KENTVILLE: AN OLDTIME MI’KMAQ VILLAGING PLACE (January 7/20)

“In the Pine Woods and at other spots near Kentville, for many years there were… small, picturesque Micmac encampments,” Eaton writes condescendingly in the History of Kings County.

This quote is found in the section Eaton devoted to the town of Kentville – and it is absolutely incorrect in its inference. Going from boundary to boundary, Eaton reflects on Kentville’s history in this chapter, describing in detail buildings, churches, streets, stores, people and so on. He neglects mentioning that the area now occupied by the town, the swamps, wet areas, its springs, meadows, the Cornwallis River and its smelt brook, were for centuries a Mi’kmaq harvesting grounds.

Turn to the historical writing of Edmond Cogswell, however, and you’ll learn how vital that harvesting ground once was. Cogswell pressed home this point in a series of historical articles published in various Kings County newspapers in the 1880s and 1890s. I’ve quoted Cogswell here before, noting he found many Mi’kmaq and Acadian connections in Kentville. He speculates, for example, that the Acadians may have had a footbridge at the Kentville ford, and it was by a ford used for centuries by the Mi’kmaq. Below the ford, which is about where the Kentville bridge is today, Cogswell said that even in his time, evidence could be found indicating it was an ancient Mi’kmaq summer camp.

The Cornwallis River once had tremendous salmon runs and this Cogswell writes is the prime reason Kentville was an important camping area for the Mi’kmaq. “Kentville was a desirable villaging place for the [Mi’kmaq]” due to the great run of salmon, Cogswell wrote.

Another place inside today’s town limits vital to the Mi’kmaq was the smelting grounds along the stream that runs under East Main Street and empties into the Cornwallis River. Cogswell writes that in old times “the smelts came in such immense quantities, just at springtime, when other food was hardly available for the Mi’kmaq.”

Another area favoured by the Mi’kmaq were the meadows on the west edge of the town. Cogswell calls the meadows “a great eel ground” of the Mi’kmaq. “Natives also speared salmon on the meadow waters and could often be seen in their canoes at night with torches and bows.” And, Cogswell added, those meadows were a “great rendezvous of migrating ducks and geese,” of which the Mi’kmaq took advantage.

Eaton never mentioned these great Mi’kmaq fishing and hunting grounds which practically were in downtown Kentville. Instead, he belittled the Mi’kmaq, writing that “in pointed, smoky, birch-bark covered wigwams these simple sons of the forest and their families lived. They made baskets which they sold in the town, hunted in the woods, fished in the lakes and streams, and were always glad to accept of broken bread at the townspeople’s doors.”

Contrast this with what Edmond Cogswell said of the Mi’kmaq: “The salmon and the smelt the Mi’kmaq depended on have been destroyed by indiscriminate slaughter, the geese and ducks driven away, and their campfires no longer gleam on the rising grounds near the smelt brook nor at the old ford. We have killed the Mi’kmaq’s fish, shot his moose and caribou, cut down the woods and given him in return Christianity, rum and the smallpox.”

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