NEW MINAS WAS ACADIAN SETTLEMENT (February 12/99)

In a fax to this newspaper, Geoffrey Muttart referred to a three acre area the Village of New Minas plans to turn into a park and suggested we look at its history. “It would be a shame to have a park with no mention of the historical significance of the immediate area,” Muttart wrote.

Mr. Muttart noted that since the park will soon be a reality, the Acadian/Native connection the park area should be researched. “I seem to recall mention of a burial ground (in Eaton’s History of Kings County)” Muttart said.

Eaton’s History does indeed mention a burial ground in New Minas, In fact, there are several pages on New Minas that will be fodder for anyone doing historical research in relation to the park. New Minas was the site of an Acadian settlement. Eaton suggests New Minas was settled because the first Acadians had taken the best land along the Minas Basin and latecomers had to look elsewhere. In one sense history repeated itself centuries later. New Minas became a major commercial center when retail firms in Kentville looked for space to expand.

According to Eaton, New Minas apparently was a “somewhat important hamlet” in Acadian days. He bases this assumption on the works of contemporary researchers which he quotes freely. The sources Eaton quotes reveal that New Minas had a priest, a chapel and the Acadians may have built a small stone fort nearby.

The Acadian farms mentioned in Eaton’s History may not be easily located today since his work was published almost 90 years ago. However, Eaton has important references to Acadian sites and the efforts of the Acadians to settle the New Minas area. These references, two of which are quoted below, refer to the Acadian chapel and burial ground; these quotes should help determine if historical sites of any importance are located in the proposed park.

“On what was formerly known as the Best Farm, now owned by Amos Griffin, in New Minas, was a French village, where there was a chapel and a resident priest. Most of the cellars have been filled, but the foundations of the chapel, say 28×36 feet, are still partly visible, as are also the supposed site of the priest’s house …. By the side of the brook, about 50 rods from the chapel, some of the first English settlers found a set of blacksmith tools buried. They found also, a mile or two south, in the woods, remains of a stone building, which has always been known since as the French fort.”

“Minas, with its dykes, consisted of the village along the banks of the upland with the Grand Pre lying in front, and with Long Island and Boot Island bounding it on the north. As new lands for settlement were wanted, some of the (Acadians) went up the Cornwallis River and found a place that seemed curiously familiar.

“There was a piece of marsh somewhat resembling the Grand Pre, with Oak Island lying outside it. On the edge was a similar chance for settlement to that furnished by the upland that bordered the Grand Pre. They, therefore, put in short dykes at each end of Oak Island, reclaimed a considerable piece of marsh, built themselves some houses, and called their settlement New Minas.

“In later times French cellars have been numerous here …. The center of the (settlement) was what afterwards became known as the Foster farm. The French burying ground is said to have been on a little knoll near the railroad track. To the south and east of the Griffin house a chapel was built …. It would seem as if there was a burying ground here, too, and tradition says that not far off there was a mill.”

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