“I know where New Minas is, but where’s old Minas?” a friend asked when I mentioned the village is celebrating its incorporation.
It wasn’t a serious question, but it’s difficult to answer. While there obviously was an area once known as Minas (otherwise there couldn’t be a “new” one) historians aren’t sure exactly what area it comprised. Two historians, Arthur W. H. Eaton (History of Kings County) and John F. Herbin (History of Grand Pre) say that the exact limits of Minas are difficult to define.
Actually, Eaton quotes Herbin in noting that Minas, or Mines as the French are said to have called it, may have included all the lands bordering the counties four rivers – Pereau, Canning (Habitant) Cornwallis (Grand Habitant) and Gaspereau. Eaton adds that Minas may have at one time also included the Acadian settlements around Windsor and what is now the town of Kentville.
We’ll leave it up to professional historians, the people with history degrees, to determine the old-time boundaries of Minas. In the meanwhile, since the village is celebrating its 40th anniversary, here from a variety of sources are some folklore and facts about New Minas.
Most historians agree that it was the French who first referred to this general area as Mines (les Mines). However, Charles G. D. Roberts, in a tourist and sportsman’s guidebook he wrote in 1891, says Portuguese explorers left their mark on this area in such names as Blomidon, Bay of Fundy and Minas. (Quoted in Ivan Smith’s Nova Scotia History Index website). The inference is that Minas is of Portuguese rather than French origin, which is doubtful.
In Hutchinson’s Nova Scotia Directory for 1864-65, the entry for New Minas shows the village then had 68 residents, 21 with the Bishop surname. The majority of residents were listed as farmers. At the time, New Minas had two blacksmiths, a shoemaker, a marblecutter, a tanner, a millwright, a tanner, a carriagemaker, a watchmaker and a couple of carpenters. Henry Strong is listed as merchant in the village and there was also a way office with Abraham Seaman as the keeper. (Sources: Milner’s The Basin of Minas and Its Early Settlers and the Ambrose Church map of Kings County).
“The Mines is a settlement about four or five years old,” M. Gargas wrote in 1787; this must be an error in the year since most historian state that the settlement began “about 1680.” The quote is from Milner’s book mentioned above and he gives his source as Canadian historian Dr. W. Inglis Morse who studied “national records in France.” Milner follows up with a Gargas census of Mines in 1687-88, which shows that the area then had 163 residents with one priest, a church and a mill.
According to Gargas, Mines was then comprised of 26 houses. Livestock numbered 130 cattle, 70 sheep and 40 geese. At the time, some 45 acres of marshland was under cultivation.
In contrast to Hutchinson’s Directory, quoted above, the business directory in the Ambrose Church map, dated 1864, only lists 14 New Minas residents. Ambrose Church charged a fee for listings in his directory, which probably explains the huge difference in his and the Hutchinson figures.