By the tone of a news report in an 1826 spring issue of the Acadian Recorder, people at a recent general meeting in the village, then known as Horton Corner, were in an unhappy mood.
George Chipman, the High Sheriff of Kings County, chaired the meeting. On the agenda, the establishment of a central schoolhouse in the village, was dealt with swiftly by the assembly. We learn from the Acadian Reporter that a large room would be “appropriated (for) the introduction of the Madras system (one teacher and older students teaching the younger ones) and the accommodation of a Sunday School of nearly 70 scholars. It is also contemplated to establish… a public library.”
With the schools and library satisfactorily dealt with, Sheriff Chipman brought up what likely was the actual purpose of the general meeting. “Being at one extremity of the township,” Chipman said in effect, “and having no distinguished name (other than the absurd epithet of Horton Corner) it is suggested that in honor of the memory of the late Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, the village should be called ‘Kentville’.”
“On the crest of a hill, about three miles south of Windsor, there stands the remains of a mansion… not so long ago the scene of many glamorous occasions when it was the home of Col. E. K. S. Butler.”
This quote comes from a report on colonial architecture in the Maritimes by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, published in 1933. The mansion, noted by the Institute to be “weather-scarred and shabby” at the time, is known today by most people as the Martock House (named, says the report, for the village in Somersetshire, England, where the Butler family home used to be).
In effect, the Institutes report is a detailed examination of Martock House and its structure. But besides doing exactly that (even the masonry and shingles are described) commentary on the early history of the site supports local folklore that it has Acadian connections.
It wasn’t all that long ago that insect bites were thought to be best treated with raw onions or mud.
So claims a “sportsman’s encyclopedia” that was published 110 years ago as a guide for “anyone venturing into the woods or into the backyard.” The advice about using mud to cope with insect bites, suggested more than a century ago, seems quaint today; but not that long ago folks believed that in an emergency (no pharmacy nearby) one could get relief from insect bites by daubing them with mud.
The encyclopedia also claims that an effective treatment for a sore throat is bacon or pork, “tied on (the throat) with a dry stocking,” and treating inflamed eyes with raw meat (“bind on and leave overnight”).
I don’t recall hearing about odd treatments like this when I was growing up, but some hints in the encyclopedia for treating minor ailments seem familiar – blowing tobacco smoke in an ear when it’s aching, for example, is one treatment I saw being used.
“It is hard to say how long the book has been in my family, but a reasonable guess would be ten decades,” Larry Keddy said. “I inherited the book from my mother 51 years ago.
“My grandmother’s name is in the book, and I think my mother inherited it from her, sometime around 1932. The book was published in 1903, making it over a century old.”
Keddy is referring to one of several published histories of Nova Scotia, a book that has been around for almost 120 years. The title of the history is “Markland or Nova Scotia”. The title for the book comes from a belief that Norse explorers discovered Nova Scotia around 1000 AD and named it Markland or forest land. It’s questionable that the Norsemen landed here, however, but this name for the province has been perpetuated in literary and historical circles.
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.