One of my friends tells me his cholesterol level is 3.4. He attributes his low cholesterol to the two teaspoons of flax seed he eats every day. He added flax seed to his diet after reading about its cholesterol lowering power in the prestigious publication called The Lancet, the magazine that labels itself as the international journal of medical science and practice.

Now the friend may have low cholesterol because of the flax seed he eats every day; on the other hand, his cholesterol level may be due to other foods he eats or even hereditary factors. My cholesterol level is also 3.4, for example, and has always been low; yet I have never taken flax seed as a food supplement.

For a long time magazines devoted to healthy eating have been telling us about that fibre lowers cholesterol. I recently read about a study which found that the fibre in kidney beans, pinto beans and psyllium reduced cholesterol dramatically. However, flax seed is said to be even better than the fibre in beans and psyllium and even better than that powerhouse cholesterol killer, oat bran.

Flax seeds are definitely high in fibre and if Lancet, the magazine of medical doctors, vouches for its effect on cholesterol, perhaps we should pay heed. The Lancet can be found on the internet, by the way, and I’m currently scanning their back issues to find the article on flax seed. In the meanwhile, I’ve found other reports about flax seeds that claim it may do more than lower cholesterol.

A recent Swedish study shows that flax is high in lighnan, “a documented anti-cancer agent.” Flax seed is also high in Omega 3, a so-called essential fatty acid that is said to play a key role in keeping our hearts healthy and regulating our immune system. In its Sept. 2, 1991 issue, Time magazine reported that “Linolenic acid (Omega 3) could also be a potential weapon against asthma, arthritis (and) psoriasis.”

The latest issue of Prevention magazine praises flax oil for its beneficial effect on rheumatoid arthritis and mentions studies that show it may “also harbour cholesterol lowering properties.” See page 154 of the December issue which is now on the news-stands.

Flax seed is available in bulk at most natural food stores. However, you may be enjoying its potential health benefits already in the food you are now eating. Many multi-grain and high fibre breads contain flax seeds; they’re those little black seeds that keep popping out on the table whenever you butter a slice of multi-grain bread.

Cereal makers have long recognised that flax seeds are high in fibre and they’re a component of several commercial brands. Is the hot cereal, Brex, still on the grocery store shelves? It is (was) high in flax seeds. Red River Cereal, which can be found in the hot cereal section, also contains flax seeds.

Flax seed may be worth investigating if you’re worried about your cholesterol or if you simply want an effective fibre that keeps you regular. Before you rush about and buy a pound of flax seeds, however, get some authoritative advice on its use. What I’ve written about flax seed here is second and third hand information. Reports on reports (which is what this column on flax seed actually is) often aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.


In 1889, The Advertiser’s sister paper, The Hants Journal, printed an early history of Windsor and area that had been compiled by Henry Youle Hind. The original title of the book was “Sketch of the Old Parish Burying Ground of Windsor, Nova Scotia with an Appeal for its Protection, Ornamentation and Preservation.”

Unless you’re into old cemeteries, this dry, lengthy title could easily turn you off. But don’t be fooled by it. The book is a gold mine for history buffs, especially anyone interested in 17th century and 18th century Hants and Kings County. While the book deals mainly with religious topics, there are so many historical tidbits that is should have been called Glimpses of Early Kings and Hants County, or something along this line.

The misnamed sketch of the old parish burying ground of Windsor was reprinted by Lancelot Press in 1989 and again given an inappropriate title. The book is more than an early history of Windsor. We learn about the Acadians of Kings and Hants County, the Micmacs, the problems faced by the settlers that took upland vacated by the Acadians, and so on. There is even an overview of the province as it was in 1784, which you can find below.

I’ve just finished reading the burying ground sketch and to prove my contention that it’s also a general historical text as well as a book on religions and cemeteries. I’ve picked out some of the more interesting highlights.

In 1826, the average annual death rate tripled and even quadrupled in parts of Hants and Kings when an influenza epidemic swept across North America and into Nova Scotia. From the book: “An unusual mortality occurred during the year 1826 when over four times the number of burials above the average is recorded.” Mention is made of an earlier influenza epidemic (1789) that was also continent-wide.

The dykes break and they broke in 1759, 1828 and 1869. From the book: “This occurred (an unusual number of deaths) during the season in which the dykes were carried away (July 24, 1828). The valuable dyke lands were flooded and the sea came to within a few yards of… the old burying grounds. During the Saxby storm of October 1869, just 110 years after the great inroad of the sea in 1759, a similar incident took place.”

Mentioned in the book are several papers in the British museum, one a “petition from the inhabitants of Kings County and Windsor” asking that the Acadians be allowed to remain in the province. The petition is dated March 23, 1765, and most likely refers to the Acadians who were still being held at Windsor.

This may be explained by the fact that the settlers who took up Acadian land couldn’t cope with repairing and maintaining the vast system of dykes the Acadians had built up. The book presents reasonable evidence that the Acadians who were being held prisoner in Fort Edward were used as labourers on the dykes.

From the book, Nova Scotia as it was in 1784: “Of roads there was only one. Forest paths formed the means of communication inland to remote points… Communication was maintained by boat and canoe with settlements approachable (only) by such means.”


We sometimes tend to think that the current interest in history and genealogy wasn’t shared by previous generations. I was at a meeting recently, for example, and the speaker noted that it was “criminal and a shame that 100 years ago they weren’t interested in saving local items of historical interest. Think of all the valuable papers, records and artifacts we’ve lost,” the speaker said.

Interest is indeed high today in things historical and genealogical; and perhaps more people search for their ancestors nowadays than ever before.

However, the tendency to look upon this interest as a modern trend should be challenged. At the meeting referred to above, the speaker mentioned the invaluable role of the Kings County Historical Society, intimating that the organisation was, relatively speaking, only an infant when compared to similar long-standing groups.

“If only there had been such a keen interest in local history four or five generations ago as there is now,” the speaker said in effect.

I have no idea of the “age” of the historical society, but it’s a myth that previous generations weren’t interested in local history. Evidence to the contrary can be found in the files of Kentville historian Louis Comeau. One piece of evidence is a copy of an article by Rev. Arthur Wentworth Eaton from an 1888 issue of a Kings County newspaper, the New Star.

In the article, Eaton lays out a case for preserving historical artifacts and records.

“Whence came we who now possess this soil?” Eaton asked. “Exactly what are our antecedents? Who are they from whom we have inherited our personal traits and tendencies…? What books (did they) write, what occupations (did they) engage in?”

To answer all these questions, Eaton wrote, means that we must gather historical fact from all available sources, study genealogy, and search out all momentos “from the soil, from the dark corners of dusty garrets, (and the) deep recesses of carefully locked chests or cupboards.” That the author of The History of Kings County was promoting the formation of a historical society nearly 110 years ago is obvious.

“The people of (this area) have themselves suggested the formation of an historical society that may serve as a rallying point,” Eaton wrote, suggesting that the society should preserve old papers, seals, books, Acadian relics, bits of furniture and genealogical sketches.

Was the esteemed Mr. Eaton successful in his promotion of a county historical society?

Also in Louis Comeau’s collection of historical papers is an article dated August 15, 1888, from another Kings County newspaper, the Western Chronicle. The article announces that a historical society had been formed and its aim was the “collection of articles” documents and facts of antiquarian interest… likely to throw light upon I the early history of this county.”

The officers of Kings County’s first historical society read like a who’s who of Kentville: president, Watson Bishop; vice president, John Woodworth; executive committee, B. Webster, R.S. Masters and R. Prat.


“Have you thought about trying Stanton’s Pain Relief?” I said, picking up the cards my brother had dealt me. “The ad said it cures rheumatism as well as colic, chills, sprains, neuralgia, toothache, cramps and sore throat.”

Carl looked at me blankly, “huh?”

“Well, if that doesn’t appeal to you, there’s Dr. Arnold’s English Toxin pills. They should help your sore shoulder; besides that, they’re also a remedy for nervous troubles and all diseases of the kidney and bladder.”

I paused long enough to throw cards into the discard pile. “Now if you had catarrh, canker mouth, diphtheria, and a headache along with your touch of rheumatism, you could try Shiloh’s Catarrh Remedy. The ads for these medicines are in all the papers.”

Carl gave me a puzzled look. “What’ve you been reading?”

“Newspapers,” I said. “The Western Chronicle, The Advertiser and the Orchardist.”

“The only one I get is The Advertiser and I never saw anything in it about Stantons, toxin pills or anything about catarrh or whatever else it was you said.”

“I forgot to mention they’re dated from 1890 to 1919.” I wasn’t popular at the cribbage game that night. Earlier that day I had gone through a stack of old newspapers Kentville collector Louis Comeau has given me. I found a plethora of patent medicine ads offering quick cures for every common ailment known to man. The ads were amusing and during pauses in card playing, I entertained my opponents by quoting some of the more outrageous claims.

“Did you know that in 1909, Minard’s Liniment was being offered as a cure for dandruff and you can still find it on drugstore shelves?” I said during a lull. “And severe ankle sprains could once be cured in three days with Chamberlain’s Pain Balm.”

“Wasn’t there anything in those old papers besides medicine ads?” Carl asked when I held up the deal to tell him about a cure for scrofula and wasting diseases offered in the 1890 Western Chronicle.

“Yeah. According to the October 24, 1910 issue of The Advertiser, the tuition fee at Acadia University was $230. While you’re comparing that to the cost of higher education today, did you ever hear of Gates Certain Check? The ad said it was good for cholera morbus, pains, cramps and dysentery. Or how about Leibigs Fit Cure for falling down diseases?”

A chorus of groans. “Not interested, eh? Well, how about this. Red Rose Tea was on grocery shelves as far back as 1919.”

More groans, but I didn’t give up. “Wrigley’s Gum was being advertised in the 1919 Western Chronicle for five cents a package,” I offered. “There was an ad for Bayer Aspirin in the same issue.”

Silence. “Well, how about these goodies. Sugar was offered for $5 a hundred pounds in 1913. Bananas were 20 cents a dozen and pork was 12 cents a pound.”

When no one spoke I said, “well, how about a house in 1903 Kentville with 14 rooms, large lot and a barn for only $1,600.”

Now that got some interest.


Last fall I used Hutchinson’s 1864-65 Nova Scotia Directory to write a column about Valley people and Valley places as they were in the middle of the last century. In the column I mentioned some of the discoveries I made when reading the directory. The surprising number of people who listed farmer as their occupation, for example. The ratio was something like two-thirds farmers and one third every other occupation.

You may think it odd that someone would derive pleasure from reading a publication some 130 years old that contains nothing but lists of people, occupations, and a few advertisements. However, if you’re interested in local history, the old directory is what book reviewers call a “good read.” I often spend hours pouring over the directory pages and speculating about the names and occupations listed in it.

When the old directory lists Elisha Woodman of New Minas as a shoemaker or Daniel Allen of Long Island as a farmer, for example, I have no problem picturing what the ancestors of the Woodmans and Allens did to earn a living. There are a few conundrums, however. What did a shipjoiner, a shipwright or a wheelwright actually do for a living? And caulker, joiner, house joiner, currier, way office keeper, plasterer, shipsmith, blockmaker. What were these occupations? One can guess at some. A plasterer was probably a mason and a house joiner a carpenter, but the other occupations are puzzlers.

One of the games I play with the directory I call ancestor joining. I look for familiar surnames and speculate about their connection with the shakers and movers of today. In the Halls Harbour, Cornwallis listing, for example, we find the rare surname of Bucknam – John a marine and naval architect and Judson a shipwright. Is one of them the father of the famous Buchnam Pasha or perhaps the great Admiral himself?

Benjamin H. Calkin, listed as a Justice of the Peace and merchant. Is this the founder of T.P. Caulkin Limited which for generations was a Valley institution? Is Ebenezer Cox of Oak Point (Kingsport), who is listed as a shipbuilder, the man who built one of the largest sailing vessels ever to ply these waters? B.W. Chipman, merchant and postmaster. Is he the Chipman of Chipman corner or a close relative? Or would that more logically be the Hon. Samuel Chipman, occupation farmer and a resident in 1864-65 of Church Street?

What about the various Belchers, four of them, listed in the Kings County section. Were they connected with the man prominent enough in his day to have a street named after him? Which Borden listed in Kings County is the father or close relative of the famous Canadian statesman, Sir Frederick William Borden. Five Bordens are listed in the Canard, Cornwallis area as farmers. Or would that honour belong to one of the five Bordens, prominent businessmen of Canning in 1864-65?

The old directory offers possibilities of endless speculation and is a goldmine for amateur genealogists. If you know where your ancestors lived in the middle of the last century you can probably find them listed in the old directory. I found a great uncle who was lost for years, for example, and I can tell you it’s gratifying and assuring when you find proof of your roots.


If I said Charles GD. Roberts was the Canadian Ernest Thompson Seton, this might not mean a thing to people unfamiliar with the former’s nature books. Now Sir Charles G.D. Roberts is something else. He is recognised immediately. A great Canadian poet, a Maritimer with Valley connections who taught for 10 years at Kings college, Windsor, and wrote poems about rural life and the scenery of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

There is another writer named Roberts whom you may not recognise, however. Born in New Brunswick (as was Sir Charles) in 1877, he was a prolific writer of romantic fiction and a minor poet. Between 1900 and 1936, George Edward Theodore Goodridge Roberts wrote over 30 novels, many of which were set in the Atlantic Provinces. His novels and short stories were often woven around historical events and legends of the Micmacs and Acadians.

In his books and short stories, Roberts used Theodore Goodridge Roberts as a byline. When I first came across Robert’s name in articles about the Annapolis Valley in apple blossom festival magazines through the ’40s, I thought I detected some similarity with the work of Sir Charles and I wondered if they were related. To my untrained eye, their topics and writing style were similar.

In 1958, I picked up a book by Theodore Goodridge Roberts called Brother of Peril. In the office one day I showed the book to the Advertiser’s general manager, Frank Burns, and to my surprise I learned that the author had once worked at the newspaper. Burns also confirmed what I had suspected – that Theodore Goodridge and Sir Charles were brothers. There is a bit of mystery here, however, and a note I wrote for my Roberts file explains it.

“Check out what Mr. Burns told me: that Theodore was related to Sir Charles G.D. Roberts. Were they really brothers as Burns said? Theodore worked under Burns at the Advertiser in Kentville for a short period as a reporter and typesetter. In the series of booklets published by the Kings Historical Society (volume 2?) a story on Charles said he had a brother, Goodridge, who died of influenza in 1892. The book I have by Theodore was published in 1905, well after the death of Sir Charles’ brother. Rhodensizer’s Canadian Literature in English gives Theodore Goodridge Roberts’ date of death as 1953.”

There is no doubt that the Roberts who worked at the Advertiser is also the author of the 30-plus novels mentioned in Rhodenizer and the man who penned many Valley-based short stories. Frank Burns recalls discussing Brother of Peril with Roberts and was told the author had written the book over a yearlong period while in Newfoundland. Theodore also told Burns that he was the brother of Sir Charles.

Theodore Goodridge Roberts spent his last years in Digby, where he passed away 43 years ago. Unlike his famous brother, his works are largely forgotten. His romantic novels with a Maritime flavour, his book about the persecution and eventual elimination of Newfoundland’s Beothuk Indians have long been out of print.

When I opened a file on Theodore years ago, I titled it “The Forgotten Roberts” and that was going to be the theme of an eventual column. It took a long time to get around to it and I still don’t know if Theodore was related to Sir Charles.


“Production of electrical energy using the great tidal amplitude of the Bay of Fundy has been considered several times in the past,” write the authors of A Natural History of Kings County.

The “tidal amplitude” the authors mention amounts to a violent twice-daily movement of 10,000 million tonnes of water between Blomidon and the Parrsboro shore. When you view the savage currents that churn past Cape Split on tide changes, one word comes to mind – “awesome.” Watching those spectacular rips, its tidal force to electric energy.

The harnessing of tidal power has received much attention in recent decades and the idea isn’t new to Nova Scotians. I’m not sure if the Fundy tidal project has been shelved or is on hold, but little is heard about it today. The experimental tidal power plant on the Annapolis River, which I thought was the first step toward a larger project on the Fundy, has been operating for over a decade.

As I suggested in the heading, the harnessing of Fundy tides is not a new idea. The first major attempt to harness the Fundy was made in 1916. In that year, the Cape Split Development Company Limited (CSDCL) announced that it had solved the problem of harnessing the Bay of Fundy tides and would supply cheap, unlimited power immediately to the local area and possibly down the road to the entire Maritimes.

This project may have been the brainchild of the then president of Acadia University, George Barton Cutten, and the University Professor of Engineering, R. P. Clarkson. Cutten and Clarkson are listed as president and vice-president of the CSDCL in a prospectus published in 1916. The prospectus announced that “President Cutten and Professor Clarkson of Acadia University have solved the problem of harnessing the Bay of Fundy tides and believe they are able to indicate the means by which cheap power may be furnished.” The means was the Clarkson Current Motor, which Professor Clarkson had invented and patented.

It appears that the CSDCL project was on a more modest scale than the recent plan to place giant dams at the head of the Bay of Fundy. In a nutshell, the plan was to pump seawater from the base of Cape Split to the cliffs above and let gravity create electricity. Here is how the scheme is described in the prospectus:

“These (Clarkson) current motors … will operate pumps located in pump chamber in the channel walls and elevating water to small regulating reservoirs placed on the adjacent high cliffs more than 300 feet above mean tide level. From the reservoirs the water will run by gravity through concrete chutes to the turbines in the power house at the bottom of the cliffs.”

In 1916, the CSDCL announced that a charter had been granted, land had been acquired and some preliminary work had been done on the tidal project. The cost of the project had attracted a number of prominent investors, the list of shareholders in the prospectus reading like a who’s who of the period.

Despite an impressive start, this early dream of harnessing the Fundy was never realised. Like the recent Fundy tidal project, it may have been ahead of its time.


Originating in a boggy area in Black River, the stream the Micmacs once called Cacaquit (swift flowing water) runs easterly and passes through the community of Bishopville.

It is the old road following the meandering Cacaquit from Greenfield and another old road joining it at Bishopville in which I’m interested. I have no proof, but I believe that in the last century, the old roads were traversed by coaches on weekly mail and passenger runs. Looking for evidence of this, I drove over the river road recently and had a stroke of good luck.

At Bishopville, a highway road sign proclaimed that the name of the track running up Grey Mountain in an easterly direction is the Old Coach Road. A resident of the community told me that the road was once traversed by coaches running between Halifax and Annapolis. I was told that after running east and southeast, the old road “comes down out of the hills at Falmouth.” While plainly visible at Bishopville, the road in that area has deteriorated over the years and is now no more than a walking trail.

I congratulated myself for discovering another section of the old coach road. My search for traces of the road has been on going for several years. If I had asked, I’m sure any local historian could tell me where to find the course of the original coach road, but that would’ve taken the fun out of it. It has been more enjoyable following up local legends and hints of the road’s course in various community histories.

I was told, for example, that traces of an old coach road could be found at the head of Sunken Lake. I walked this road recently and it appears that at one time a lot of work was done on it.

Perhaps the road from Sunken Lake to the New Ross Road was, as local legends say, a part of the old coach road. Another piece of this road can be seen along the road at White Rock and people have told me this is a section of the old Annapolis Road, a 19th Century project that was supposed to unite the province from east to west.

The community histories I mentioned tell me the coach road ran from Bishopville down the mountain to Wolfville and then to Kentville. There are hints that the road may have run through communities along the South Mountain behind Wolfville.

That’s what makes my search interesting. In some areas people may be confusing the old coach road with the old Annapolis Road. There definitely was a coach road, but while the Annapolis road was laid out in several areas, it was never completed. One day I’ll have it all sorted out.

As I said, I could make my search easier by checking with historians and any number of the historical references that exist. But If I did I wouldn’t have the experience of walking the old roads along the Hants County border and the southern highlands of Kings County. During my search I’ve visited some of the earliest eastern Valley settlements and talked with ancestors of people who first settled there. This alone has made my search worthwhile and satisfying.


Maggie was the outlaw of our old school and even by today’s standards he was eccentric. He got his nickname because he often stashed jars of maggots in a back pocket of his jeans, carrying them around for days until they were “ripe for fishing.”

Most of the time we ignored Maggie’s odd ways. We forgave his eccentricities because he always knew where to find the best spruce gum and no one made spruce beer as tasty as his.

I’m sure if I mentioned spruce gum to the kids today, they mildest reaction would be horror and disbelief. There was a time, however, when spruce gum was as popular with kids as the treks today to McDonald’s or Pizza Delight.

Even as late as the 50s when I was a teen, spruce gum was a treasured spring treat. We scoured the local woodlots from April to May hoping to collect enough gum to carry us through to fall when the trees would be ready to scrape again. There was a knack to finding the best trees and selecting suitable gum and, as I said, my boyhood chum Maggie was the champion collector of the neighbourhood.

I don’t know how he learned to tell – some said from a Micmac friend – but Maggie always knew when the spruce gum was “ripe” and ready for collecting. Later when he was older, Maggie told me his father had been a lumberjack in the early 1900s in Queens County. From his father Maggie learned to identify the black spruce, which of all the spruces yields the best gum. It was his father who said the gum had to be ripe (at its best for chewing) before being collected and there was even a test to determine if it was ready. “Chew the gum a bit and if it gets a kind of pinkish tinge to it then it’s ripe and ready,” Maggie used to say in his best woodsman guru voice.

After experimenting I found that the gums of other spruces were chewable. I did a project on trees in high school, mentioning Maggie by the way, which is why I’m able to quote him accurately now and write about his expertise. In the project I listed the gums or resins of other trees that I had tried and I included Maggie’s recipe for spruce beer.

Historically, spruce beer was once used to combat scurvy. I don’t think Maggie had scurvy in mind when he boiled spruce twigs and needles, added molasses and yeast cake on toast to start the fermentation process. That beer was terrible stuff so don’t be tempted to try making it, unless of course you suspect you have scurvy. I once foolishly joked that drinking Maggie’s spruce beer was like drinking a Christmas tree, since the smell and taste were similar. Maggie wouldn’t give me another sample until a year later.

I don’t know about spruce beer, but at one time there was a market for spruce gum in the United States. The gathering, cleaning and packing of spruce gum was a spring ritual that brought many scarce dollars to 19th century homesteaders. The resin of the spruce was the first commercial chewing gum in the States and until a chicle-based gum was developed, commercial buyers took all that Nova Scotians could collect.

Commercial gums killed the sale of spruce gum to the States. But even after Wrigley’s saturated the market we still collected and chewed spruce gum. Maggie discovered that it blended nicely with Juicy Fruit.


Praising the automobile and reminding Canadians “how much part and parcel of everyday living the automobile now is, “an institutional ad from the ’30s said there would one day be a car in every driveway and “people would be unable to work and play without this mechanized marvel.”

Those words are stilted and I suppose “thirtyish”, but they were prophetic. Imagine working and playing today without the automobile. We might be able to get along without a “mechanized marvel”, but most of us would find it difficult and most likely impossible.

It wasn’t always that way. Nova Scotians bitterly fought the automobile’s introduction. It’s part of our history few people are familiar with, but there was a time when people actually organised to stop the automobile’s encroachment.

The first automobile arrived in Nova Scotia in 1899. Within a few years, howls of protest over the invasion of the “devil wagon” were heard everywhere. In 1908, terrorised citizens petitioned MLAs for legislation giving every town, city and municipality the right to forbid the operation of automobiles in their boundaries at least several days a week.

It was a close call for the handful of motor vehicle owners who were driving in the province at the time, but the legislation was never passed province-wide – although in some towns and municipalities, automobiles were denied entry on market days. However, the fact that such legislation was seriously debated by the provincial government gives us an idea of how alarmed people were. These excerpts (the first an editorial, the second a letter to the editor) from provincial newspapers in 1908 indicate the level of that alarm:

“Autos were a rich man’s toy and a poor man would be jailed who contrived a devilish machine so constructed that in looks and noise it scared horses, broke wagons, killed people and spread terror among women and children, as it flitted like a ghostly personification of his Satanic Majesty.”

“Our country roads are not fit for automobile travel on the same days that the country people are supposed to go to the market. Automobiles are preventing almost every man, woman and child… from driving on the public roads with horse and wagon.”

The writer of the letter proposed there be “Peoples Days” from Monday to Thursday, “when one could go to the market without none daring to molest or make them afraid by the so-called motor vehicles.” Anyone running a motor vehicle on “Peoples Days” would, after due notice, be subject to being “fined and shot and maybe killed” the writer added.

Looking back today, the objection to the automobile seems absurd, perhaps even paranoid and ridiculous. But put yourself in a farming community at the turn of the century. Life was relatively peaceful and uncomplicated. For generations the horse and oxen had been mainstays. Then along came a clattering, dangerous machine that disrupts a countryside that had been quiet for centuries. People saw the automobile as threatening the very fabric of their lives and they resented it.