BOOT ISLAND – IS THERE A MYSTERY? (October 10/97)

A reader once asked me about the correct spelling of Boot Island, observing that she had seen several versions of the name in print. She wondered if Boot Island is only a commonly used colloquialism and if it actually had an official name.

After being stranded there on a stormy, bitterly cold night in November over 30 years ago, Boot Island has a special fascination for me. As a result of that misadventure I started a file that I call Boot Island Info. Anything about the Island that I came across went into the file, which really was no more than a haphazardly collected, totally unorganized folder with bits and pieces of information.

Boot Island apparently is a corruption of the French name for the area, which wasn’t an island when it was so named, and it has been spelled in various ways – Bout, Boute and Beaute, for example. There may be a Boot Island mystery, the Island may have held a sheep ranch and it apparently was the home of a fox farming enterprise. These and other tidbits are in my folder but let’s look first at the origin of the Island’s name.

The old maps of the Minas Basin indicate that in the 18th century Boot Island was part of the mainland and was a prominent island-like point. The French name for this area was L’Isle au Bout. In his booklet on Kings County place names, Watson Kirkconnell says this translates in “the island at the end (of Long Island in the Grand Pre area).” Upon hearing the Acadians pronounce the name of the area, it was a simple matter for the Planters to start calling it Boot Island.

Boot Island was occupied at one time. I was told that the Dewolfe family once owned island the Boot and farmed there but was unable to confirm this. However, Wolfville native Gordon Hansford says that the Leon Card family farmed on the Boot in the 30s and were the last people to live there. Mr. Card and his ox team were a familiar sight around Wolfville. Card brought the oxen from the Boot into town to sell produce, walking backward coming and going with the team.

According to Hansford, Mr. Card operated a registered fox farm on Boot Island and lived there for about a quarter-century. Gordon tells me that in the files at Kings Courthouse Museum is a certificate for the Boot Island Fox Farm Company.

Nowadays Boot Island is a lonely, almost barren wildlife refuge that is slowly and surely being destroyed by the Minas Basin tides. Kentville owes it crow invasion to the destruction of the Island. At one time an estimated 25,000 crows roosted on the Boot. The dispersal of this roost by natural forces hasn’t made Kentville taxpayers happy.

Is there a Boot Island mystery?

The late Hants County author, Edith Mosher, said there is. When I corresponded with Ms. Mosher in the fall of 1996 about a wartime tragedy she asked me if was familiar with the “Boot Island Mystery.” Later, in a telephone conversation, I asked Ms. Mosher about the mystery and she promised to write and send a copy of her research on this subject which would be a topic in an upcoming book.

I never received that letter. Ms. Mosher passed away that year before she could write. Since then I have asked many people if they were familiar with the Boot Island Mystery. All replies have been in the negative.

OLD ACADIAN MILLS AND CELLARS (October 3/97)

While using the stretch of highway between downtown Kentville and the New Minas malls, countless people have unknowingly driven past an interesting Acadian site. And perhaps no more than a handful of people were aware the mill ever existed until its approximate location was mentioned in a locally published book.

Hundreds of years ago the Acadians built a mill on Elderkin Brook, which passes under the #1 highway just beyond Wickwire Hill. While I’ve been unable to locate its exact site – blame my limited historical references – local folklore has it that the mill sat near the highway and was powered by the daily tides which at one time flooded the brook hollow.

As I said, at one time only a few people knew the Acadians had a tidal mill between Kentville and New Minas. With the publication of a book on natural history, this was no longer the case. The Blomidon Naturalist’s Society (BNS) natural history of Kings County mentions the tidal mill in the chapter on the Acadians.

This book confirms another local folk tale about Acadian windmills. The late local historian, Ernest Eaton, once told me the Acadians may have had several windmills in the high ground area between Canard and Belcher Street. Mr. Eaton said that through his research he believed he had located at least one windmill site but he could find no concrete evidence to confirm his findings. The BNS book mentions a possible Acadian windmill on the high ground at Church Street, which is the only reference in print that I’ve come across.

Acadian cellars are also mentioned in the BNS history. Ernest Eaton told me about the old cellars which were scattered through the Canard, Upper Dyke area. This area was not as heavily settled as Grand Pre. The Acadians built homes near the Canard River and at Upper Dyke where some of the first dykes in the area were started. Mr. Eaton offered to point out the location of some of these cellars and dyke works in the early 50s but I was more interested in the hunting and fishing on his land at the time.  When I asked Eaton about the cellars 20 years later he lamented that they had been destroyed by farming and were now only pinpoints on his maps.

It’s unusual to find Acadian history in a book on natural history. However, the BNS book has many references to the Acadians and there’s an obvious explanation. The Acadians introduced a number of plants to this area, some of which are now common. And obviously the flora and fauna of this region has been influenced by the Acadian trademark, the dykes. Writing a natural history of this area without mentioning the Acadians would be impossible.

While I regretfully passed up the opportunity to see the site of Acadian homesteads, Ernest Eaton told me where several were located. Surprisingly, some sites were well inland away from the marshes and waterways. Eaton told me a couple of Acadian cellars were visible at one time just south of Gibson Woods on land adjacent to the federal research station.

Several historians, Mr. Eaton included, mention an Acadian mill on the Cornwallis River, downstream from the bridge a stone’s throw from the heart of the business district. Eaton said Acadian cellars were visible in the 30s across the Cornwallis along the northern edge of Kentville. According to Eaton, some of the first homes built in Kentville after the Expulsion were constructed on Acadian homestead sites. Some Kentville homes still stand on these old sites, Eaton said.

 

KENTVILLE’S “FAMOUS” WATERFALL SITE (September 26/97)

I haven’t seen a copy of what a reviewer called a “trusty guide to Nova Scotia waterfalls” so I don’t know if Kentville’s cascades are mentioned in this book.

One of these waterfalls can be found in the research station vault at the eastern end of the town. While perhaps not truly a waterfall, this cataract spills down a cleft in an ancient ravine that contains trees over 200 years old. While relatively diminutive and not as spectacular as, say, the falls in Truro’s Victoria Park, the waterfall in the research station ravine attracts hundreds of sightseers every year.

Much more famous because it was once visited and written about by a famous Nova Scotian and captured at its peak by a famous photographer is the so-called “Kentville Waterfall.” First of all this is a misnomer since the waterfall lies well outside Kentville’s town limits. However, Joseph Howe designated this spectacular little cascade the “Kentville Waterfall” when he wrote his travel sketches over 150 years ago and it has remained so ever since.

Around the turn of the century the noted recorder of old Valley scenes, A.L. Hardy, perpetuated Howe’s error with a photograph of the cataract which he titled “Kentville Waterfall.” Local newspapers which reproduced occasionally Hardy’s photograph in the 30s and as recently as the 60s also perpetuated this error, placing the waterfall in Kentville.

While the “Kentville Waterfall” is not in Kentville and on a scale of one to 10 probably only rates a five or six, it may be one of the best known cascades in Nova Scotia. Thanks for this can be given to Joseph Howe who in his Travel Sketches of Nova Scotia, published between 1828 and 1831, probably gave the waterfall more publicity than it deserved.

That Howe was impressed by the waterfall is an understatement. “There is a wildness and singularity in the whole scene that nothing can surpass,” he said of the falls and the ravine it catapulted through. And it is an ideal place for a hermit’s retreat he said in conclusion, “where his evening hymn might mingle with the falling waters, and his knee bend in adoration of him whose power and beauty was ever before his eyes.”

Besides the poetic note quoted, Howe devoted several paragraphs to a description of the waterfalls and the area around it. I suspect the falls had more volume in Howe’s day and when A.L. Hardy wandered up the ravine with his camera, but the “wildness and singularity” are still there. In fact, there are people who believe the waterfall and the ravine deserve to be made into a park so everyone can enjoy the wild beauty of the area.

I would guess that the waterfall Joseph Howe fell in love with lies less than a kilometre south of Kentville’s town limits. By following Chester Avenue and turning east beside the 101 overpass, you can find the stream that flows from the falls. It’s a rough walk up the stream to the falls but the sight of the falls is worth the effort.

The waterfall can be reached quickly by turning on the 101 at Chester Avenue and driving east. From the Chester Avenue exit the highway climbs steeply and at its peak is the stream that feeds the falls. From this point the waterfall is only a short distance downstream.

MINARD’S SECRET RECIPE REVEALED (September 19/97)

While I was in Yarmouth recently digging out material for the Minard’s story I heard several tales about the potency of the liniment. “The smell of the liniment was so strong,” one Yarmouth man said, “that people working downwind from the Minard’s plant never caught a cold.”

Minard’s was strong stuff and I have no idea how my father could drink it straight from the bottle, which I saw him do when I was a boy. I haven’t used Minard’s for at least 40 years but I can still remember its ammonia-like odor and its potency. Too strong a whiff gave you a sharp, jolting pain that reached deep into your sinuses and immediately cleared them. Minard’s applied liberally to sore muscles or joints left a lingering warmth and a lingering odor that was evident several meters away. It wasn’t an offensive odor but you definitely knew someone was using it.

I suggested in a previous column that Dr. Levi Minard may have invented his famous liniment or there was the possibility he simply discovered a good local recipe and decided to bottle it. One story from Yarmouth is that a family there has the original Minard’s formula. Handed down through three generations, the story goes, is a handwritten recipe for a product called Ferguson’s Liniment. The man who invented and at one time bottled and marketed Ferguson’s Liniment is said to have worked for Dr. Minard. This man passed his recipe on to relatives in Yarmouth and they have always wondered if this was the original formula that Minard made famous.

Belle Hatfield, the assistant editor of Yarmouth’s weekly Vanguard, wrote a story about Minard’s 12 years ago mentioning Ferguson’s recipe. Apparently the recipe was shown to Minard’s chief chemist and he admitted it was as close to the original formula as you could get. This admission lends credence to the story that Dr. Minard saw a good thing in the Ferguson liniment and decided go commercial with it.

Hatfield printed the Ferguson formula in her article (Atlantic Insight, October 1985) and it was touted as the original Minard’s recipe, which has been a secret for over 100 years. If Ferguson’s formula does contain the same ingredients as Minard’s, there’s an explanation for the latter’s potent, head-clearing odor. Some of the ingredients listed in the article were spirit of turpentine, liquid ammonia, salt of ammonia and gum of camphor.

I mentioned in the previous column that Minard’s originally claimed to be effective in treating scores of complaints in humans and animals. The old Minard’s label said the liniment could be used for “relief of minor rheumatic pains, common ordinary sore throat, neuralgia, sciatica, false or spasmatic croup. hoarseness, bronchitis, toothache, earache, headache, burns” and various bites, boils, sores, wounds, bruises and contractions. The list of animal ailments Minard’s once treated were impressive – colic, coughs, “galls of all kinds,” and a variety of hoof, foot and teat ailments.

Minard’s make no such claims today. The packaging has been modernized and sanitized and comes with suggestions that one uses it only for stiff, sore muscles and a few aches, sprains and strains, including “muscular athletic pain.” No mention is made that Minard’s can be taken internally, but that hasn’t deterred the people who still sweetening it up and swallow it as tonic.

THE ORIGIN OF COUNTY PLACE NAMES (September 12/97)

“The river up which the fish went to spawn was called by the Acadians the river of the gasparot and the name carried over into the English regime,” Esther Clark Wright said in Blomidon Rose.

While this revelation explains the origin of at least one Valley place name, to me it implies that the Acadians had little imagination. Even less imaginative were the Horton settlers who took up the land vacated by the Acadians. The Planters, following the Acadian’s example, applied the name of the “gasparot” to a river, a village on its banks, the valley the river flowed through and a lake at its headwaters. Thus we have the redundant Gaspereau River, Gaspereau Village, Gaspereau Valley and Gaspereau Lake.

The Planters adopted other Acadian place names – Melanson, Pereau, Canard and Grand Pre immediately come to mind – either because they found it convenient, were preoccupied with the serious business of carving out a living in a new land, or had the same lack of imagination as their predecessors.

Whatever the reasons, the early Annapolis Valley settlers cheerfully saddled us with many dull, dreary, run-of-the-mill, unimaginative place names. It seems as if our ancestors couldn’t be bothered to think, for example, when they used geographical features to name places such as Black Rock, Black River, Blackhole, Whiterock, Coldbrook, Upper Dyke, Greenfield and Whitewaters. In some cases the Planters seem to have simply brought place names with them from New England. Kings County has at least 24 according to Watson Kirkconnell in his 1971 study of place name origins. Alton (North and South), Cambridge, Kingston, Greenwich, Brooklyn and Weston are prime examples. All are established and often used place names in the areas from which the Planters came.

Another unimaginative Planter method of establishing place names – a method also extensively used by later settlers – was to name areas after prominent families. Thus today we have Billtown, Bishopville, Starr’s Point, Chipman Corner, Wallbrook, Lockhartville, Porters Point and Sheffield Mills, which come from Planter surnames. And Baxter’s Harbor, Morden, Lake Paul, Northville and Welton, which are United Empire Loyalist surnames.

In the study mentioned above, Watson Kirkconnell lamented the fact that in Kings County we have no surviving Micmac place names and only a few place names of Scottish, Irish and Acadian origin. Kirkconnell concluded that the majority of our place names came directly from New England Planters and the Loyalists.

Kirkconnell gives us a host of Micmac place names and in many cases they seem preferable to many of the mundane appellations used today. What place name would you prefer? Penooek or Kentville? Mtaban or Wolfville? Starr’s Point or Nesoogwitk? Long Island or Mesadek? Cape Split or Plekteok? Cornwallis River or the Chijekwtook River? Boot Island or Kadebunegek? Gaspereau Lake or Pasedoock? Delhaven or Upkowegun?

What magic and mystery in these old Micmacs place names! And in contrast, how dull and ordinary the place names commonly used today.

“KING OF PAIN” HAD VALLEY ROOTS (September 5/97)

Medical practitioners were scarce in rural Nova Scotia during the 1800s and while waiting for the doctor to arrive, people often treated ailments with home-made remedies. One of those home concoctions, a liniment used liberally on man and beast, was dispensed by Dr. Levi Minard while making his rounds in Hants County in the 1860s. His liniment may have been based on an old, commonly used recipe or possibly Minard invented it himself. But whatever its origin, the preparation Minard used to treat minor ailments received glowing reports from his patients. “Dr. Minard knew he was on to something worthwhile,” a 1917 newspaper story said, “when people started to ask for his liniment.”

Dr. Minard practiced from his residence in Brooklyn and from there in the 1860s – the records are hazy about the exact year – he began to market the liniment that for over 100 years was used to treat a host of human and farm animal maladies. “His efforts were crowned with a measure of success,” the Busy East reported in 1917, “the fame of Minard’s gradually spreading (throughout the Maritimes).”

While Minard’s is synonymous with Yarmouth, where it was produced for over 60 years on Jenkins Street until 1967 when the plant was moved to Ontario, the liniment has Annapolis Valley roots. For over a decade Minard’s Liniment was bottled in Hantsport. After establishing solid markets in the Atlantic Provinces and Newfoundland, Minard sold the manufacturing rights to his liniment to his son-in-law, W. J. Nelson. In 1886 the plant was moved to Bridgewater. After changing hands several times, two Yarmouth men took over production, moving the plant to the seaside town in 1905.

From its Yarmouth base the sale of Minard’s Liniment boomed, thanks to an advertising campaign devised by its new owners with an assist from the future Lord Beaverbrook, who was probably a shareholder. The plan was simple: make Minard’s synonymous with the relief of pain. By 1916 Minard’s Liniment ads were appearing regularly in over 800 billboards and newspapers across Canada. Sales in 1905 were 310,000 bottles; by 1916 nearly 700,000 bottles of Minard’s Liniment were being sold annually.

The pharmaceutical company that purchased Minard’s and moved it to Ontario said in 1985 that current sales make the 700,000 bottles sold in 1916 look like a drop in the bucket. In other words, Minard’s is still a popular over-the-counter remedy and it must be effective or people would stop buying it. Sentiment for an old liniment wouldn’t keep it on the market.

Dr. Minard, who prepared his liniment from a formula that is still secret, would be pleased to hear this. However, it seems odd that a preparation originally made as a treatment for both humans and livestock would last as long as it did. Some 90 years ago Minard’s made fantastic curative claims in their advertising. Touted as the “king of pain”, Minard’s claimed to be a cure-all for over 30 human ailments – and at least 15 afflictions common to horses, cattle, sheep and dogs.

Minard’s probably isn’t carried in veterinary bags nowadays, but people still sniff the liniment and rub it on chest and limbs. Maritimers, the greatest users today, still take Minard’s by the spoonful for colds, flu and spring pick-me-ups, mixing it with molasses or honey I’m told to make it palatable.

PHOTO A MINI HISTORY OF KENTVILLE (August 29/97)

While to me it was only a turn of the century photograph of Kentville and one of its first hotels, to the eye of the expert the picture said a lot about the town’s early days.

But I really shouldn’t have said it was “only” a photograph. Leon Barron, who collects railroad and marine memorabilia, cherishes the picture he discovered in Parrsboro because of what it reveals. The 1905 scene showing the three-storey Hotel Aberdeen and the railroad fleshes out some of the historical data he has collected on Kentville. “Look, that’s the remains of the big sandbank that blocked the northern edge of the town,” he said as we sat at his kitchen table looking at the photograph. “They started to remove the bank in the 1890s using horses and oxen and the sand they took out of it was used to make River Street. Those flatcars on the tracks have the D.A.R. logo on them – which helps date the photo since the D.A.R. was incorporated in 1895. That’s the freight shed on the left. The station would be to the left of the shed just out of the picture.”

Leon’s description of a picture that was taken by an unknown photographer captured what is in essence a miniature history lesson. Once Leon showed me what to look for, I was amazed by the tale told by the picture. Even more amazing was Leon’s detailed telling of that tale.

Prominent in the photograph is the Hotel Aberdeen. “That was built in 1892 by Daniel McLeod. It was one of the finest at the time and may have been the third or fourth hotel in town,” Leon said. “Almost 50 years after the railroad arrived in Kentville the D.A.R. bought the Aberdeen, fixed it up and renamed it the Cornwallis Inn. I believe the Aberdeen was torn down right after the current Cornwallis Inn was completed in 1930.”

If you stand in the center of Aberdeen Street today, facing north at the lights with the Royal Bank and the Macdonald-Chisholm building on your right and left, you would be looking directly at the site of the old Aberdeen (now occupied by Robinson Supplies and Clevelands). From that point in 1905 you could see a sign on the left facade proclaiming that the Union Bank of Halifax was quartered there. “The Union Bank joined the Royal Bank, probably not long after this picture was taken,” Leon said. “The Royal Bank building will be built right there in 1919,” he added, indicating a point in the photo near the Aberdeen close to the Royal’s current site.

The corner of the Lyons Hotel is visible on the left of the photo and Leon told me it was built around 1875 on the site of the present Macdonald-Chisholm building. “It was called the Webster House at one time,” Leon said, added that it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. James Lyons operated the hotel until 1887 when he sold it to Daniel McLeod, the man who later built the Hotel Aberdeen.

Horses hitched to two-wheeled wagons stand placidly near the front of the Hotel Aberdeen. Several unidentified people, the women in the long dark dresses that were fashionable at the time, stroll along a sidewalk near the hotel, giving the impression that life in 1905 Kentville was leisurely and less hectic than it is today.

A WEED BY ANY OTHER NAME (August 22/97)

“There are so many bad things in the world that I have no power to get rid of, but I can pull up weeds and feel I am doing at least a little to make the world more beautiful.”

This quote from a recent column by Annie Bird illustrates explicitly the attitude most people have when it comes to weeds. The obvious inference is that weeds are a blight, while flowers and vegetables are a blessing. Or as George Orwell might have put it if he had written a gardening book, vegetables and flowers good, weeds bad.

With apologies to an excellent columnist, I must differ with Ms. Bird regarding the inference in her quote. In defense of weeds, not all of them are “bad.” As I’ve pointed out in this column before, many weeds are useful and in some instances are of great value to us.

But first we should ask, exactly what is a weed? A loose but reasonable definition is that any plant growing where it is not wanted is a weed. Agriculture Canada is specific about this, defining a weed as a “plant that grows where man does not want it to grow.” According to this definition, a rare, endangered plant flowering in the middle of several acres of sweet corn or a commercial strawberry field could be considered a weed and eradicated.

While I’ve exaggerated to make a point, weeds are simply unwanted growths, especially if they compete with food crops or threaten to replace or compete with plants favored for their aesthetic value. Before it was brought here for the purpose of beautifying our landscape, for example, that scourge of homeowners, the dandelion, was once a treasured flower in its homeland.

As for weeds being useful, we eat them, drink them, take them with medicine and vitamin supplements and even smoke them. The various species of evening primrose are a prime example. Evening primrose is listed in Weeds of Canada and Weeds of Nova Scotia and it is rightfully an unwanted species where it competes with food crops.

However, the people at research laboratories, such as Efamol in Kentville, could tell you a different story about the oil extracted from the seeds of evening primrose. Check the health manuals and read all the good things they say about this oil. Look no farther than the local drugstore, where evening primrose oil is sold as a supplement and its health benefits are spelled out in handout brochures.

In the same store you will also find chamomile in supplemental form – and you can get it as an herbal drink at Tim Hortons, by the way. Chamomile is one of about 500 plants designated as unwanted growths in Weeds of Canada and is among the 100 or so weeds designated as enemies in Weeds of Nova Scotia.

While it is a weed here, Chamomile has been cultivated in Europe for centuries and used in teas and vitamins for its health benefits. A number of other plants designated as weeds – pigweed, milkweed and St. John’s Wort, for example – may also have health benefits and may even be of use in combating cancer and AIDS.

My favorite weed is chicory. Two government publications list chicory as a “noxious weed,” yet I drink it every day. A weed by any other name, in other words, is not always a weed.

THE REBUSES – A SUMMER QUIZ (August 15/97)

For the most part, I dabble in lighthearted stuff, trivia and local history for example, leaving the serious topics to the heavyweights of column writing. Thus I was surprised – and amused – when a reader wrote to pick apart a column that mentioned the price of food and clothing 60 years ago. What I should have done, the writer said in a castigating tone, was indulge in (heaven forbid) serious journalism and compare the buying power of the dollar now and in the ’30s.

In contrast, another reader telephoned to tell me how much she and her friends enjoyed the column and were looking forward to more like it. Like most readers, the caller accepts this column for what it is – entertainment, pure and simple.

Questioning the intelligence of readers by stating the obvious – that in 1934, for example, a $5 pair of pants costs $60 today – isn’t the purpose of this column. On the other hand, entertaining readers and testing the reasoning power at the same time is cricket. Starting with my favorite type of puzzle, the rebus, here’s a light summer quiz. I hope you find it entertaining and a bit of a strain on your brain. But no nasty letters please if you have any difficulty working everything out.

The rebus is a kind of visual pun where words or phrases are represented by pictures of letters. For example AALLLL translates into the well-known phrase “all in all.” Now, try your hand at the following, covering the answers first.

  1. GEGS (A kind of food);
  2. Some common phrases) DEATH/LIFE; poFISHnd; COF FEE; LA BOR; HOU SE; TIASTITCHME; DOTHEPE; HE/HIMSELF; All/word.

Answers:

  1. Scrambled eggs.
  2. Life after death; a big fish in a small pond; coffee break; division of labor; a house divided; a stitch in time; the inside dope; he’s beside himself; it’s a small wonder after all.

Read the following sentence once, and only once slowly, counting the number of F’s: FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY. How many F’s did you find? Answer- Five. Most people only get three.

Read this nursery rhyme and then figure out the question posed in the last line: As I was going to St. Ives/I met a man with seven wives/Every wife had seven sacks/Every sack had seven cats/Every cat has seven kits/Kits, cats, sacks, wives/How many were going to St. Ives?

Did you fall into this language trap by multiplying 7 times 7 times 7 times 7 and adding one for the man? The answer is one. Only the speaker was going to St. Ives. The man, wives, sacks, cats, etc., were going from St. Ives.

Here are some proverbs that have been garbled up a bit with pompous words. Translate them into the more familiar form.

  1. The temperance of the aqueous content of a metallic receptacle under unremitting surveillance does not attain its level of evaporation.
  2. Freedom from incrustations of grime is contiguous to rectitude.
  3. Pulchritude reposed within the optic parameters of the receiver.
  4. Persons deficient in judgement hasten to undertake that for which winged celestials hesitate to assume responsibility.

Answers:

  1. A watched pot never boils.
  2. Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  3. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
  4. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

THE CORNWALLIS -A BOOK OF ITS OWN (August 8/97)

In last week’s column I suggested that a history of the Cornwallis River should be written, arguing this point with excerpts about the river from historical and contemporary sources. Esther Clark Wright said it best when she wrote that the river should have a book of its own. Where in Nova Scotia, for example, is there a river more diverse, historically and biologically, than the Cornwallis? But for the fact that four other adjacent rivers similar to the Cornwallis flow into the Minas Basin, it would be unique.

Anyway, to continue my argument on the historical importance of the river – and perhaps to prove its physical “uniqueness” – here are more quotes from written sources and some personal reflections.

“Visitors to this region are amazed to watch the Cornwallis River at Port Williams, not much more than a trickle at low tide, rise to become capable of floating cargo ships on the high tide,” – A Natural History of Kings County. Tides at the mouth of the Cornwallis at Port Williams and the Minas Basin into which it empties are believed to be the highest in the world.

“Settlement of ‘Minas’ (by the Acadians) began about 1680. J.F. Herbin says that ‘Minas’ included all lands bordering on Gaspereau, Grand Habitant (the Cornwallis River), Canard, Petit Habitant and Pereau River west to Kentville.” – The Port Remembers.

“Kentville owes its location, says a recent writer, to the enormous sandbank which here narrowed the (Cornwallis) River and made a convenient place for a ford at low tide, and later for a bridge. Thus, naturally, a village sprang up here.” – Eaton’s History of Kings County.

The “recent writer” referred to by Eaton was E.J. Cogswell, who compiled a history of Kentville in 1895. In his unpublished manuscript, Cogswell stressed the importance of the Cornwallis River in the formation of the Shiretown: “It had no Indian name (the site occupied by Kentville) but it was important even to them, being situated on the principal ford of the Cornwallis River and Indian roads and trails seemed to converge to and diverge from that place. It was a French village and the first French bridge over the Cornwallis River was built here near the present one and not far from the old ford. And there was a French mill here also on the river.”

Cogswell notes that the Acadians built the first bridge over the Cornwallis at the future site of Kentville. According to Eaton’s Kings County history, the first bridge across the Cornwallis at Port Williams was built around 1780. This bridge and perhaps a second and third were washed out, “piers and all”, by the tide. A more stalwart structure was erected in the early 1830s. Officially opened in 1835, this was for many years a toll bridge.

When the railroad crept into Kings County shortly after Confederation, the Cornwallis River played a huge role in the establishment of Kentville as a major commercial center. But for its treacherous tides, the railroad would have crossed the river near Port Williams and proceeded up the Valley in a more northerly route, bypassing Kentville. Boats traversed the Cornwallis carrying rails, other railroad supplies and an engine, the “Sir Gaspard le Marchant,” to Kentville. Source: Woodworth’s History of the Dominion Atlantic Railway.