POLITICAL PATRONAGE, INSIDER TRADING, OR WHAT? THE CAMP ALDERSHOT STORY (October 8/19)

In a book published in 1983, Brent Fox speaks of the “old Camp Aldershot” (at one time on the plain near Aylesford) and the “new Camp Aldershot,” about a kilometer or so north of Kentville.

In what was a history of the military base, Fox said there was little to speak of in the way of facilities in the new Camp Aldershot when it was first opened. As it turns out, there was gold there of a different kind, but Fox gives the impression that the new camp was a barren plain with scattered stands of pines (hence the local name for the area, Pine Woods). He conceded there were “several farms” in the area, a race track and two mills, but that was about it.

However, the research Gary Young is conducting on Pine Woods indicates there were more than several farms in the area comprising the new Camp Aldershot. Most of the 2,500 acres of Camp Aldershot and most of the adjacent land had been farmed for generations and were included in Planter Grants. This is indicated clearly by Young’s meticulous searching of old deeds and land transfers.

All of this land – the Camp and nearby acreage – figures in questionable land deals that may have been old time political patronage (if that’s the correct term) or insider trading. This involved a once prominent Kentville merchant/Mayor/MLA and perhaps a knighted son of Kings County, Sir Frederick W. Borden.

Brenton H. Dodge (1847-1910) represented Kings County as a Liberal member of the provincial legislature from 1894 to 1910. He served a one-year term as mayor of Kentville in 1893 and was a store owner in the town. Dodge was a close political, business and personal friend of Borden, along with Harry H. Wickwire, who also represented Kings County in the provincial government.

I’ve been unable to determine exactly when Borden, in his capacity as militia and minister of defense, announced the relocation of the camp. Before it was public knowledge, however, Dodge and Wickwire apparently approached landowners in and around the area where the new camp would be relocated and bought up their land. In his biography of Borden, Carman Miller writes that according to information tabled in Parliament, Dodge and Wickwire had purchased 640 acres of land in the Kentville area at an average price of $6.20 an acre; this land was subsequently sold to the Militia Department for $20.00 an acre.

Gary Young’s research discovered that Dodge spent most of 1901 to 1905 buying up land that eventually was used for Camp Aldershot. “Was this insider trading?” he asked in an email letter to me, noting that some of this land included an area were the race track used to be and land north of what today is Lanzy Road, all of which today is part of the military camp. “When I was doing deed searches in the old books,” Young wrote, “I saw his name (Dodge) and noted that he got a lot of land around the front of the camp. And when I found out his position, I wondered.”

Of course all of the land purchases could have been above board, even though they presumably were made before the Camp relocation was announced. It should be noted that Young’s research also found that Dodge purchased land in the camp area after it was opened.

On record is a court document (dated March 29, 1906) indicating that land Dodge purchased, some 623 acres, was expropriated by the Crown for the purpose of a rifle range at Camp Aldershot. Dodge sued for compensation. Winning his case, he was awarded compensation to the tune of $22,649, plus interest and part of his costs. Can we assume here that Dodge purchased this land, speculating it might be of future use by the Crown? If he had insider knowledge, this would be a reasonable assumption.

It’s a matter of record that the land purchases made by Dodge and Harry Wickwire, land that became part of the new Camp Aldershot, were deemed “suspicious” and were questioned before Parliament. Such activities, insider trading, political patronage or whatever you call it, apparently were a common practice at one time and often involved high profile political leaders.

Brenton H. Dodge as he appeared when he was Kentville’s mayor in 1893

Brenton H. Dodge as he appeared when he was Kentville’s mayor in 1893. Dodge and some of his political cohorts supposedly were involved in what was termed “suspicious land purchases” involving Camp Aldershot. (Louis Comeau collection).

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