WOLFVILLE VS. KENTVILLE – A 19TH CENTURY FEUD (November 17/20)

In 1886 Kentville incorporated as a town. This incorporation and the eventual designation of Kentville as the shiretown apparently didn’t sit well at the time with more than a few county residents. Perhaps the town’s adoption of a crest with a Latin motto was considered as too pretentious. The motto the town adopted reads Magna e parva, which translated literally means great things from a small town.

But there was more to it than the town’s supposedly immodest motto. Apparently, there were “issues” with Kentville assuming the role of the county’s leading town. Which, looking back, is obvious from a letter published three years after the incorporation. The letter dominated the front page of an 1889 June issue of the Wolfville newspaper, The Acadian; the writer of the letter, mixing wit and sly sarcasm, argued that Wolfville was more deserving of the honors bestowed on Kentville.

Reading the letter, I found that the county courthouse, apparently located early on in Wolfville, was to be sold and a new built in Kentville. This may have prompted the letter which began: “At the last meeting of the grand inquest of the county, the jurors presented to the court that it is in their view desirable that the present Court House be sold and a new one erected on some more desirable locality. Now where a more desirable locality could be found in Kentville your correspondent cannot imagine.

“But with their usual exclusiveness, (Kentville) cut themselves free from the canaille (the common people) of the surrounding country, and by petition succeeded in obtaining an act granting the few hundred people residing within their limits all the privileges of a large city.”

There was more.

“Forthwith (Kentville) proceeded to elect a Mayor and six Aldermen, who hold their meetings and transact all business with closed doors, to the utter exclusion of all outsiders except one or two special favourites.” Those special favourites, said the writer, “being barristers of not less than two years standing, yet are allowed… to take a peep at the worthy Mayor and Aldermen in secret session.”

In effect, the letter was a complaint that Wolfville deserved the honors bestowed on Kentville. “Where could be found, within the limits of the county, a more desirable location (for the courts) than the pretty little village of Wolfville, with its beautiful college, handsome churches, (and) navigable river.

“Kentville with its haughty pride and exclusiveness has held the reins long enough,” the letter writer concluded, adding that before construction of the courthouse begins, a strong effort should be made to build it anywhere but in Kentville.

That such a letter was published on the front page of Wolfville’s newspaper is difficult to believe – unless you understand the circumstances that prompted it. A decade or so earlier Wolfville had lost the opportunity to become the headquarters of the railway – apparently because Wolfville wouldn’t make concessions the railway required to build its headquarters there. This was still rankling when Kentville successfully petitioned the government to name it as the shiretown.

Politics may have played a role in moving the courthouse to Kentville and in prompting the editor of The Acadian to publish the letter on its front page. At the time, at least two Kings County newspapers were owned and controlled by the leading political parties, the Liberals and Tories. You’d have to dig deeper than I have to determine if moving the courthouse and granting Kentville shiretown status was a political decision. It likely was.

But no matter what prompted the letter, it illustrates how different life was here in the late 19th century. Can you imagine any newspaper publishing such a letter today one page one?

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