In a January column, I noted that relatively little attention has been given to Acadian settlements in Kings County outside of the area around Grand Pre. Areas such as Canard, Pereau and New Minas, for example, were settled by Acadians about the same time as Grand Pre. In fact, the land immediately adjacent to most of the county rivers running into Minas Basin – the Grand Habitant (Cornwallis), Habitant, Canard, Gaspereau and Pereau – were prime settlement areas.
Early on, the Cornwallis River attracted Acadian settlers. While the Cornwallis apparently wasn’t as easy to dyke as the Canard, due perhaps to the high banks and ferocious tides, the Acadians established settlements near the river. What is now New Minas was a favoured place. As I mentioned in the January column, New Minas may have been a large enough settlement to have a church and several mills.
The Acadian presence in New Minas is a historical fact and in my opinion, not enough has been done to recognise this. However, I’m pleased to report that this should soon be rectified.
Recently I sat in on the inaugural meeting of an Acadian heritage sites committee. A mission statement hasn’t yet been written by the committee, but it will be forthcoming soon. I gather that the basic aim of the committee is to create awareness of New Minas as an early Acadian settlement and to identify Acadian sites in the village. It’s possible that down the road some of the Acadian sites will be marked with plaques; the committee may also publish a historical brochure with maps that pinpoints Acadian homesteads and other relevant sites.
Some identifying of Acadian sites has already been done and is documented.
A parks and open space map prepared by the Municipality of Kings County identifies several areas in New Minas with an Acadian connection. The map indicates the location of Acadian cellars, an “Acadian priest’s home and church,” an Acadian orchard and an Acadian mill. Most of these sites are literally no more than a stone’s throw from the main business area of the village.
In 1971 an archaeological survey of Acadian habitation sites in the Valley (curatorial report number 20) was conducted by the Nova Scotia Museum. The report mentions seven “structures” of Acadian origin in New Minas. Six of the structures, which for the most part are depressions in the ground, were examined during the survey; some of the depressions contained evidence of stone foundations. A couple of the structures appear to have been too large to have been homesteads.
In a 1975 publication, John Erskine writes that an Acadian church with a nearby priest house and several grist mills were located near Jones Road. Erskine also mentions an Acadian cemetery and other cellars of Acadian origin in New Minas. On the burial ground Erskine writes that “a furlong eastward in the cultivated lands, a forested island stands alone, traditionally the Acadian cemetery.” This reference must be to the prominent landmark known locally as Oak Island.
A study done a few years ago on a collector road on the north boundary of New Minas mentions an Acadian cemetery on a spur of Oak Island, the location of half a dozen cellars and the remains of an Acadian dyke.