KENTVILLE: HISTORY OF A PLACE-NAME (May 21/04)

Some historical writers claim that Kentville was once called the “Devil’s Half Acre” and Horton Corner; several historians – Bruce Fergusson, Dr. Watson Kirkconnell and Arthur W. H. Eaton among them – note that Kentville was once called Penooek by the Mi’kmaq.

The Devil’s Half Acre is the title of Mabel Nichol’s Kentville history, suggesting perhaps that the town was once known for ribald celebrations. The Mi’kmaq Penooek may have been used as a place-name at one time as Fergusson, Kirkconnell and Eaton suggest. However, Dr. Silas Rand writes that the Mi’kmaq designation for the Kentville area was Obsitquetchk, which means a fording place. This ford, where a bridge now spans the river, was a well-used crossing place and explains why the immediate area was settled. Two roads from the north and north-east which meet at the ford, Cornwallis and Belcher Street, probably were trails used by the Mi’kmaq and Acadians.

I doubt that the Planters or any later settlers used the Mi’kmaq names for Kentville. But Horton Corner it definitely was before the name was changed by public proclamation. Arthur W. H. Eaton confirms this; he refers to a notice published in the Nova Scotian newspaper in 1826 advising the public that henceforth Horton Corner would be called Kentville. “The inhabitants of Horton Corner having held a public meeting,” the notice began, “have resolved that their growing village should in the future be called Kentville.”

Kentville was chosen as the new name of Horton Corner, the notice read, in honour of the Duke of Kent. Some sources say that this honour was bestowed on the Duke because he stayed overnight in Horton Corner. Here’s what Louis Comeau wrote in the book Historic Kentville: “In 1826… the residents (of Horton Corner) decided to change the name to Kentville in honour of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, who had stayed in the village while on a hunting trip in 1794.”

Bruce Fergusson in Place-Names and Places in Nova Scotia writers in a similar vein on the origin of Kentville’s name: “The name Kentville was given… in honour of the Duke of Kent who visited the place in 1826.” Heather Davidson makes a similar inference in the Kentville history she wrote for the area’s Board of Trade in 1979. Mabel Nichols makes the same statement in her Kentville history, and names the hotel the Duke stayed in.

I have several other references including newspaper articles and an 1895 historical paper that also claim Kentville was given its name due to a visit by the Duke of Kent. There’s even a website that makes the same claim.

However, despite claims by local historians that he did, it’s questionable that the Duke of Kent stayed in Horton Corner. While the Duke of Kent travelled through Kings County in 1794, it appears that he made his lodgings in Wolfville. Arthur W. H. Eaton writes that the only known Kings County stop of the Duke was in Wolfville.

Finally, there is the Doreen Roberts exhaustive research for her 1977 Masters thesis (Two Hundred Years of Travel in Kings County) which is on file at Acadia University. Roberts said that “although the Duke of Kent may have stopped in the Shiretown as a resting place, he did not stop in the town overnight.” While Kentville residents “adhere very strongly” to the belief that their town was the official stop, it was Wolfville, Roberts concluded.

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