There are many reasons why Kingsport should be designated as a historical site. But says Kentville marine and railroad buff Leon Barron, we only have to look at shipbuilding and the era of sailing ships to realize how important Kingsport once was.
Some of the largest sailing ships ever built in Canada came from Kingsport, Barron says. Down the ways at Kingsport slid the Kings County and the Canada; built in 1890 and 1891 respectively, both were full rigged and exceed 2,000 tons – which Barron says “was huge for a sailing ship.”
Today Kingsport is a quiet seaside community on the Minas Basin with a popular beach and a wharf eroded by time. In the age of sail and rail, however, Kingsport connected the western end of the Annapolis Valley with the world. The vessels that rose from the stocks at Kingsport carried goods to and from distant ports around the globe. Kingsport had one of the first railway lines that ran to the sea. Laid over a century ago, the Cornwallis Valley Railway symbolized Kingsport’s importance as a commercial port in the 19th century.
While perhaps not as bustling or as large as Canning, its sister port up the shore, Kingsport was noted for turning out larger and finer vessels. In its heyday Kingsport boasted three hotels, a mill, a shipyard and a flourishing shipping trade. Late in the 19th century the “Parrsboro packets” made regular calls at Kingsport and it flourished as a holiday resort.
In its early days, Kingsport was known first as Indian Point and then Oakpoint, two names of obvious origin. Leon Barron tells me he has been looking through old newspapers and government documents for years, hoping to discover when Kingsport got its name. Sessional papers from the 1800s, the government records of public works, use Oakpoint and Kingsport interchangeably. “The change to Kingsport (as the sole name) must have been gradual,” Barron says.
Leon Barron has a special interest in Kingsport and especially the Kingsport wharf. Through diligent digging into old papers and documents over the years he has collected a lot of wharf history. Barron discovered, for example, that in either 1856 or 1857 the Oakpoint Pier Company was incorporated solely to construct a wharf at Kingsport. The Company didn’t build the wharf until 1865, however, and Barron speculates that problems with funding may have caused the delay. In his Kingsport file is a copy of the Oakpoint Pier Company incorporation papers.
Oddly, little information exists about any Acadian settlements at Kingsport. However, there is a Planter connection. After the expulsion of the Acadians, the area that eventually became Kingsport may have been granted to a Planter named Benjamin Newcomb in 1761. Some sources say that Kingsport was part of a grant given to Isaac Bigelow in 1761 or 1762.
Whether Newcomb or Bigelow were the original grantees, Kingsport is believed to be one of the oldest settled areas in the province. While this claim may be disputed, there is little doubt that after the Planters arrived, Kingsport proved to be a vital link with the outside world. During the 1800s and decades after the era of sailing ships had passed, Kingsport played a commercial role that historians tend to overlook.
Perhaps when Leon Barron completes his research on the Kingsport wharf and the scale model of the wharf that he’s working on, this oversight will be rectified.