When Heather Davidson wrote a short history of Kentville for the Board of Trade in 1979, She asked why the town prospered after the railway arrived in the Annapolis Valley.
“Why Kentville? Why Here?” Davidson asked in the eight-page booklet on the town’s rise to prominence. This was a good question, but what also could have been asked is why Windsor and Wolfville were eliminated when a site for the railway’s headquarters was being considered.
At the time tracks were laid, compared to Kentville and Wolfville, Windsor was already an advanced mercantile and industrial centre with a substantial residential area. Kentville looked to Windsor, for example, on how to set up a water system for the fledgling town. For a short period, Wolfville was the railway’s headquarters, but only because a temporary office for the supervisor was set up there. In the Dominion Atlantic Railway history, Marguerite Woodworth suggests that Wolfville didn’t have land available to hold the station, roundhouse, machines shops, freight sheds and other sprawling facilities the railway required to operate.
Much like Kentville, Berwick was once a quiet byway in the post-Acadian period with few distinctive features.
However, both towns, in the early days at least, were similar in various ways. What was to become the towns of Berwick and Kentville occupied land granted to the New England settlers who came here, circa 1760, after the expulsion of the Acadians. Both areas are bounded on the north by the Cornwallis River, and both followed similar plans of development after the original land grants were divided and subdivided. And further, both towns prospered after the arrival of the railway and a major expansion of the apple-growing industry.
Berwick may have had the lead over Kentville in developing first as a commercial centre. John Dow, president of the Kings Historical Society, indicated this in a recent talk in Kentville. While it wasn’t the purpose of his presentation – comparing Berwick with Kentville – his talk at the Kentville Historical Society monthly meeting about the early days made the comparison easy.
When Kentville incorporated as a town in 1886 and county warden John King became the first mayor, an immediate problem was making up the by-laws with which the town was to be governed.
This was in the pre-auto age, of course, when hitching rails and watering troughs were common, and many of the early by-laws reflected this fact of life. Bicycles were common as well and the by-laws set strict restrictions on riding them on Kentville streets.
Early on, in 1885, the town set down the by-laws in 125 sections and possibly some of them are still on the books today. On display at the Kentville Historical Society heritage centre is the town’s minute book from the period 1885 to 1904. The by-laws posted in the minute book were eventually published in a separate booklet and this is on exhibit at the centre as well.
“In those towns they will go to those who cannot now afford the care of trained nurses…. Everywhere throughout the country they will go hither and thither,” Lady Ishbel Aberdeen said in 1897, on announcing the formation of the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON).
Within two years of their formation, a team of four VON Canada nurses were in the Yukon where more than 100,000 prospectors were in the field searching for gold. In the same year, in 1898, the VON opened a site in Halifax and five other Canadian cities. Today in Nova Scotia, on its 125th anniversary, the VON operates out of eleven sites from Yarmouth to Sydney.
To mark the 125th anniversary of the VON, an exhibit was set up this spring by the Kentville Historical Society. A highlight of the exhibit was a salute to a pioneering VON nurse who worked out of Wolfville in the 1920s. This was Mary Harry (1894-1937) who went to Wolfville through the recruitment efforts of its prominent, long-time resident physician, Dr Malcolm Elliott.
“I had not intended to place myself in competition… for council,” Leontine Chipman wrote in an advertisement headed ‘To The Electors of the Town of Kentville.’
In the advertisement published in the February 1, 1933, issue of the Advertiser, Chipman wrote that she is not asking people to vote for her. “But if by any chance I find myself in the council again, I will try, as I have done, to realize and act up to (my) responsibilities.”
Despite suggesting people didn’t have to vote for her, Leontine Chipman was elected to a second term on town council (she “won” her first seat by acclamation). Chipman has the distinction of being Kentville’s first-ever female councillor. “Miss Chipman was the only woman councillor sitting on a Nova Scotia Council Board,” the Advertiser noted in an article summing up her political career. “She has rendered invaluable service to the town during her term of service,” the newspaper said. “She first entered the local political arena in 1932.”
In a November issue in 1871, the Halifax Citizen announced the launch of a “handsomely modeled bark (barque) named the Berwick.” The bark came from the shipyard of J. B. Woodworth, of Oak Point (Kingsport) and was built “under the able supervision of (the legendary) Mr. Ebenezer Cox.”
The newspaper announcement also noted that the bark was commissioned by “Messrs. Berteaux & Co.” Charles Berteaux was located in Wolfville for several years, and in shipbuilding annals (in the Minas Basin) his name comes up several times. Apparently, he represented a New York shipping firm that moved into Wolfville about the time the railway was up and running. The shipping firm’s presence in Wolfville was likely due to the town being the railway’s headquarters at the time.
The Halifax Citizen announcement also stated that the Berwick “is to be commanded by Capt. William Ross, who was born in Canning in 1850. Thanks to several stories found in the Halifax Citizen (and other papers) by Phil Vogler, I have some of the Capt. William Ross story, and it’s an interesting one.
At times if the wind was right, when a Dominion Atlantic Railway train pulled into the Kentville station you could hear the locomotive bell clanging at least a kilometre away.
For generations, at stations like Kentville, at crossings, towns and villages along the old DAR line, it was a familiar sound, an iconic sound that in one sense symbolized the railway. People recalling the railway today often speak about the locomotive bells – the locomotives and stations are long gone, the tracks torn up, but the reminiscing more times than not is about how much they remember about the slow, sometimes melancholy chimes of train bells.
Bells were standard equipment on steam locomotives in Canada beginning early in the 19th century – they were obviously necessary at crossings and stations to alert people. Most locomotive bells were made of brass or bronze and could weigh as much as a hundred kilograms. A bell from one of the larger DAR locomotives, housed in a private collection in Port Williams, is estimated to weigh at least 50 kilograms.
The town of Berwick boasts that it is the apple capital of Nova Scotia, a claim partly based perhaps on the fact that major apple growers once were located there.
Looking back, there was a period when Kentville could have made the same claim. This was the time when the railway’s headquarters were in the town, and the railway, with its shipping facilities, spurred the growth of the apple industry. Formed in 1912, the United Fruit Companies of Nova Scotia (later Scotian Gold) had its headquarters in Kentville, another plus that arguably could boost Kentville’s claim to be the apple capital – if Kentville wanted to make this claim, that is.
However, historical writer John DeCoste made it clear in a recent talk in Kentville that another area could also claim to be the apple capital of Nova Scotia. That honour, at one time, belonged to Aylesford.
In the fall of 1958, a Chronicle-Herald columnist using the pen name J. B. King, published a photograph showing a rare railway scene in Kentville.
What was so unusual about the picture? King explained that it “probably (was) the only railway photograph in existence anywhere showing a coal-burner and an authentic wood-burner coupled together in such circumstances.” The fact that coal-burners were on the way out made the photograph even more historic.
The photograph was from the pioneer days of the Windsor & Annapolis Railway, King said, and is believed to be of “the original through express from Annapolis for Halifax.” King noted that the photograph likely wasn’t a shot of the actual first run on New Year’s Day in 1872. “But it could easily double for the event,” he wrote, “as the motive power and rolling stock are identical.”
In September of 1889, what began as a leisurely buggy drive in Halifax eventually led to a “high-speed chase” down the Valley. At least newspapers of the time called it a high-speed chase, perhaps the equivalent today of police pursuing a speedster on the 101 at 250 kilometres an hour.
This doesn’t qualify as historical, but the chase that took place from Halifax to Wolfville gives us a glimpse of law and order in the 19th century. And we may not regard a horse thief evading the law as a high-speed chase. But that’s how newspapers reported it when a Sheriff tried to arrest a gentleman who neglected to return a horse and wagon to a Halifax livery stable – and at the time it was big and exciting news and caused quite a stir.
According to newspapers, the said horse thief, named only as Captain Smith, went sightseeing down the Valley to Windsor, Hantsport and then headed towards Wolfville, all the while pursued madly by various county Sheriffs and constables. After a leisurely drive with a lady friend, Captain Smith picked up a male companion and went on his way to the Valley. He was soon in trouble.