1906 – THE “TOWNSEND RAID” (August 27/99)

“Windsor has its temperance halls, Kentville its temperance men” goes a reference to the 19th century temperance movement in the Annapolis Valley.

While inaccurate (Eaton’s Kings County history mentions that a temperance hall existed at Horton around 1832) this quote implies that Windsor was highly organized when it came to fighting the evils of alcohol.

There was more intolerance of alcohol in the 19th century than there is today. And more towns than Windsor and Kentville had their temperance halls and temperance men. The Sons of Temperance were organized nationwide and their influence lead to the passing of the Canada Temperance act (Scott act) in 1878.

In effect, the Scott act gave any part of Canada the option of going dry if one-fourth of the electors so decided. In Nova Scotia this option was available to any city, town or county.

As a result of the Scott act there was a rapid growth of dry areas in the valley. The Sons of Temperance yearbook for 1891 reveals that this organization had 32 chapters in Hants County with 1805 members and 23 chapters in Kings County with 1433 members. This tells us either that Windsor was better organized than Kentville, as per the quote above, or it had more imbibers of alcoholic beverages.

Whatever the facts are regarding the two towns, the Sons of Temperance was a well-organized and militant force in the 19th century and well into the 20th, militant being the key word. There was a time when the men and women of the Sons of Temperance fought alcohol with more than words. This lead to various confrontations between the “drys” and the “wets”; one of these confrontations is remembered in the Valley today as the Townsend Raid.

Kentville in 1906. Since 1890 an organization known as the Kings County Temperance Alliance had been zeroing in on establishments that were illegal vendors of liquor. In Kentville the Porter House, managed by one “Mr. Townsend,” was flaunting the liquor laws and embarrassing its upright citizens. The Scott act was still in force at the time and apparently Kentville had voted dry. Since establishments such as the Porter House continued to sell liquor, however, the Temperance Alliance decided to become militant.

I have two accounts of the action taken by the Temperance Alliance, one from the Berwick newspaper, the other from Mabel Nichols Kentville history, The Devil’s Half Acre. Following is a synopsis of these accounts.

Aligned with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and supported by town officials, the Alliance obtained a warrant to search the Porter House and seize all liquor found on the premises. On Monday, September 6, a body of 25 men met at The Advertiser office. Joined by the County constable, the County liquor inspector, clergymen and Acadia professors, the company moved to the Porter House; what transpired next is described in Mabel Nichols’ account.

“Townsend met them at the door and made a dash for his barroom when informed of the reason for the visit. The locked door was forced open and the raiders took possession of the illegal liquor. Townsend put up a strenuous opposition … but was handcuffed and led away (to jail).”

So much liquor was confiscated that a railroad boxcar was required to transport it to Canning were it was dumped in the river. After the raid, charges were laid against the Alliance but their actions were upheld by the Supreme Court.

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