FOLKLORE ABOUNDS ON ACADIAN CHURCH BELLS (April 22/05)

Ken Belfountain of Les Amis de Grand-Pre tells me that as well as the bell hill near Canning, he’s heard of a bell hill near Berwick. Both bell hills are said to have been so named because, according to local folklore, Acadian church bells were found there. The bell found near Canning is said to have been discovered on a hill. It’s probably safe to assume that the Acadian bell supposedly found in the Berwick area was also unearthed on a prominent rise of ground.

Most of the folklore about the discovery of Acadian artefacts probably have a minimum of truth to them. Embellished over the years as generations of people told and retold the folklore, they eventually are accepted as gospel. Why would your grandfather cherish and pass on a tale that was told to him by his grandfather and his grandfather before him if it wasn’t at least partly true?

Not all tales about the discovery of long-buried Acadian artefacts have been around for generations, however. Some are of recent origin.

Take the bell hill near Canning, for example. When I first heard this story I thought perhaps it was a piece of folklore originating in the time of the Planters. But when following up on this tale, I learned that while the facts are vague, an Acadian bell is said to have been discovered about 75 years ago a few miles north or north-west of Canning in an area quaintly known as Rabbit Square.

In fact, one long-time county resident knows where the bell was found and he knows the approximate date when it was discovered. Lewis Hazel of Bains Road tells me the bell was discovered by men working on the road. “This was back in the 30s I think,” Hazel said. “I can show you exactly where the bell was dug up.”

Hazel confirmed that folklore is right about where the bell was found, a hill on the Rabbit Square Road. He also told me that the bell ended up in a Wolfville church. Eventually, Hazel said, the bell was purchased by people from Montreal and now rests in a museum there.

Mr. Hazel is familiar with most of the byways in the Canning area, having worked as an operator of heavy road equipment for many years. He tells me that during his excavation work he turned up what appears to be the remains of an Acadian church. This is near his home area and he’s willing to point the site out to anyone.

Leon Barron, a collector of local history who grew up near Canning, tells a slightly different version of the bell hill folktale. “I never heard of a bell being found there,” he said. Barron added that he assumed the area got its name because “the hill was shaped like an (inverted) bell.”

Barron told me that a farm that was once located on (or near) the hill was called Bell Hill Farm, apparently in recognition of the folklore. This was also known as the Macoun place. L. S. (Leslie) Macoun married Sir Frederick Borden’s daughter and they operated the farm. When a tea-room was established in Sir Frederick’s residence in Canning it was called the Bell Hill Tea-room, again possibly in recognition of the folklore about the Acadian bell.

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