.
“Halifax, 20 August A.D. 1778. Memorial of John Burbidge to Govr. Richard Hughes on behalf of himself and many of the principal inhabitants of Kings County. Honorably sheweth that on the night between 9 and 10 August at Cornwallis in said county, some whaleboats came up the Cornwallis River with between 30-40 armed men invaded and plundered the house of Wm. Best Esq. in said Township of everything valuable of easy carriage, they took in cash and other effects to the amount of 1000 pounds and upwards.” – Nova Scotia Archives. This raid by American privateers took place close to Kentville.
“As new lands for settlement were wanted, some of the inhabitants (Acadians) went up the Cornwallis River and found a place that seemed curiously familiar. There was a piece of marsh resembling Grand Pre with Oak Island lying outside it. On the edge (of the river) was a similar chance for settlement to that furnished by…Grand Pre. They therefore put in short dykes…built some houses and called their settlement New Minas.” – Eaton’s History of Kings County.