A MI’KMAQ PRESENCE IN AND AROUND KENTVILLE (February 6/18)

At least as late as the early 1900s, there was a Mi’kmaq encampment about a kilometre north of downtown Kentville. The camp was in a large stand of pines (now long gone) between Cornwallis Street and Oakdene Avenue in the area now bisected by Wade and Prince Street.

I heard about the camp from my father who remembered seeing it when he was a boy. As he recalled it, the camp was only there in the spring and through the summer months.

That the Mi’kmaq camped where they did, close to a thriving village, isn’t surprising. A local historian, who over a century ago wrote extensively about the Mi’kmaq and Acadians in Kings County newspapers, penned several stories about native fishing in and around Kentville. This was Edmond J. Cogswell, a court magistrate whom I’ve quoted here before.

Apparently, from what Cogswell wrote, he was well aware of various native fishing sites inside the limits of Kentville – along the so-called smelt brook, for example, and the Cornwallis River meadows along the town’s west end. Apparently, the Mi’kmaq were still fishing in these and other Kentville sites in Cogswell’s time since he usually wrote about these activities as if he observed them.

As has been said, the Kentville area of the Cornwallis River was supposedly favoured by the Mi’kmaq because of the ford that was there. The truth is that there are several fords on the river, at Coldbrook and near Port Williams, to name two for example. Most likely the ford at what was to become Kentville was favoured by the Mi’kmaq simply due to its proximity to prime summer fishing grounds.

But let’s get back to Cogswell and his assertion that there once was a Mi’kmaq presence in and around Kentville. In a March 19, 1892 issue of the Kentville newspaper, the Western Chronicle, Cogswell wrote that there were “many reasons why Kentville was a desirable villaging place (for the Mi’kmaq). One was the old ford where so many tribes passed and repassed. Another was the smelt brook (McGee Brook) where in old times the smelts came in such immense quantities, just at the spring time when other food was hardly available from the melting of the snow in the forest.

“Another (attraction for the Mi’kmaq) was the great eel grounds of the Harrington meadows (west end Kentville) which was also a great rendezvous of the returning migrations of the wild ducks and geese and also the great salmon supply of the Cornwallis River. Natives could often been seen in their canoes at night along the Harrington meadows with torches at their bows, spearing the abounding salmon.”

Cogswell noted that when the smelts and salmon were running in the spring, the Mi’kmaq set up camps practically in what is now downtown Kentville – at the “old ford” where the bridge now spans the Cornwallis River and along the smelt brook probably at the high tide mark.

In this article Cogswell confirms what my father said about a Mi’kmaq camp in the general area bounded by Wade and Prince Street, only Cogswell placed it closer to downtown Kentville. “The last time the old Kentville (Mi’kmaq) village assembled was some 20 years ago. Their old haunt near the smelt brook not being available, they assembled at the top of the hill (Gallows Hill) at the Exhibition corner (the corner of Exhibition Street and Cornwallis Street). They met there several summers and built quite a number of canoes there.”

Cogswell mentions that Kentville was a “desirable villaging place” for the Mi’kmaq. Was he implying that Kentville was more than a spring/summer fishing grounds when smelts and salmon were running and it once was the site of a Mi’kmaq village? Possibly, is about all I can say. However, here’s one clue indicating it was more than possible. In an obituary for Joseph Knockwood, published on January 23, 1964, in the Lewiston, Maine, Daily Sun, it was noted that the said gentleman, who was born in 1875, was for over seven years “the Chief of the Mi’kmaq Tribe in Kentville.” Knockwood is a Mi’kmaq surname. Knockwood Hill just west of Kentville – a place name now forgotten – was named after the Mi’kmaq family that once dwelt there.

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