TRACING OLD ROADS AROUND KENTVILLE (August 20/13)

In the book Nova Scotia’s Lost Highways, Joan Dawson writes that while many old roads have been absorbed into modern highways, one can still find sections of them; these are the loops and curves bypassed as highways were straightened.

Many of those loops and curves, those old roads used by our earliest settlers, can be found throughout Kings County.  As Dawson notes, many of them exist today as little used side roads, some of them now no more than farm lanes and walking trails.

In an earlier column I covered the work Richard Skinner has done in tracing the remains of early county roads, in particular the old Post Road/Acadian trail that runs through Kentville as Main Street and Park Street and continues westward through Coldbrook and down the Valley.  As mentioned, Skinner found that some pieces of this old road wander away from No. 1 Highway but often are never far from it.

If we search northward from Kentville we can find existing strips of roads that were frequently used by the Acadians, the Planters and in a few cases by the Mi’kmaq   For example, immediately after you head north and cross the bridge on Cornwallis Street in Kentville you are travelling one of the oldest roads in Kings County, a road that originally must have been a Mi’kmaq trail.

In an article he wrote in 1892 (most likely for Kentville’s Western Chronicle) E. J. Cogswell describes the road, noting that it began once you crossed the ford where the bridge now is.  “Starting from the crossing point, whether bridge or ford,” Cogswell writes, “the great trail ran east and ran up over the point of hill and through the Catholic burying ground.”

According to Cogswell, this road eventually was “shoved north” into the hollow where “the road now is.” From this we knows that today, when you leave Kentville and drive up Belcher Street to Port Williams, you are travelling pieces of one of the original roads in Kings County.  Some of this old road may have run closer to the Cornwallis River than it now does.  Cogswell said one branch of this road ran “down along the sides of the hills near the dyke” and in his time long pieces of it could still be seen.

Cogswell also mentions that this road branched off and ran north and then turned east to Chipman Corner.  Actually he wrote that the road “turned east and ran down to the old Chipman corner and a branch of this trail continued down what is now called Church Street.  Now you know when  you drive along these roads – Belcher Street, Church Street, Middle Dyke Road, you are traversing sections of  roads that are centuries old.

Another example of pieces of old roads that still exist can be found about a kilometre or so north of Kentville.  Off Highway 341 the loop known as Upper Church Street is a piece of old road eliminated as a main thoroughfare when it was straightened in the 1930s.  Why this old road took the course it did is puzzling.  Perhaps the Acadians, if it was the Acadians who first used this track, were avoiding a stretch of swampy ground Highway 341 cuts through.

Continue along 341 through Upper Dyke and Upper Canard (passing the mouth of  Newcombe Branch Road which likely was the original road) and you’ll find a short piece of old road in the hollow just below what was the Canard Poultry plant.  Some of this short section of road is still used by farmers as an access to the dykes.  This short piece, its collapsed bridge and all, is still considered to be part of the highway system.  A fact I found out about a few years ago when the Wellington Dyke Body tried unsuccessfully to have the Department of Highways repair the bridge.

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