As well as fascinating generations of Nova Scotians, the awesome Fundy tides around Cape Split have inspired numerous schemes to harness its power and generate electricity. As recently as a few months ago yet another plan, one involving the laying of turbines on the Bay of Fundy bottom, was mentioned in newspapers.

It’s possible that this latest plan to generate electricity from the might Fundy tides will come to nothing, as have similar schemes in the past. The idea is far from being new. In 1916, for example, the formation of the Cape Split Development Company was announced and its plan was to generate power using turbines invented by Acadia University engineering professor, Ralph P. Clarkson.

The idea had great merit. Engineers had already determined that Cape Split, where tides reached a speed of some eleven miles per hour, was an ideal location for power turbines. As well as Clarkson, some of the top educators at Acadia University were behind the plan.

But while it had great potential, this grand plan to harness Fundy ran into a roadblock it couldn’t overcome – financing. The estimated $2,500.00 required to place turbines at Cape Split couldn’t be realized. Public shares sold in the Company raised a meagre $30.000. After a few years in existence, the Company quietly folded.

Nearly 100 years ago, in 1908 in fact, another magnificent scheme to harness the Fundy tides may have been promoted. Take a look at a map of Kings County and note how Cape Split juts out into the Minas Channel towards Spencers Island. The distance from landfall to landfall is about five kilometres and it was here that someone had the idea of building some sort of causeway mounted with turbines.

Little is known about this scheme and there is no evidence that it got beyond the planning stage. However, somewhere in the archives at Acadia University there may be documents outlining this 1908 plan to build a causeway from Cape Split to Spencers Island and harness the Fundy tides, possibly generating enough electricity to supply this entire region. When he was studying at Acadia University in 1948, Gordon Hansford happened across papers about the plan and today he still remembers what he found in them.

“There was a beautiful diagram of a causeway stretching across from Cape Split towards the other shore in the direction of Spencers Island,” he recalls. “The drawing depicted a sort of combination causeway and bridge and it showed a highway on it and railway tracks.

“Down underneath the causeway they showed great big waterwheels. If I remember correctly, they were vertical wheels, eight of them. The looked like turbines, something like the one down at the Annapolis River causeway. Also, in the centre, they showed what looked like a drawbridge, two wings that lifted up so ships could go in and out (of Minas Basin).”

Hansford also recalls that there were a couple of names on the documents, one a “Professor Steeves from New Brunswick and the name Chipman rings a bell.”

To date, no government records have been found indicating anyone formally organized to build a power generating causeway from Cape Split to Spencers Island. Hopefully, mention of the 1908 plan here will prompt someone with knowledge of it to come forward and enlighten us on the scheme.


A reader who occasionally writes via e-mail used a phrase I had never heard before: He referred to the postal service as “snail mail.” You will have to agree that a letter delivered by the post office is “snailish” compared to e-mail. Through the internet you can communicate instantly with people all over the world.

Most of the letters I receive electronically result from this column being posted on my website – which by the way is https://edwingcoleman.wordpress.com. I’ve given my website address again because readers often ask for copies of previous columns – that they “meant to save and forgot to.” Every column that has been published in this newspaper for at least the past two years can be found at my site; if you have access to a computer, log on and help yourself.

From my website columns I’ve received electronic mail from many areas of North America and as far away as Australia. I also receive many letters through the snail mail system, usually from Valley readers of this paper and occasionally from subscribers in other parts of Canada. Readers who write by e-mail slightly outnumber readers who use Canada Post; this doesn’t mean that computers outshine this newspaper when it comes to reaching the public. Most of the electronic mail comes readers who saw my website address in this column.

No matter if you e-mail or use snail mail, your letters are welcome. Occasionally I set letters aside, including those I print off from my e-mail box, and lose them in the pile of papers on my desk. I was guilty of doing this with a letter from John Williams of Sackville, N.B. Mr. Williams wrote over a month ago to tell me he enjoyed the nostalgia piece on the Dominion Atlantic Railway. Williams mentioned a two-volume book by Gary Ness – Canadian Pacific’s Dominion Atlantic Railway – which he thought railroad buffs would enjoy. Dr. Ness’ book is still available at local bookstores including the Box of Delights in Wolfville.

J. L. Harvie wrote earlier this spring about the part the Dominion Atlantic Railway played in his life when he was growing up in Hantsport. This was an interesting story; readers will enjoy Mr. Harvie’s look at life as it evolved around the railroad, which I plan to run in full in the next two or three weeks.

I mentioned receiving an e-mail letters from Australia. The writer was a former Valley resident who is writing a novel set here. She was interested in the infamous ice storm of two winters ago and its effect on the Annapolis Valley.

The writer also had a question about land grants in Nova Scotia after the Crimean War. My knowledge of these grants is … well, it amounts to nothing and I’m hoping a knowledgeable reader can help. Anybody know anything about land grants to veterans of the Crimean War?

Last week’s column was about Clarke’s history of the railway in Nova Scotia. In the column I said that I was unable to pin down an exact publication; none was given in the book but references indicated a possible publication date sometime in the 1920s. This may not be correct. Dr. Gary Ness tells me Clarke’s book may have been first published in 1916 and revised in later printings; this would account for the 1926 date given in the seniority list published in the book.

My thanks to Starr Williams who kindly gave me his copy of Clarke’s railway history. Many readers will remember Starr; he worked on the railway here in the 40s and 50s and operated an insurance business in Kentville. Starr now resides in Berwick and from my telephone conversations with him, he sounds like a young 82.


There’s no publication date in Will Clarke’s railway history but the text indicates the book was published around 1920. Clarke’s book is the first published history book of the railway in Nova Scotia, pre-dating Marguerite Woodworth’s Dominion Atlantic Railway history by well over a decade.

Woodworth’s book may be looked upon as the official history of the Dominion Atlantic Railway (D.A.R.); apparently Woodworth was commissioned by the railway to write this history. Clarke’s history book appears to have been written as a result of a life-long association with the railroad. Clarke was a railroad conductor and railroad history buff who upon retiring, apparently decided to use his leisure years to write a railroad account.

Both histories are invaluable contributions to railroad lore but they are as different as night is from day. Read Woodworth’s book for an in-depth, scholarly look at the D.A.R. and the political intrigues that lead to the eventual union of several railway companies. Read Clarke’s book if you want a chatty, casual look at railroading in the old days. Both books are factual, both are well-written; but of the two I prefer Clarke’s account because it has more in it about the day-to-day average workers who made the railway tick.

Here’s one example to emphasize this point: Woodworth’s book has 160 pages with 29 photographs. With one exception the photographs are tourist shots – hotels, scenery, ships, terminals, warehouses and so on. No railway personalities are depicted with the exception of an unidentified trainman who stands beside a locomotive.

In his 64-page account Will Clarke includes 21 photographs and 13 are of railroad people from the high and mighty to the ordinary trainman. With a couple of exceptions, all the railway men depicted in Clarke’s photographs are identified. In addition, Clarke also tells us what the going rate of pay was for railway workers in 1869. Engine drivers – $33.75 per half month; firemen $18.75 per half month. Lower down on the pay scale were woodcutters at $5.60 per half month. In comparison, station agents received from $200 to $400 per month.

Clarke calls his book a “History of the Earliest Railways in Nova Scotia,” and he says in a subtitle that it contains a list of “firsts and other interesting stage and railway facts.” One “stage fact” was mention that in 1816 a horse-drawn passenger coach with an inside capacity of six people ran between Halifax and Windsor twice a week. Clarke compared the stage coach schedule with the daily runs of the train between Windsor and Halifax when the railway was completed – the point being that the railroad revolutionized travel. To emphasize this Clarke described the terrible road conditions existing in the province before the railroad arrived.

Some trivia from Clarke’s fascinating account of the early railway in Nova Scotia: At one time there were covered bridges on the line – at Horton’s Landing, Hantsport and Bridgetown. And a footbridge (!) over the track at Doran’s Crossing, three miles east of Windsor; this bridge claimed the life of a brakeman who was riding on top of a car, one of the first railway fatalities. When the “missing link” between Digby and Annapolis was completed on July 27, 1891, Nova Scotia for the first time was connected from one end to the other by rail. The first “through train” from Yarmouth to Halifax ran on the same day the missing link was connected. In the early days of railway travel passengers could purchase “ale, porter and other intoxicants” in stations at Windsor, Kentville and Aylesford.


One of my friends claims that the greatest natural disasters to hit Nova Scotia were the mice plague of 1815, the Saxby Gale in 1869 and his wife’s pot roast dinner.

Geologist Alan Ruffman may not agree with the lumping of someone’s cooking with mice plagues and destructive hurricanes; however, when he spoke about the Saxby Gale at the Wolfville Historical Society on March 17, Mr. Ruffman said that the “hurricane and storm surge associated with it was quite devastating.”

When the Gale struck Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Mr. Ruffman said, hundreds of buildings were destroyed, there was great flooding, and thousands of mature trees were destroyed. While there were only a few deaths locally as result of the storm, over the course of the Gale through the Atlantic Provinces and the United States over a thousand lives may have been lost. “It was quite a serious, serious storm,” Ruffman said.

A short time before the Saxby Gale came ashore in Nova Scotia, the Dominion Atlantic Railway had celebrated arrival of its line in the Annapolis Valley. In her railway history Marguerite Woodworth describes the devastating effect of the Gale on the D.A.R. line and on Valley residents:

“On the night of October 4 …. the wind rose until it became a veritable hurricane and with it came a great tide from the Basin of Minas, rolling in over the dykes and carrying everything before it. The morning of October 5th revealed a scene of destruction: Throughout the Valley orchards were laid low, the apples torn from the branches; uprooted trees lay across the highway; crops were flattened; brooks became swirling torrents.”

Mr. Ruffman’s name for the great tide that came with the hurricane is “storm surge,” a rapid rising of tidal waters above normal levels due to a combination of high winds, high tide and other factors. The Saxby Gale arrived during a period when tides were at unusually high levels and it was too much for the dyked areas and the newly laid railway line in Kings and Hants County. “Bridges, tracks and fencing had been swept away over an area of nearly 20 miles,” Woodworth said. “The dykes along the right of way were nothing but a turbulent sea and the roadbed had crumpled before the tidal wave like sugar.”

During his talk before the Historical Society, Mr. Ruffman mentioned the Saxby Gale briefly, dwelling mainly on hurricanes in general. Hurricanes are nothing new to North America – there have been at least a thousand in the past 100 years, Ruffman said – and Nova Scotia has had its share. A hurricane and storm surge disrupted the early Acadian settlement, for example. In the last four or five decades some hurricanes have been as destructive as the Saxby Gale.

Mr. Ruffman concluded his talk on hurricanes by screening a map of the Minas Basin indicating dyked areas that could be hardest hit by future storm surges. The conditions that prevailed during the Saxby Gale can occur again, Mr. Ruffman said.

While there isn’t a lot of information out there, Mr. Ruffman said, he has been attempting to document the havoc wreaked by the Saxby Gale in the Atlantic Provinces. Hopefully, he said in effect, people out there have old letters, diary entries and other references to the Gale. If so, Mr. Ruffman would appreciate having access to them.


“Come and gone with the wind is the rural community of ‘Atlanta,’ near Sheffield Mills, which has recently been obliterated by the caprice of the Nova Scotia Department of Highways,” Watson Kirkconnell writes in his book on Kings County place-names.

“Easy come, easy go,” Kirkconnell adds, noting in the meanwhile that the majority of place-names in Kings County are of Planter and Loyalist origin and that most are still in use today. However, some Planter and Loyalist place-names have been changed, have been dropped from usage for various reasons or have simply disappeared. Among the former that come to mind are Port Williams, Kentville and Wolfville which at one time had Planter-inspired names. I’m aware of only a few Planter place-names that have disappeared and one of these is the topic of this week’s column.

Borden Street, which is named after one of our most famous Planter surnames, runs west from Canning and connects to Sheffield Mills. Along the Borden Street stretch between Canning and the Mills is a sort of no man’s land that has no name; it is neither Canning nor Sheffield Mills (though it has been called both). The trend today is to refer to this area simply as Borden Street as if it were a community. However, if you had traveled over this piece of highway in the 19th century, you would have passed through the now vanished community of Randsville.

Jonathan Rand was one of three brothers who were among the original Planter grantees in Cornwallis (Eaton’s Kings County history, page 793). According to Howie Rand, Randsville was part of Jonathan Rand’s original grant, which was north of the Habitant River and took in most of the area along Borden Street that lies between Canning and Sheffield Mills.

I first heard about Randsville when Leon Barron told me recently about a reference in 19th century government papers to a public school in the old community. Apparently Randsville was first a community and then a school district. The school in Randsville was constructed in 1878 (Marie Bickerton in her book on Canning and area history) and was located near Lyndhurst Farms where the old dyke road crosses from Saxon Street.

I have been unable to determine when Randsville ceased to be known as a community or when the school district closed and was amalgamated with Canning. The closing of the school and the disappearance of Randsville as a place-name are probably connected.

Since hearing about Randsville I’ve scoured various historical sources for reference to the community and found little. Eaton’s Kings County history has high praise – and rightly so – for the Planter Rands but there is no mention of Randsville. Watson Kirkconnell failed to come up with Randsville in his book on Kings County place-names even though there is a section on the Planter contribution. Charles Bruce Fergusson’s massive compilation of Nova Scotia place-names has no reference to Randsville; and I was unable to find Randsville in a similar work published in 1922 by Thomas J. Brown. Marie Bickerton’s Canning history refers to Randsville, or actually the Randsville school, three times.

Mention in government papers and Bickerton’s history are the only printed references to Randsville that I could find. So except for the memories people have of the old school, this is the only evidence that the community of Randsville once existed. Like the early Irish settlements on the North Mountain and along Saxon Street, Randsville has vanished and the reason why may never be known.

THE D.A.R. – “WHAT A PITY IT IS GONE” (March 12/99)

I occasionally refer to Marguerite Woodworth’s Dominion Atlantic Railway history in this column. Published in 1936 and never reissued as far as I know, the book is difficult to find and commands a higher than average price for used, out-of-print books. If you own a copy and will part with it, don’t let it go for less than $50; the going price at used book stores is slightly higher than $50. depending on condition.

If you are interested in reading Woodworth’s D.A.R. history there is a copy in the Wolfville public library; Woodworth’s book should also be available at the Acadia University library.

I mention the Woodworth book because of a letter received earlier this winter from Hugh Kinsman of Bobcaygeon, Ontario. Mr. Kinsman was looking for Woodworth’s history and I directed him to the Odd Book in Wolfville where I had seen a copy that was in excellent condition.

When I replied to Mr. Kinman’s letter I asked if he was a former employee of the D.A.R. and wondered if he had any memories he would like to share with readers of this column. In a second letter Mr. Kinsman said that while he was not a former employee he would have been proud to have been associated with the railway.

“I’m afraid that my experiences would hardly merit the interest of your readers,” Mr. Kinsman wrote. “For instance, few would care that we virtually set our clocks by the train whistle at the Sheffield Mills station and that the engineer waved to us kids as he passed within a few feet of Canning school.

“Two of my cousins married D.A.R. men – one of them to Ben Patten and the other to Joe Dickie. I’ve heard Ben and Joe referred to as ‘Spic and Span’ relating to their housekeeping in the D.A.R. caboose! Besides Ben and Joe, there are several D.A.R. men I knew through their sons – Howe Harris, Biscuit Corning, Herbert, Ritchie, Crosby, Banks, Boyle.”

Mr. Kinsman concluded by saying he was sorry because he didn’t know more about the D.A.R. “I’m afraid we took it for granted we’d have this dependable and convenient service forever. What a pity it is gone!”

The touch of nostalgia in Mr. Kinsman’s letter is, I’m sure, experienced by many people when the topic of the D.A.R. comes up. Like many people in this area I grew up when the railroad was in its heyday and I certainly took it for granted. My old newspaper route began in the morning when the train arrived from Halifax. After the bundles of daily papers were tossed on the station landing and distributed to the waiting paperboys I paid a dime to ride the train to Aldershot Camp.

I took my morning train ride to sell newspapers at Aldershot Camp for several summers. Later, after the run was discontinued, I regretted not riding the train north to the end of the line at the Kingsport wharf. A number of boys in the neighborhood camped, fished and dug clams at Kingsport and Medford every summer, using the train to tote the tons of gear necessary for youthful excursions.

If I remember correctly the train carrying the newspapers from Halifax arrived in Kentville after 10 o’clock. It must have been at least 10 o’clock or later because when I went through high school at KCA, students came from the Canning area on an early morning train. I never heard that the Halifax train running north to Aldershot and the morning train carrying the KCA students to Kentville ever met head on.

Like many Valley residents I have many pleasant memories of the train; and like most I never thought that one day the runs would stop and the rails would be torn up. As Hugh Kinsman said, what a pity.


If one knows the approximate areas to look, it may be possible to locate the sites of Acadian homesteads. As recently as the 1950s Acadian cellars were visible in Upper Dyke, Canard, New Minas, Grand Pre and in areas running eastward to Gaspereau and the Hants County border.

However, while Acadian cellars are not easily discernible today, there are various clues indicating where they may be found. Speaking at the Kings Historical Society on February 23, retired Acadia University professor Dr. Merritt Gibson said some plants are indicators of possible Acadian homesteads.

One of these plants is the wild daphne. One of some 87 plants, shrubs and trees the Acadians are known to have introduced to Nova Scotia, the daphne was used as an ornamental shrub. Slow to spread, the daphne often grows close to sites of Acadian homes, Dr. Gibson said. “If you find daphne growing in profusion, you can be certain that the Acadians once lived nearby.”

Another plant that may indicate Acadian homesteads is the red fly-honeysuckle. While it is planted today for ornamental purposes, Dr. Gibson said that in the wild the red fly-honeysuckle has “remained largely in areas of Acadian homesteads and is a good marker in finding such sites.”

A number of plants introduced by the Acadians were used for medicinal purposes and many of them grow wild today and are classified as weeds. Dr. Gibson asked members of the Historical Society if any of them remembered the tansy tea their grandmothers used to make them drink at the least hint of a sniffle. “It was bitter stuff,” Dr. Gibson said, adding that we have the Acadians to thank for introducing tansy. The Acadians made a tea from tansy for use as a tonic and to treat colds and fevers. Also among the plants introduced by the Acadians for medicinal and culinary use were red yarrow, chicory, wormwood, caraway, hops and slender vetch.

When the Acadians arrived in Nova Scotia the climate was going through what Dr. Gibson called the “little ice age.” It was much colder here in the Acadian period, Dr. Gibson said, and this affected the types of plants and animals that were here. One of the birds harvested by Acadian hunters was called by them the “white partridge.” This was the ptarmigan, Dr. Gibson said, a northern bird that once thrived here but disappeared as the climate warmed up.

The colder climate during the Acadian period also brought beluga whales into our waters, Dr. Gibson said. Beluga are now found mainly in the St. Lawrence River but in the Acadian period they were regular visitors to the Minas Basin. The Acadians hunted beluga, which they called “white porpoises,” for blubber which they processed for oil – “one for home use and two to be sold,” Dr. Gibson said, apparently quoting from Acadian records.

Another indication that the Acadians lived in much colder times, Dr. Gibson said, was the presence of wolves in Nova Scotia. Evidence that wolves were considered a threat by the Acadians is found in a 1750 petition they drew up after their firearms were confiscated. In the petition the Acadians asked that their firearms be returned, mentioning they needed them to protect domestic animals from wolves.

When the Acadians arrived in this area there were no fields and the forest grew down to the marsh. “It was a mature forest, a forest that had never been cut,” Dr. Gibson said. The native tress, red and white pines, hemlock, beech, sugar maple, red and white birch, were here and the Acadians introduced others, such as the Lombardy poplar and French willow and at least seven types of apple trees.


Thanks to a retired Kings County school teacher, I have an inkling of how some of us observed Christmas half a century ago.

Gordon Hansford grew up in Wolfville in the ’30s and while in high school he played in the brass and reed band. Every Christmas members of the band would be asked to carry their instruments to the belfry of the Baptist Church; from the belfry they would serenade the town with Christmas carols.

At the December meeting of the Kings County Historical Society, Gordon Hansford spoke about those Christmas serenades from the church belfry. It was a tradition for a long time, Hansford said as he recalled the difficult climb up the ladders to the belfry carrying his drum.

One snowy Christmas night he was unable to accompany the band on their climb to the belfry. His father who ran a barber shop asked him to shovel the sidewalks and while he was removing ice and snow, he heard music from the belfry wafting over the town. Until that moment he didn’t realize how beautiful the carols sounded.

“I’ll always cherish the memory of those Christmas nights in the belfry,” Gordon said as he sat down.

I regretted not taking notes while he talked. His tale of the belfry serenades was a glimpse of a Christmas few of us will ever know and I felt it was worth preserving. I said as much to Gordon later, asking him to tell me the story again so I could write it down and run it in this column. Gordon offered to put the story on paper for me and here it is in his own words. He called it “The Band in the Belfry.”

“Back in the days just before WW11, I lived in Wolfville and attended the high school there. I played the snare drum in the brass and reed band which was directed by the Principal, Rex Porter.

“A week or so before Christmas, in the early evening, six or eight of the band members would climb up into the belfry of the Baptist Church at the corner of Highland Avenue and Main Street. Led by Mr. Porter, we would play carols which would carry over the town.

“It was really an experience hearing the beautiful old Christmas tunes float out over the busy Main Street as the snowflakes drifted down. We could look across the town, the dykelands and Minas Basin toward the far-off lights of Kingsport.

“It was cramped and cold with lots of cobwebs up in the windy steeple, but there was always hot cocoa and cookies to warm us up afterward, provided by Mr. Porter and his wife Ruth.

“We also played for hockey games in the old Acadia rink, now converted to the Atlantic Theater. We played between periods, fueled with hot dogs passed up from the canteen next to the band room.”

Gordon told me he was an original member of the high school band and was a member when the ritual of playing in the belfry first started. He played in the belfry at Christmas for several years and with the band when it was invited to various Yuletide events in the town.

Called away by the start of World War Two, Gordon couldn’t tell me how many years the band serenaded the town from the belfry. “It probably went on for as long as Mr. Porter had a high school band,” he said.


A meadow and a ford, the ford a crossing on Bass Creek, the surrounding land an expanse of meadow wrested from the wilderness by the early settlers.

In 1855 the residents of Bass Creek decided that the meadows and ford should be combined to change the name of their community to Medford. Besides, Bass Creek was a common and unimaginative place-name and in the early 19th century there were more than a dozen or so Bass Creeks, Bass Rivers and Salmon Rivers in the province. Something more dignified and fitting was called for.

This explanation for the origin of Medford’s name was given in a history of the community compiled by the Women’s Institute and published in this paper in 1951. The explanation is suspect, however. Watson Kirkconnell’s study of place-names in Kings County, published as a booklet in 1971, suggests that Medford isn’t of Nova Scotian coinage; it was a place-name familiar to the New England Planters, Kirkconnell said. There are eight Medfords in the U.S., Kirkconnell noted, and the name probably came from Massachusetts.

Kirkconnell most likely is correct, but I prefer the Women’s Institute explanation for Medford’s origin. One of the first areas where land grants were given to the Planters, Medford may have been settled as early as 1770 or 1780, and the origin of its name really doesn’t matter. What is more interesting is how Medford has changed over the years, changes that can be linked to the demise of sailing ships as vehicles of commerce and the decline of the Minas Basin fishery.

The early settlers of Medford carried surnames that will be familiar to anyone who has studied Annapolis Valley history after the expulsion of the Acadians. There were Eatons, Harringtons, Huntlys, Bigelows, Cox’s, Parkers and Weavers among the first Planter and Loyalist settlers in Medford. The Institute history tells us that Jason Huntly, Ebenezer Eaton and a “Mr. Harrington” were the first to receive land grants in Medford. Their grants appeared to comprise most of what today is greater Medford.

Like many of the early settlements along the Minas Basin, Medford’s principal occupation was fishing along with some shipbuilding. The building of ships may have become a major industry early in the community’s existence. “Shipbuilding was carried on quite extensively and a number of ships large and small were built here in 1800 and later,” the Institute history says.

As was typical of the Planters and Loyalists wherever they settled in Nova Scotia, education and religion were priorities in early Medford. Land was granted to post-Acadian settlers as early as 1760 and by approximately 1775 Medford had its first school.

Because of its proximity to the sea, (and obviously because it was the era of sail) marine navigation was taught in the first school and a number graduates became sea captains. The Institute history mentions that early Medford captains were David Loomer and Abraham Coffin. Other sea captains turned out by the Medford school were James Lombard, Frank Barkhouse, Edgar Bigelow, James Burns, Lyman Parker and Clement Barkhouse; most were descendants of Medford’s early settlers.

You won’t find Medford indexed in Eaton’s History of Kings County and I was unable to find evidence that a wharf existed there. But according to the Institute history, the now sleepy community of summer homes briefly held a place of prominence along the Minas Basin. Eventually overshadowed by Kingsport and Canning in shipbuilding, Medford was forgotten by would-be developers with the arrival of the railroad.

However, Medford was one of the first communities to have telephone lines erected – which say the Women’s Institute was still owned by the residents in 1951.


On December 8, 1911, the schooner Hibernia sailed out of Hantsport bound for Barbados with a cargo of lumber. A few days after it sailed the Hibernia ran into rough weather. A series of storms left the Hibernia helpless and foundering; drifting for 29 days in severe winter weather, the crew of the Hibernia was near death when rescue finally came. That rescue was called “miraculous” by the newspapers of the time.

The story of the Hibernia has been told before in various annals and it is one of many marine disasters that have involved Nova Scotia’s sailing ships. There is a Kings County connection to the Hibernia shipwreck, however, a connection that will be of interest to local marine history buffs.

The master of the Hibernia when it left on its fateful voyage to Barbados was Capt. Charles McDade. McDade was born in Hall’s Harbour in 1864. The mate on the vessel, and also a Sea Captain, Charles Barkhouse, was born in Medford; the cook on the Hibernia was Medford native George Edmund Parsons.

This past October, Capt. McDade’s grandson, Garnet McDade of Hantsport, was guest speaker at the Wolfville Historical Society. His topic was the last voyage of the Hibernia. Using Mr. McDade’s research material and the files of marine buff Leon Barron, Kentville, here’s a brief look at what happened to the Hibernia.

The Hibernia was one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sailing ships built in this region when Nova Scotia mariners were acknowledged masters of the sea. The three-masted schooner was built in Maitland by Osmond O’Brien & Company and launched in 1902. For almost a decade the Hibernia plied the oceans for the O’Brien family. Then came the final voyage out of Hantsport late in 1911. An account of the voyage by Capt. Charles Barkhouse was printed in the Anglican Church “Parish magazine.” (Apparently the Parish of Hantsport where it is noted that Mr. Barkhouse was “a faithful parishioner… and superintendent of our Sunday School.” Excerpts from the Barkhouse account follow.

“While the (Hibernia) was in the Bay of Fundy she encountered strong head winds with blinding snow and, after a week’s strenuous time, they were able to make Beaver Harbour (New Brunswick) where they were held wind bound for eight days.”

Setting sail the day after Christmas when the winds seemed favourable, the Hibernia again ran into stormy weather. A heavy gale “accompanied by a high, dangerous sea” battered the Hibernia and on December 27th a huge wave swept away part of the stern.

“To save the vessel from foundering,” the Parish magazine account continues, “the crew manned the two hand pumps…. There seemed every hope that the damage to the vessel could be repaired… but the same afternoon another big wave broke on board tearing away (more) of the stern, together with the wheel and the afterdeck. At the same time the three mast went by the board and the deck was level with the water.”

Only the Hibernia’s cargo of lumber kept her afloat. On January 8th another huge wave struck the ship; the wave “split the deck in two parts, carried away the afterhouse and swept overboard all the ship’s stores.”

After being battered by one storm after another, the Hibernia drifted helplessly. On January 16th a rescue attempt by a steamer failed due to the high seas and the Hibernia was left to its fate. Food and water gone, the crew gave up. Capt. McDade wrote a final letter to his wife, put it in a bottle and threw it overboard. Rescue came on January 17th, however, when the British steamer Denis sighted the Hibernia and was able to remove the crew. One month after McDade returned home his “final letter” was delivered to his wife. The bottle with his note had washed ashore in England.