CORNWALLIS RIVER BRIDGES (September 13/02)

For several years I’ve been collecting and filing away references of a historical nature and any interesting information that I can find on the Cornwallis River. One day I hope to write a comprehensive history of the Cornwallis, beginning with the Mi’kmaq period and concluding in this century. There’s no commercial motive for writing this since I don’t think a history of the river would ever sell. It’s just something that hasn’t been done and I believe should be done. Once the history is completed – in a year or two – it will be available on my website, along with some free printed copies.

To date, most of the information I’ve collected on the Cornwallis River concerns the Acadians and Planters. Like the Canard, Gaspereau and Habitant (Canning) Rivers, the existence of the Cornwallis spurred settlement and moulded the social and agrarian character of this region; perhaps less so than the Canard, Habitant and Gaspereau did in the Acadian and Planter periods, but the Cornwallis is no less important than these rivers.

Anyway, I mention my collecting of Cornwallis River history again for two reasons. Once again, I appeal for assistance to readers who may have interesting tidbits of information of a historical nature on the Cornwallis that they will part with or let me copy. Even what seems to you like the most trivial mention could be helpful in rounding out a profile of the river.

Now to the second reason for mentioning the Cornwallis River file: Lately I’ve been putting together everything I could find on early bridges on the Cornwallis. The plan is to have separate chapters in the history on bridges, on mills, on early settlements, and so on. The Cornwallis bridges is a topic that fascinates me, simply because they may have started with the Acadians. However, in researching the bridges, I’ve learned that what you read in community histories should be questioned unless a source is given. Not everything you read about our history, especially in local history books and as someone will surely point out, in columns of this nature, is guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate.

As I said, my bridge research lead me to this conclusion. I believe that the Acadians built the first bridges over the Cornwallis having found references to them in research material used for a college thesis. However, in his history of Kings County, Arthur W. H. Eaton said on page 177 that the “first bridge across the Cornwallis was built at Port Williams (Terry’s Creek) at least as early as 1780.” Eaton goes on to note that an act was passed in 1818 for rebuilding and repairing this bridge, “but whether it was the first bridge or a second that was finally carried out by the tide, piers and all, we do not know.”

In the Port Williams history (The Port Remembers) the authors refer to Eaton’s 1780 date for the first bridge over the Cornwallis. “The date of this bridge is controversial,” they note, implying that Eaton may have been off a bit on his years.

Eaton may have meant that this was the first bridge to be built over the Cornwallis at Port Williams, and not the first on the entire length of the river. However, Eaton contradicts himself on the 1780 date and this may be why the authors of The Port Remembers questioned him. Writing on the ferry that operated on the Cornwallis at and near Port Williams, Eaton says on page 68 that “this ferry and the road to Wolfville were in use until 1834 when the bridge at Terry’s Creek… was constructed.”

So when was the first bridge at Port Williams built? Eaton implies that first there were ferries and then a bridge. Or does he mean that first there was a bridge, then ferries, and then a second bridge? Sometimes history books are confusing.

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