There was a time in Kings County (in the mid-19th century) when potatoes sold for one dollar a bushel. In a letter from Sacramento City, California, written over 100 years ago, Kings County native Henry Starr mentions this bit of trivia.
However, the real purpose in writing the editor of Kentville’s Western Chronicle wasn’t to talk about potato prices. As Starr rambles on in the letter, we find he wants to reminisce about old friends and inquire about their well-being. In doing so, he establishes a tentative, disputed date for the hanging in Kentville that gave Gallows Hill its name.
Starr lived in Kings County for at least 20 years before emigrating – “I left Nova Scotia in 1839 and came to the States when in my twentieth year.” He hailed from a prominent family, the Planter Starrs who received major land grants in Cornwallis and Horton townships when the Acadians were expelled. “I was born on Starr’s Point, Cornwallis,” he wrote, “in the old Starr house that was built one hundred and twenty-five years ago.”
In 1864 the population of Pineo’s Village was in the neighborhood of 30 and most of its citizens made a living on the farm.
Never heard of Pineo’s Village? Well, Hutchinson’s Nova Scotia Directory for 1864-65 has it listed as a community in Kings County. We assume that to be listed in the Directory, Pineo Village must have been a substantial, well-recognized community. A blacksmith, two shoemakers, several carpenters and millers, and a Justice of the Peace resided in the community; as well, there was the mid-19th century equivalent of a post office – a resident, Arawnah (?) Randall, is listed as its way office keeper.
I’ve brought up Pineo Village as one of those curious examples of old Annapolis Valley place names that have mysteriously vanished off the map, existed only on paper (in deeds, for example) or have merged with nearby larger communities. I have in mind Horton Corner, the early name for Kentville, the sleepy little village that, once it prospered, became the bustling shire town of Kings County and changed its name. Then there’s Jackson’s Mill, said to be an earlier unofficial name for Coldbrook but probably existing only on paper. There are also curiosities like Brooklyn Corner, mentioned as a community in old deeds and shown on maps, but existing today mainly in the minds of people who have long memories.
Discovered in an Ottawa violin shop in 2018 – a fiddle showing such fine workmanship that it caught the eye of the shop’s proprietor. Inscribed inside the fiddle was the name of the maker and a date: “William H. Wallace, 1927, Wolfville, NS.” The inscription indicated that the fiddle was the maker’s sixth.
A friend who told me about the discovery of the fiddle’s said the shop’s proprietor, himself a fiddle maker and violinist, was taken with the instrument; so taken that he decided to refurbish it and keep it as his personal violin. Further, said the friend, based on the workmanship and the overall finish of the instrument, its value likely was in the range of two to three thousand dollars.
So, in the 1920s a Wolfville craftsman was making fiddles – violins if you wish – of such excellent quality in the finish and wood that they’re treasured today. My first question on hearing this story was who is William H. Wallace and where was he from?
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.
The day before the virus scare closed walking trails, a friend and I went to the most desolate, windswept cemetery in the Annapolis Valley.
The Horton township poor farm cemetery is on a knoll by the Cornwallis River, less than a kilometre north of Highway 1 in Greenwich. I may be exaggerating about it being windswept and desolate, but that afternoon, at high tide, a cold north wind buffeted the old graveyard, and a low cloud cover added to the cemetery’s gloom.
We were at the graveyard so the friend could see where a distant cousin might have been buried, “sometime around1891, but I’m not sure” he said. “I’m not even sure she’s buried here, but the records that exist sort of point to this place.”
Childless and the last of her immediate line, Esmorilda, the friend’s cousin, had no choice but to move into the poor farm after her husband died in a farm accident. Her situation was typical for many people in a period when social assistance as we know it today didn’t exist. Poor farms usually were a last desperate resort when there were no family members you could turn to.
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.
As stated in our national anthem, my father and his khaki-clad compatriots stood on guard for Canada in World War 1 and in World War 2. In WW1, the first major conflict for Canada, some 620,000 farm boys and girls and city kids answered the call to arms; and as happened again in WW2, many of them found a final resting place in foreign soil.
It is these soldiers, the men and women who answered the call, that we remember and salute on Remembrance Day. Many of these Canadians answered the call in both wars, and my father was one of them. In WW1 he suffered gunshot wounds early on while in the trenches. Later, as a volunteer with the Lord Strathcona Horse, he was wounded again when his mount was shot out from under him. However, he came home, apparently sound of limb and mind, and served his country again in WW2. As an overage soldier in WW2, he spent the wars in an Engineers Regiment at Camp Aldershot.
Since he came home after surviving trench warfare and the cavalry charges of WW1, my father can be considered one of the lucky ones. But was he? Gunshot wounds and bomb blast concussions kept him out of the field for short periods, but a mysterious malady finally put him down for the count and out of action. The Spanish flu, as it was eventually called, left him with a weak heart and he was on a blood thinner the remainder of his days.
Joining the Army in Kentville in 1916, Carl W. Coleman served in France with the Canadian Expeditionary Force until 1919. He was wounded twice, slight wounds that were minor compared to the mysterious malady that almost destroyed him. This is his story, how the Spanish Flu struck the Canadian trenches and was rampant in Nova Scotia when he returned home.
A thigh wound from shrapnel at Vimy didn’t stop him. Later, when he transferred to a Lord Strathcona cavalry unit, being thrown from his horse when a bomb exploded nearby didn’t slow him down either.
What finally put Carl W. Coleman, a Kings County solider of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, into a field hospital was a mysterious ailment sweeping through the trenches, laying low otherwise healthy soldiers. “I was told they almost lost me,” Coleman said years later when he talked about his experiences in WW1. “There was nothing they could do for me. They put me in a tent along with other sick soldiers and just waited to see if I was going to make it.”
No less an authority than a former head archivist notes that some of the people buried in Windsor’s old graveyard “are those prominent in the history of the province.”
So said W. C. Milner who in the 1920s (and perhaps earlier) was the head archivist for the Nova Scotia branch of the Public Archives of Canada. Milne paid this tribute to Windsor in an article called The Wonders of Windsor. This was one of about 70 historical essays Milne wrote and published as a paperback book after he retired to Wolfville in the late 1920s. The collection was first printed as a series in the Wolfville weekly paper, The Acadian.
That some of the most prominent historical figures in the province are buried there makes “Windsor distinguished amongst the towns in the Maritimes,” Milner said in his article. Also, “Windsor early became a social centre – partly as an overflow from Halifax and partly the inducements offered educationally by the location there of King’s College and Academy.”
“It’s a hazard and an eyesore,” a local businessman observed recently about the old Port Williams wharf.
Perhaps so, but the wharf also is historic and at one time it was the lifeblood of the local farming community. In the 1880s potatoes were being shipped out of the wharf to New Brunswick, Boston, and New York. There are records of even earlier shipments of potatoes to New Brunswick, but we don’t know how much earlier since the date when the wharf was first built isn’t known.
Over the decades the wharf was repaired and rebuilt several times. In 1930 the government replaced the old wharf with a 230-foot-long structure, and a 310-foot steamer berth. There came a time, however, when shipments of produce such as potatoes and apples declined due to loss of markets, and apparently the wharf was allowed to deteriorate.