OLDTIME FISHING, MI’KMAQ HARVESTING (July 9/12)

Occasionally readers tell me they enjoy my history articles, but never read the outdoors column, both of which run in the Kings County Advertiser and Kings County Register. Once in a while I have a crossover piece – an outdoors column that looks at the history of fishing and hunting. This is such an article, a look back at what fishing and the use of natural resources was like many generations ago around Kentville and along the Cornwallis River. Hope you enjoy it.

Starting in 1892, a prominent Kentville magistrate penned a series of articles on early days in the town. On March 19, 1892, E. J. Cogswell’s article in Kentville’s weekly newspaper revealed that the Cornwallis River once was a major salmon stream. All you anglers familiar with the Cornwallis River: Can you picture a time when salmon were so plentiful in the river people harvested them with pitchforks? Read what E. J. Cogswell had to say about this.

“Though salmon are scarcely found there (the Cornwallis) now they were formerly in great plenty. I remember some forty years ago I was with my father at George Webster’s mill at Coldbrook when at a time of freshet the salmon had so many of them come up the brook and had been left by the retreating waters, people had been down and thrown them out with pitch-forks.”

Cogswell writes that as well as the ford where the town bridge now is, the great salmon run in the Cornwallis was another reason “Kentville was a desirable villaging place” for the Mi’kmaq. “Another (reason) was the smelt brook “where in old times the smelts came in such immense quantities, just at springtime, when other food was hardly available.”

Cogswell refers to an area immediately west of Kentville, the Harrington Meadows, as a “great eel ground” of the Mi’kmaq. Natives also speared salmon on the meadow waters and could “often be seen in their canoes at night with torches and bows.” Harrington Meadows was also a “great rendezvous of the returning migrators of the wild ducks and geese,” Cogswell notes; from this I assume Harrington Meadows and today’s federal waterfowl sanctuary are one and the same.

Even in Cogswell’s day people were lamenting the loss of natural resources. The salmon as well as the Mi’kmaq have departed, Cogswell writes. “The screech of the locomotive has scared away what few of the ducks and geese remained unslaughtered by the gun of the sportsman. The salmon and the smelt has been destroyed by indiscriminate slaughter, mill dams and sawdust.”

Cogswell closes off his piece on a melancholy note. The campfires of the Mi’kmaq no longer gleam on the “rising grounds near the smelt brook nor at the old ford,” he writes. “We have killed the (Mi’kmaq’s) fish, shot his moose and caribou, cut down the woods and given him in turn Christianity, rum and the smallpox.”

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