OFF-COLOUR , IRREVERENT HISTORICAL GLIMPSES (June 20/03)

This area is a hotbed of amateur historians. Pick any major community, village or town and you’ll find that a committee or an individual has researched, written and published its history.

Looking at towns, for example, Wolfville, Kentville and Windsor have excellent published histories. And for examples of fine community histories, one need look no farther than the well-researched histories of Port Williams and Greenwich.

Even where no published histories exist, one can find various papers, essays and other historical manuscripts on local communities in the files of the Kings County Museum and at Acadia University. Some community histories, Habitant and Kingsport, for example, are out of print and are available to the public only at the Kings County Museum.

Eaton’s Kings County history contains historical overviews of various towns and communities. However, Eaton was conservative (one could say prudish) and you won’t find anything racy or off-colour in his work. Eaton stuck to the cold, hard facts, usually abstaining from anything that might offend or suggest that historical figures had clay feet.

For off-colour, irreverent glimpses of local history we have to look to histories that don’t pretend to be formal works. One is a rare history book I’ve mentioned here before, W. C. Milner’s The Basin of Minas and Its Early Settlers, published in Wolfville about 90 years ago. Milner had a penchant for digging out irreverent and sometimes scandalous tidbits on our early communities and he included many of them in his book. Here are a few examples, the first a glimpse of early Wolfville.

“Before the main street was opened from Mud Creek west, Col. Bishop, Messrs. Barss and DeWolfe lived on the Ridge Road near the stile. On that road was located the first jail in the vicinity of the old R. C. cemetery. There was also an R. C. Church in the cemetery lot. It was destroyed by fire about 1878. A young man named Benjamin who did not possess a very sound mind set fire to it.

“The story goes that he was greatly attached to a young woman to whom the priest would not marry him. This preyed on his mind and in a moment of frenzy he committed the act. He was taken in charge by his friends and sent to the Asylum in Halifax.”

On early Port Williams which in its heyday was a major port: “Old King Alcohol disputed with the Temperance Society the rule of the town, five bars being in operation at one time. This was largely the result of this being a seaport town.”

On early Hantsport: “A tradition is floating that Peck’s Bad Boy was born here and was inoculated with the mischief that worried all the elders of the town and disturbed the serene spirit of the ministers, when one morning every householder was amazed and puzzled to find livestock gone and replaced by someone else’s on his farm, necessitating the town being kept busy in assorting and distributing horses, cows, hens, sheep and pigs.”

On early Canning: “In the due march of events, Canning possessed a magistrate in the person of Judge John Wells. Justice was dispensed in the Judge’s kitchen, subject to the veto of madam. There was a power above the Judge…. It was called the Sheepskin Court, perhaps because no dog was allowed to bark there.

“The consequence of Canning as a part of the world was greatly increased when Elias Burbidge, the village smithy, added a hotel, duly licensed to enable customers to change their breath.”

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