A SAND BANK AND A GRAND OLD HOTEL (August 22/06)

Various historical references mention a prominent physical feature that determined a town would rise where Kentville now stands. That feature was a large “sandy bank;” most likely a glacial deposit called a boarsback; the bank narrowed the Cornwallis River and made a fording place – one of only a few such on the river – that was first used by the Mi’kmaq and later the Acadians. When the New England Planters settled in, the ford was a natural area for a store since several main trails led to it.

Recently a copy of the photograph of the old Aberdeen Hotel was donated to the Kings County Museum by Harold Gates of Canning. In the photograph, behind the hotel and to its left, one can see a huge sand bank. This must be the bank referred to by several historians and essayists, among them Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton. In his Kings County history, Eaton quoting another writer says that Kentville “owes its existence to the enormous sand bank (removed about 25 years ago) which here narrowed and made a convenient place for a ford at low tide and later for a bridge.”

Now you know that in effect, geological forces created a natural place for a town to spring up. But you’re probably wondering what the connection is between that monstrous sandy bank, supposedly some 40 feet high, and the old Aberdeen Hotel.

The Aberdeen Hotel was built in 1895 by Daniel McLeod. According to a paper on Kentville written in 1895 by Judge of Probate Edmund J. Cogswell, it was in 1895 when efforts were made to cart Kentville’s monster sand bank away. Some sources say it was an eyesore in the town, which was booming thanks to the railroad.

However, it appears that when McLeod chose a site for his hotel, he decided that the logical place was immediately north of the railway station – on the piece of ground occupied by that pesky sand bank. McLeod leased the site for 50 years (from the Cornwallis Valley Railway according to Mabel Nichols in The Devil’s Half Acre) and the bank was removed. The railway may have done the removing. In his book on Kentville, Louis Comeau says sand from the bank was used as fill in the railyards of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway.

Getting back to the photograph of the Aberdeen Hotel, this must have been taken around the time it opened since as I mentioned, remnants of the sand bank can still be seen. As I also mentioned, the photograph came from Harold Gates. Mr. Gates’ wife was a descendant of Daniel McLeod, who was her grandfather.

In the photograph, flags are flying on the Aberdeen Hotel, possibly to mark its grand opening. In the foreground of the photograph, seated in a horse drawn wagon called a barouche, are Lord and Lady Aberdeen. Holding the reins is John McLeod (Daniel’s brother perhaps) who later managed the hotel. Also seated in the carriage is said to be Col. Wentworth Eaton Roscoe, a Kentville barrister who later was Mayor of Kentville.

In its time the Aberdeen was one of the finest and possibly largest hotel in the Annapolis Valley. Undoubtedly along with Kentville’s Aberdeen Street, the hotel was named in honour of Lord Aberdeen. Hence the Lord’s visit to Kentville as Canada’s Governor General with the occasion being celebrated with a photograph, which probably was taken by A. L. Hardy.

Later, after the hotel had been purchased by the railway, its name was changed to the Cornwallis Inn. The hotel was torn down circa 1931 to make way for a new Cornwallis Inn on the opposite side of Kentville.

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