A PLANTER INSTITUTION (October 3/16)

This is an “interesting account of an institution that at one time existed at Centreville, Kings County,” reads the lead line of an article published in an early Kentville newspaper, the Western Chronicle. The article ran around 1890 without an author’s name; the “institution” referred to was the Town Meeting, a practice that came with the Planters when they arrived in Kings County.

In effect, the Town Meeting was an informal type of community government people used to handle local affairs. The late Acadia University professor, Dr. R.S. Longley, called the Town Meeting the most prized institution of the Planters. In the History of Kings County Eaton says that the Town Meeting was a “time honoured institution in New England” and it was a tradition carried on here after the Planters arrived.

The Town Meeting, an “inception… brought down here by the old New England settlers in 1760,” is described in the newspaper article as a “very curious arrangement by which the township (of Cornwallis and Horton) were governed.” Originally the Town Meeting, in the words of the unknown writer, “did the whole business of the township what the municipal council now does.” Again quoting the newspaper article, “the Town Meeting originally held all the power which was afterwards greatly absorbed by the court of sessions and only lost its power when the municipal system came in.”

In Cornwallis Township Town Meetings originally were held in the Town Plot, which when grants were given was laid out to be the centre, or a small scale capital of sorts. In Cornwallis Township (the land lying north of the Cornwallis River) Chipman Corner later assumed the role of being the capital and Town Meetings were held there. Then, says the writer, the “settlement of the Township kept moving west (as the population increased) until at last Town Meetings were held at what is now called Centreville.”

This story on the old Town Meetings may explain why Centreville was so named. Charles Bruce Fergusson, in Place Names and Places of Nova Scotia, says the village was called Centreville probably because it was “equidistant from the Minas Channel, the Cornwallis River and the west side of Minas Channel.” However, our unknown writer has a better explanation, noting that when the Town Meetings moved to Centreville, this village then became the centre of county government.

Later, with the establishment of an elected provincial government and elected county councils, the Town Meeting eventually lost its role in governing the county. Oddly, after Town Meetings became insignificant as far as governing went, the provincial government began to provide funds for the erection of meeting halls, places where township elections and community events were held. In various 19th-century newspaper accounts and journals, you’ll find these meeting halls sometimes referred to as town houses.

One of the last Town Meeting halls/houses in the county stood in Centreville, as late as the early 1900s possibly. The unknown writer of the newspaper article described the hall as an “old building that resembles a puritan church.”

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