Looking at the early history of Kings County, one thing appears obvious – early on, wherever there were crossroads, ports and river crossings such as fords and bridges, villages often sprung up; villages that in more than a few cases evolved into towns that still thrive today.
This is true of Kentville, which according to the dean of county historians Arthur W. H. Eaton, owes its location to a narrow area, a ford on the Cornwallis River where a bridge eventually was constructed. Would Kentville have evolved into a town if the river wasn’t narrow and fordable at low tide and was an ideal place to have a bridge? My guess is, most likely not.
Many of the crossroads existing today were trails laid down over the centuries by the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. For example, an early Acadian road running north from downtown Kentville, now Cornwallis Street creates a crossroads with the Cornwallis River, which was a waterway for Mi’kmaqs and Acadians. Another old Acadian trail running east and west, now Main Street, creates a T-junction with Cornwallis Street and this is another factor contributing to the town’s prosperity, a prosperity accelerated by arrival of the railway.
This is also true of Wolfville where a port spurred early commercial development. It is true also of Centreville where ancient Mi’kmaq/Acadian trails running east and west crossed well used Mi’kmaq/Acadian roads running north and south. Near this crossroads, and no doubt because of it, a large general store servicing the area was built circa 1850 and Centreville for a time was one of the most prosperous villages in the county.
Canning also owes its development into a major commercial and shipbuilding center to its natural port. At one time, thanks mainly to shipbuilding, Canning was the most prominent village in Kings County, outshining for a long-time the sleepy village of Horton Corner, which eventually became Kentville. Because of the port, it was natural for Canning to become a major shipbuilding area and that it did in spades.
The potato market was another factor in making Canning thrive. In his county history, Arthur W. H. Eaton writes that “modern Canning owes its existence largely to the potato industry of Cornwallis.”
As I mentioned above regarding the crossroads, keep in mind that many of them originally were ancient pathways, created with centuries of use by native people and adopted by the Acadians. Seasonal roads to and from summer and winter fishing and hunting grounds of the Mi’kmaq are today main thoroughfares throughout Kings County. If a road runs roughly parallel to a river on its course to the ocean – Belcher Street, Brooklyn Street, Canard Street and Commercial Street, for example – you can almost be sure it was first a main Mi’kmaq route and later an Acadian trail.