WHO RESEARCHED, WHO WROTE EATON’S KINGS COUNTY HISTORY (February 4/20)

(In a column published last August, the authorship of Eaton’s history was discussed briefly. This follow-up is based on material I’ve discovered since.)

In a letter published in the Berwick Register in 1903, J. Calder Gordon wrote that in a Boston library he had discovered a “valuable manuscript” that was a history of Kings County, Nova Scotia. “Considerable work has been done (on this manuscript) by the late William Pitt Breckin… He had intended publishing it with the aid promised him by the leading people of the county.”

Expanding on what Breckin had accomplished, Gordon noted that the history contained “details of the founding and founders families of the county.” Gordon then advised the public that he was “gathering additional material to complete this valuable work” and would like the co-operation of those “interested in this banner county of Nova Scotia.” The completion of Breckin’s history could only be done from Boston, Gordon said, “as all the colonial records of the founding of the county are here.”

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LARRY KEDDY – ONE MAN’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE SWING BAND ERA (January 21/20)

Occasionally Larry Keddy looks back on the time in his life when he seriously considered becoming a professional drummer.

This was in 1950 and he was about to graduate from Acadia University with a Bachelor of Science degree. While there he had drummed with the University’s renowned dance band, the Acadia Gentlemen of Swing. “This was well into the swing and dance band era. Since high school, I’d been playing with bands and I was leaning towards taking it up full time.”

Instead, Keddy had second thoughts and opted to continue his education by studying towards an engineering degree at the University of New Brunswick; there he continued to drum with local dance bands until graduating in 1957. His degree in civil engineering took Keddy to the Ford Motor Company in Ontario and there he continued to drum in dance bands.

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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.

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REMEMBERING CANADA’S TOP SCOUT – WALTER WOOD (December 17/19)

He earned some of Scout Canada’s highest awards and at one time was the oldest active Scout in Canada. To my surprise, I found him profiled in Wikipedia which notes he is “still known as the oldest Boy Scout in the Commonwealth of Nations.”

In a scouting career that spanned nearly 80 years, Wood influenced the lives of several generations of youths in the Kentville area. He is still well remembered today by countless youths, many of them now seniors, who served with him as scouts.

This was Walter Wood (1876-1981) who arrived in Kentville circa 1908 to sign on with the D.A.R. Walter spent his entire career working as a machinist with the railway. During those railway years and well after he retired, he was active in the scouting movement. When he was saluted in his 90th birthday in The Advertiser, the editor wrote that next to scouting founder Lord Baden-Powell, his name “was almost a byword in the Valley’s scouting movement.”

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NOVA SCOTIA CARIBOU – HOUNDED TO EXTINCTION (December 3/19)

In the spring of 1629, one Richard Guthry marveled that the area around Port Royal abounded in wild game and fish. Oddly, as the unofficial chronicler of the Port Royal settlement, Guthry mentions two game birds that according to biologists, didn’t exist in Nova Scotia at the time – phesents (sic) and wild turkeys.

Now the records show that pheasants were introduced here in the 1900s and Nova Scotia’s climate has always been deemed too inhospitable for wild turkeys. Yet here we have a 17th century historian telling us these game birds were abundant.

It’s a surprise also that Guthry neglects to mention two major game animals found throughout the province in his time – caribou and moose. These game animals were a major food source for the Acadians, thanks to the Mi’kmaq who introduced French settlers to the wildlife harvest there for the taking. So also with the Planters. In accounts about the Planters after the Acadians were booted out, you’ll discover that moose and caribou also were important food sources for them, along with small game animals, waterfowl and fish.

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PIGS IN A PEN – LIVING THROUGH THE WAR YEARS (November 19/19)

In the years leading up to World War 2, many farms in Kings County were still in a transitional period. In other words, horses and oxen were still being used on more than a few farms, along with gas driven machinery.

This meant that when the war was in full swing and gas rationing arrived, some farmers felt its full effect and some obviously didn’t – if you had horses (or oxen) it was an easy matter to put the tractor in the barn and hitch up old Dobbin. However, farming was vital to the war effort, and this meant that townies and non-farmers were hit harder by gas rationing and it was eased somewhat for farmers.

I was eight years away from my teens when war began and almost oblivious of the fact that a world-wide war was soon raging. Not so my grandfather, Joseph Coleman. While he was more of a hobby farmer by the time the war started, gas rationing meant that his tractor was put away and he hitched up his horse. One of my memories of Grampy was him coming down Aldershot Road with his horse and wagon, passing long lines of soldiers on route marches. More than once there were snickers and catcalls.

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Pte GLEN ALLEN OF MELANSON – HIS WARTIME STORY (November 5/19)

In World War 2, late in 1944, Kings County native Pte. Glen Allen, an infantryman with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry was missing during the battle to liberate Holland. Allen’s fate wouldn’t be known for months. Was he wounded and stranded somewhere on the battlefield, a fatality, a prisoner of war? The Canadian military couldn’t provide answers, but a lady did, a Scottish lady who lived over 2,000 miles away from Allen’s home and far from the battlefield. This is Pte. Allen’s wartime story, a story about good arising from Nazi wartime propaganda, and a tale about an amazing connection across the waters.

Midway through 1944 the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) fought their way through Normandy as part of 2nd Canadian Division’s assault on France. In their ranks was a young private from Melanson. He had enlisted in Halifax and after basic training in New Glasgow was posted out of the province to the RHLI, a common practice when regiments were undermanned.

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OLD-TIME NEWSPAPERS, OLD-TIME POLITICS (October 22/19)

In the spring of 1873, a group of Kentville businessmen pooled financial resources, formed a publishing company and started a semi-weekly newspaper. Joseph A. Cogswell, a prominent local printer, was installed as manager and editor of the newspaper, which was given the grandiose name of The Western Chronicle.

This wasn’t the first newspaper published in Kentville, nor was it the first published in Kings County. That honour possibly belongs to the Kings County Gazette, which was published in Canning for a short while starting in 1864. I say “possibly” since various publications that could be called newspapers started around the time the Kings County Gazette appeared; among them were The Acadian in Wolfville and The Star in Berwick.

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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.

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AN HISTORIC FOUR-ROAD INTERSECTION (September 24/19)

It would likely take years of research to dig up and document the historical connections of a unique confluence of roads in Kings County. At this confluence, Upper Church Street, Lanzy Road, Campbell Road, and Oakdene Avenue converge on Highway 341 just north of Kentville. At that point, if two vehicles were driving from the north and from the south on Highway 341, and vehicles on the roads were driving to the highway, it’s possible that all six could meet head on.

All the roads mentioned, including the highway, are historical to some degree. There are Planter and Mi’kmaq connections; at least one of the roads is of Acadian origin and another has connections with Black Nova Scotians.

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