When a public meeting was held in Canning on January 8, 1887, to determine the feasibility of building a rail line westward from Kingsport- what was to become the Cornwallis Valley Railway – it was attended by “various public-spirited men of the vicinity and by J. W. King.”
The quote is from Marguerite Woodworth’s History of the Dominion Atlantic Rail. Woodworth describes J. W. King as the assistant traffic manager of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway. A few years later we find from Woodworth that John W. King had risen to the post of “Resident Manager” of the A & W Railway. What Woodworth neglected to mention is that in 1887, when King was prominent in influencing the direction the Cornwallis Valley Railway would take – either terminating in Kentville or farther down the Valley in Middleton – that this gentleman had in that year been elected the first Mayor of Kentville.
King would play a prominent role in management of the A & W and later with the Dominion Atlantic Railway. At this time he was one of Kentville’s most prominent citizens. When Kentville was incorporated in 1886, the citizens of the town honoured King by selecting him as its first Mayor, in which capacity he served until 1889.
Born in Scotland, John Warren King (1836 – 1922) was a lawyer who in his obituary was saluted as a railway pioneer. At first, he was a legal adviser for the railway, settling in Kentville when the railway made its headquarters here. He was still a resident of Kentville when he died and while I’ve been unable to locate it, there undoubtedly is a tombstone marking his resting site in Oakgrove Cemetery.
Today, most people don’t know who John King is or was. The Kentville chapter in Eaton’s History of Kings County lists him as only Kentville’s first Mayor and this probably is recorded somewhere in the town’s annals as well.
King isn’t entirely forgotten, however. When he was in office, King is believed to have worked at a magnificent ash and birch desk that according to family traditions he made himself. Nothing is known about what became of the desk after King’s death but by the early 2000s it resided at the home of the late Hugh and Bella Burns in Kentville. The desk was sold to a Member of Parliament who then donated it to the Kings Historical Society.
Today, the desk is on display at the Kings County Museum in the Victorian Room. A plaque describing the desk in detail and a photograph of John W. King can also be found in the Museum. The description notes that the desk is “handcrafted in the eclectic fashion of the mid-Victorian era” and is a unique piece of furniture. It also is the sole reminder that a fine Scotsman, who became a well-respected Kentville citizen, also ran the railway and for a time was at the helm of the town.