EARLY BRIDGES, FERRIES ON THE CORNWALLIS RIVER (September 5/06)

A. W. H. Eaton writes in his Kings County history that a bridge “across the Cornwallis River at Port Williams (Terry’s Creek) was built at least as early as 1780.” In another part of his history he sort of suggests that the bridge was actually built much later, in 1834.

Eaton didn’t claim that the 1780 bridge was the first to be built on the river and I believe it wasn’t. Also, he wasn’t sure of the year this bridge was constructed since he leaves some leeway in writing that it “was at least as early as 1780.”

Some historians believe that rather than Planters, the Acadians were first to place a bridge across the Cornwallis River. The impression given is that this bridge was built at the Port Williams location; but spanning the tricky Cornwallis may not have been possible for the mainly agrarian, dyke building Acadians. Where the present bridge now spans the river in Kentville is the more likely site for the Acadians to have built. At least two locally published history books claim that the Acadians had a “bridge” across the Cornwallis at the Kentville ford. Undoubtedly this at best was a crude footbridge.

Before permanent bridges were built, ferries were used to cross the Cornwallis River. Again, A. W. H. Eaton credits the Planters with another first, the first ferry on the Cornwallis. And once again it appears that several historians, or historical researchers if you wish, believe the Acadians operated ferries on the Cornwallis River. Among them is Douglas Eagles, who in 1975 published a history of Horton township in which he notes that a “ferry across the Cornwallis dated from the times of the Acadians.”

One Acadian ferry may have operated approximately where Port Williams is located, or at least along the river just below the village. But why there? Douglas Eagles explains that a ferry in this area would have provided Acadian settlements in Canard and Habitant with easy access to settlements around Wolfville and Gaspereau. The ferry, Eagles says, “shortened the trip for those going (by land) from Canard to Wolfville by 18 miles.” The wisdom of operating a ferry in the same area of the Cornwallis River was noted by the Planters and one was maintained until a bridge was built at Port Williams.

Now, we know the Acadians ferried the Cornwallis – and there’s plenty of historical evidence that post Acadian settlers did as well. So how do we explain that a ferry is said to have operated on the river after the expulsion, when the Acadians were long gone, and years before the Planters arrived? That such a ferry existed appears to be indicated in the Port Williams history, The Port Remembers.

In 1759, says this history, a committee representing potential New England settlers arrived in Kings County to assess land vacated by the Acadians. One of the committee members, Samuel Starr, looked this area over carefully. Here’s how his exploring is described in The Port Remembers: “According to his (Starr’s) personal reminiscences, he went to a high point on the South Mountain, climbed a tall tree and looked over the Valley. He next ferried across the Cornwallis River at Boudreau’s Bank and crossed over to the Look Off on the North Mountain.”

Now, maybe there was no ferry on the Cornwallis at this time and the editors of The Port Remembers used “ferried” in the sense of Starr crossing the river in a canoe or small boat. Yet they did write that Starr ferried across the river and I assume we’re supposed to take this literally.

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