AN ARTIST’S CONCEPT OF 1842 KENTVILLE (November 14/03)

It was an excellent framed colour print with a three-word caption – “Kentville Nova Scotia.” Two names were at the bottom of the print – W. H. Barlett to the left and to the right H. Adlard. While undated, it obviously was a view of Kentville when the town was in its infancy. The artist sketching the scene had stood on the high ground immediately north of the town, just over the Cornwallis River. Several large buildings and a few residences are shown; a rough footbridge spans a narrow section of the river, apparently where the current town bridge now stands.

My wife Lorna told me about seeing the print at a nearby yard sale and I immediately rushed over to look at it. I was told that it was a view of Kentville from the “Chester Avenue brook.” But at a glance, I realised I was looking at the Cornwallis River and early Kentville from the hill on its north side near the regional hospital. Oddly, the sketch looked familiar; I knew I had seen it somewhere before.

Several days after I purchased the print it dawned on me why it looked familiar. In 1974 Longman Canada Limited had published a pictorial record of Nova Scotia, a series of historical prints from 1605 to 1878 with thumbnail descriptions of each scene. This book is in the Wolfville library and on several occasions I had taken it home and poured over its pages. I was sure the Kentville sketch in my newly acquired print was in the Longman book and I was right.

The sketch of early Kentville was drawn by William Henry Barlett (1809-1854) and is plate number 101 in the Longman book. Bartlett’s sketch was engraved by H. Adlard for a book called Canadian Scenery Illustrated, which was printed in England in 1842. The print was later copied by Currier & Ives and erroneously titled Sussex, New Brunswick.

Born in London, William Henry Bartlett made four trips to Canada between 1836 and 1852. The Kentville sketch was made on one of these trips in or before 1842, the year it was first published. There are 160 prints in the Longman book, depicting many interesting historical aspects of the province over approximately a 250 year period beginning as I said in 1605. But even more interesting than the prints are the descriptions of the areas illustrated in them. Following is the description of Kentville as it originally appeared in Canadian Scenery Illustrated:

“Kentville – a prettily situated village, containing several handsome private residences, a court-house, gaol, and a good grammar school. The views in the vicinity are remarkably fine, and the formation of land such as to present the greatest diversity of landscape; the chief charm of which consists in the unusual combination of hill, dale, woods and cultivated fields – in the calm beauty of agricultural scenery – and the romantic wilderness of the distant forest.”

There are various other local scenes in the book as well – a view of Windsor in 1837 and 1842, several sketches of Blomidon made between 1781 and 1842, Cape Split as an artist saw it in 1842 and views of Wolfville and Acadia University in 1871. My favourite print is an 1837 sketch of “Cornwallis, Grand Priare (Grand Pre) and Basin of Minas from North Mountain.”

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