CORNWALLIS STREET – A ROAD OF MANY COLORS (December 15/20)

The road leads into the resource-rich Cornwallis Valley around Kentville and running north winds up at the Bay of Fundy. We call the road Cornwallis Street today. It first was a Mi’kmaq trail, and then a road used by the Acadians. Eventually it became the main thoroughfare connecting Kentville with all the villages, communities, ports, fishing grounds and farmland to the north of its boundaries.

Cornwallis Street likely came into existence naturally, meaning its terrain offered an easy course to Mi’kmaq fishing and hunting grounds in and around Kentville. Writing in county newspapers in the 1890s, Edmond J. Cogswell noted that the Kentville brook and the bird sanctuary immediately west of the town once were prime Mi’kmaq fishing and hunting grounds. Over the centuries the Mi’kmaq used the trail that became Cornwallis Street to reach these grounds.

Named after the now much-maligned Edward Cornwallis, this is a street of many colors – historic in one sense because of its Mi’kmaq and Acadian connections, and historic because any history written about Kentville would have to mention that its early name is connected to a town landmark, Gallows Hill.

A book about this area (titled The Evangeline Book) was published by an American writer in the 19th century. A photograph collected for the book indicates that Cornwallis Street was a gravel road circa 1880. Gaspereau historian Chris Gertridge, who has a copy of the book in his collection, showed me the photograph via email, and it presents an interesting view of Cornwallis Street as it was between 1879 and 1890.

In the photograph the pine stand said to be a Mi’kmaq summer camp can still be seen. Today, Wade Street and Prince Street take up much of this area. There were only a few houses along the road at that time and a large residence stood at the corner where Elmer’s Lunch eventually was built in 1939. The site is still occupied by a restaurant.

No one, not even Kentville historian Louis Comeau, knows for sure when the Mi’kmaq trail/Acadian road became Cornwallis Street. Comeau does say that Cornwallis Street can be found in a list of Kentville roads made up in 1905. Reading the essays Edmond Cogswell wrote, I found that part of Cornwallis Street once was called Joe Bell Hill Road and Joe Bell Road. Gary Young, a contemporary historian originally from Kentville, also found that Cornwallis Street once was called Joe Bell Road and this name was in common use. Young’s research revealed that the name was associated with a long-time resident of the road, known as Joe Bell. Edmond Cogswell reached the same conclusion.

For the record, Cornwallis Street is referred to in some old deeds as the Cornwallis Road, the road running from Horton township into Cornwallis township. Louis Comeau tells me that at one time the road running past the old Red Store (Cornwallis Street today) was referred to simply as the road to Cornwallis (township). This suggests how the name for the street came about.

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