MILNER AND HIS MINAS BASIN HISTORY (July 19/02)

From time to time I’ve mentioned a general history of this region by W. C. Milner, The Basin of Minas and its Early Settlers. This is a lengthy, detailed work which was first printed in the Wolfville newspaper, The Acadian, and later bound into a hardcover book. A book which, by the way, was once circulated in the Valley’s library system but now can only found in Acadia University‘s Kirkconnell Room and occasionally in auctions of rare books. A few copies are also owned privately, of this I’m sure. Last year when I mentioned the book, a reader scanned a page from it on militia units and e-mailed it to me.

As I said, Milner has an amazing amount of detail in his book, much more than is found in Eaton’s Kings County history. Milner appeared to have had access to many private papers as well. In several instances, he quoted entire historical essays and recollections on the early days of towns such as Windsor, Kentville and Wolfville. He apparently had access as well to historical documents that must have come from provincial government archives.

Several months ago I decided to do some research on Mr. Milner. Who was he? Why wasn’t he better known as a historian? So far I’ve found few answers. In a recent telephone conversation, historical author L. S. Loomer, Wolfville, suggested I might find Milner in a book called Nova Scotians Abroad, but this was a dead end.

W. C. Milner appears to have been a native of New Brunswick. Several histories on towns and communities in New Brunswick, Sackville for example, exist with W. C. Milner named as the author. A brief mention of Milner can be found on the Internet, but a search of book auction sites for his Minas Basin history turned up nothing.

As for Milner’s knowledge of Nova Scotia and especially Annapolis Valley history, this may be explained by something I found when I did the Internet search.

Milner’s name came up in connection with a website devoted to the history of the Atlantic Provinces Library Association. The first attempt to organise an Association was made in 1918 at Acadia University. This was short-lived but another attempt to organise an Association was made in 1922, again at Acadia University. And says the website, the president was W. C. Milner, who was the “Archivist, Halifax branch of the Public Archives of Canada.”

This explains how Milner was able to write a detailed history of the Minas Basin area. As a chief archivist, he had access to countless documents and private papers, much more so than Eaton when he was preparing his history of Kings County. When you read about similar topics in the two history books, the land grants to the Planters in the Valley, for example, you find that Eaton barely scratches the surface while Milner elaborates on an on, giving details almost to the point of being boring.

Of the two history books, Eaton’s, in my opinion, is the better. Read Eaton and we can see an orderly progression of events from the time of the Acadians onward and understand how we became what we are today.

Since his work covered several centuries of history, Eaton by necessity had to gloss over many events, mentioning them in passing so to speak. Milner, on the other hand, delved deeply into whatever he was writing about and his attention to details was meticulous at times. Read Eaton for a grand overview, but if you want the occasional bit of nitty gritty and historical overload, read Milner.

It’s really too bad that Milner’s Minas Basin history isn’t available to the general public. I’m sure history buffs would enjoy reading it.

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