OUR ROADS, BYWAYS – CLUES TO THEIR ORIGIN (March 9/06)

Which of the roads existing today are Mi’kmaq, Acadian or Planter in origin, I asked in a previous column. As I pointed out in this column, it’s almost impossible to drive without traversing portions of old Acadian and Planter byways and Mi’kmaq trails. In fact, many of the existing roads in Kings County following the original paths and trails laid out by the Acadians and the Planters. Literally, you’re taking a historical drive every time you use your car for a Sunday jaunt or go out to pick up a loaf of bread.

You can determine which roads are Acadian or Planter simply by studying books like Eaton’s Kings County history or Herbin’s Grand Pre history. Most local histories – such as those of Coldbrook, Port Williams, Greenwich, to give a few examples – offer substantial clues to the vintage of the roads in their communities. However, some of the older trails which eventually morphed into the well-used highways of today appear to be of obscure origin.

While this is true, there are clues to the origin of roads with obscure ancestry.

Here’s a hint. Highway Number 1, which runs through the heart of Kings County, lengthy old Brooklyn Street, which starts in Kentville and runs towards Annapolis County, Main Street in Berwick, which eventually winds east to Waterville, historic Canard Street, Belcher Street, and other roads which you can come up with yourself, share an attribute and have one thing in common.

Obvious, isn’t it. They all run parallel to and near waterways. For much of its length, the Number 1 Highway runs parallel to the south bank of the Cornwallis River, as does Berwick’s Main Street. Brooklyn Street runs parallel to the north bank of the Cornwallis for many of its kilometres, as does Belcher Street. Church Street winds just above the south bank of the Canard River, and Canard Street runs parallel on its north side.

I believe all these roads originally were Mi’kmaq trails. With a couple of exceptions, most of these trails follow the high ground parallel to rivers and streams. Canard Street and Belcher Street both run along high ground overlooking the Canard and Cornwallis River. This high ground would have been the logical area to use when the Mi’kmaq made their annual journeys to tidewater and to summer camps near the seashore. It’s no accident that Canard Street follows the high ground between the Habitant and the Canard River. Mi’kmaq fishing these rivers and harvesting food along the nearby mouths of the streams would have found the high ground the easiest route to follow.

Highway Number 1 appears to be an exception in that it doesn’t follow the high ground. However, Herbin and other historians write that the Acadians made rough roads from Minas settlements west towards Port Royal and in most cases, they followed well established Mi’kmaq trails. Part of the Number 1 Highway near Kentville appears to have been one of the roads the Acadians briefly worked on prior to the expulsion.

Cornwallis Street crosses the Cornwallis River in Kentville and if we accept what historians tell us, this main thoroughfare apparently was a Mi’kmaq trail. Silas Rand writes, for example, that there was a Mi’kmaq ford where the bridge crosses the Cornwallis River in Kentville; the Mi’kmaq name for this place, says Rand, translated into fording place. It’s no accident of nature that several roads lead to this fording place in Kentville; all undoubtedly were Mi’kmaq trails that later were adopted by the Acadians and then the Planters.

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