KENTVILLE IN 1906 – THE TEMPERANCE ACT RAID (May 9/11)

“It can hardly be said that drunkenness has ever been a conspicuous Kings County vice,” Arthur W. H. Eaton wrote in his history of Kings County. “Yet, in the midst of all these efforts at goodness,” Eaton continued, “rum strove hard and often succeeded in holding the reins of power.”

Eaton may have had Kentville in mind when he wrote this observation on black rum. After all, the town was said at one time to be known as the Devil’s Half Acre, due it’s believed to the number of taverns and other liquor outlets located in a wide open town.

If he was referring to Kentville, Eaton may have been right about rum holding the reins of power. A few years before Eaton published his history, Kentville was rocked by an uprising of its “honest, upright citizens” (The Advertiser) who attempted by force to rid the town of demon rum. The Canada Temperance Act (Scott Act) was in force at the time and its so-called local option measure meant in effect that towns and communities could decide for themselves to declare the Act valid in their area. Thus it was possible to have, say, Kentville open to the sale of liquor, Canning closed, Berwick open and so on.

In 1906, Kentville apparently had voted dry and opted to have the Temperance Act enforced in its environs. But this apparently wasn’t entirely clear to some proprietors of hotels and taverns in the town who continued to sell liquor. One of the hotels, the Porter House, was notorious as a place where “spirituous drinks were purveyed freely” (The Advertiser). The proprietor of Porter House, one “Mr. Townsend” as The Advertiser calls him, flaunted the law and openly sold liquor. This aroused the ire of the town’s citizens who decided force was required to rid the town of its rum dens.

At the time the Sons of Temperance had 23 active chapters in Kings County and these had combined to form the Temperance Alliance. Acting through Kentville’s Mayor, W. F. Roscoe, the Alliance obtained a warrant to search the Porter House and seize all liquor found on the premises.

It appears that The Advertiser played a leading role in the raid on the Porter House. On Monday, September 6, a large body of men, along with the county constable, the liquor inspector, several Acadia University professors and various religious leaders met at The Advertiser office. Announcing their intentions, the group proceeded to the Porter House where after being briefly obstructed by Townsend, they seized all the liquor found on the premises.

One account written about the raid on the Porter House (Mabel Nichols in the Kentville history, The Devil’s Half Acre) notes so much liquor was confiscated it filled a boxcar. Townsend was briefly jailed after the raid.

Why a boxcar to hold the confiscated liquor? While the legality of the raid was being determined by the courts, the liquor was shipped to Canning. There it was eventually destroyed, every bottle and keg broken and the liquor dumped into the Habitant River.

Newspaper accounts of the foray into Porter House called it the Townsend Raid.

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