ON THE LIGHT SIDE: HISTORICAL TRIVIA (January 5/01)

If you celebrated unwisely lately, you may not be in the mood for one of those weighty columns that accidentally find their way into this space on occasion. What I’m leading up to is that this first column of the new year is on the light side and may be ignored by those who prefer serious topics; in other words, this week you’re getting nothing but pure historical trivia, most of it local stuff that is interesting but definitely inconsequential.

The province started registering automobiles in 1907. The first auto license plate was issued in May and (naturally) carried the number 1. The plate was issued to a Wolfville resident. Apparently, there weren’t many automobiles around in 1907 since less than 20 license plates were issued that year. Readers with Internet access can find more details about early provincial license plates on Ivan Smith’s website, the Nova Scotia History Index.

Before the Acadians arrived the Micmacs had names for rivers, lakes and various geographic locations that were important to them. The Acadians used their own place names for the same waterways and locations that the Micmacs had already named, and the Planters and Loyalists did the same thing. Thus as an exercise in trivia, one can take a particular location or say a river and attempt to find if it has had more than one place name.

Pursuing this exercise we find that the Micmac’s Chijekwtook became the Acadian’s Grand Habitant and the Planter’s Cornwallis River. I searched but couldn’t find an Acadian place name for the ford or the area around it that led to Kentville’s prominence as the county commercial and business center. This crossing place is said to have been located where the bridge now spans the Cornwallis River in Kentville. According to Silas Rand, the Micmacs called the Kentville crossing Obsitquetchk, meaning a fording place, while A.W.H. Eaton notes that the Micmac name was Penooek. Thus for Kentville we have the two Micmac names and the Planter’s place name, Horton Corner, until 1826.

It seems unusual that the crossing or ford at Kentville wasn’t named by the Acadians since one or two of their roads – or more likely tracks – apparently converged there. Cornwallis Street, which runs north across the Cornwallis at the old ford site and south into Kentville is said to have originally been an Acadian road. Kentville’s Main Street, which is also believed to be of Acadian origin, is shown on some early maps as part of a military road.

Called Mill Brook, the “smelt brook,” and Magee Brook, this stream at the east end of Kentville was the site of a grist mill late in the 18th century when Henry Magee opened for business. On the brook later in the 19th century, one John Margeson built a two-storey “factory” that operated with water power. Margeson built a variety of carriages and sleighs. Across town, a business called the Nova Scotia Carriage Company made similar products but later turned to manufacturing automobiles.

One William Gould may have been Kentville’s first town crier and also one of its first jail keepers. Mr. Gould is said to have served as jail keeper in Kentville for 21 years under county sheriff John Marshall Caldwell who according to Eaton’s Kings County history was appointed in 1855. In her Kentville history (The Devil’s Half Acre) Mabel Nichols notes that as well as being jail keeper, Gould was also the town crier who opened, adjourned and closed the court

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