On the Cornwallis River, near the Silver Link Bridge in Kentville, lays “Mrs. Lyon’s dike,” writes Edmond Cogswell in an 1895 review of the town. Referring to the dike by that name in the review, Cogswell places it near the “old ford.” On that dike, and well within the town limits, once stood an Acadian mill, says Cogswell, noting in the review that the “old race (mill channel) can still be traced.”
Not only that, but Cogswell says an Acadian village was situated at the old fording place, which is about where the bridge is now. He also says the Acadians built a bridge over the Cornwallis near the present structure. This, he says, was the first Acadian bridge over the Cornwallis, imply that the Acadians built more than one bridge on the river.
To date no one has disputed Cogwell’s claim of a solid Acadian presence in Kentville. Actually, no one but Cogswell says the Acadians had a village in what is now the town. Eaton, the dean of county historians, implies for example that little if any of the land in and around the town was taken up by the Acadians. Eaton does mention one possible Acadian homestead in the town limits, which I mention farther on, but that’s it.
However, Cogswell and Eaton are not the only historical writers/researchers to place the Acadians in the area comprising the town of Kentville; or to be exact, in what was the town area when its northern border was the Cornwallis River. There are various claims regarding an Acadian presence in Kentville, which are for the most part speculation since no documentation is provided. Here are some of them:
In a treatise released in 1975 (The French Period in Nova Scotia) John Erskine writes that on Elderkin Brook at the eastern edge of Kentville there was a tidal mill he speculates might have been Acadian. We cannot be sure it was Acadian, Erskine says, but species of trees and shrubs associated with and introduced by the Acadians have been found on the site.
Erskine was careful about claiming the mill definitely was Acadian, but not so the editors of A Natural History of Kings County. Mentioned in the chapter on the Acadians is a plant they introduced, the Red Fly Honeysuckle, which occurs at the site of a tidal mill “on Elderkin Brook in Kentville.” The editors don’t say outright that the mill was Acadian but to me at least that implication is there. In this case, Erskine may have been their source of information and he’s noted as a contributor to the book.
In the Kings County history Eaton writes that the Acadian settlement of Minas extended as far west as Kentville, “the site of which town it included.” Eaton adds that it is “doubtful if beyond Kentville there were ever any French houses or farms.” The implication here, of course, is that the area comprising present day Kentville held Acadian homesteads.
The exception to unsubstantiated claims about an Acadian settlement, or at least a few Acadian farms in Kentville, is found in Eaton’s Kings County history. The dean himself notes that a Kentville dwelling, the Terry-Young house, was built on what is believed to be an Acadian cellar. This house still stands at 229 Main Street and has been declared a heritage property; there’s little doubt that its Acadian roots are authentic.
It is also doubtful that the Terry-Young house is the site of the only Acadian homestead in the town. Nearby to the north and northeast, on both sides of the Cornwallis River, are tidal flats ideal for diking. Diking has been done on these flats for generations and I believe archaeological surveys will reveal that some of them originated with the Acadians.