In a talk at the Kings County Museum in November [see previous article], Advertiser columnist Harold Woodman touched on the career of one of the Valley’s best known newsmen, Frank J. Burns. For many years Burns’ name was synonymous with the Apple Blossom Festival and he is best remembered as one of the Festival founders and its long-time promoter.

Mr. Woodman recalled that Burns was brought to this area by Clifford L. Baker, who gained control of Kentville Publishing and The Advertiser in 1926. In that same year, Woodman recalled, Baker brought Burns from Sackville, New Brunswick, into the firm. We take up Mr. Woodman’s talk at this point.

“Burns was a printer and an excellent one, and he was given a mandate to expand the job printing sector of the company. And in this he was eminently successful. He trained the company’s tradesmen up to a point where many large printing orders were coming in from all parts of the province and beyond.

“Baker died in 1932 and for the next 15 years the company was run by a few editor-managers before Mr. Burns took on this entire responsibility in the late 1930s.

“Frank Burns, during his tenure in the editor’s chair, was founder of the Nova Scotia Weekly Newspaper Association and served as its first president. He was also a member of the Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association, serving a term as president. As a matter of fact, he travelled across Canada on the Royal Train. which bore King George and Queen Elizabeth from Nova Scotia to British Columbia in 1939. He was a director of Kentville Publishing Company until his death in 1977.

“For many years Burns and The Advertiser were synonymous. You seldom thought about one without the other. He was well-respected by other media, including Fox Cinema News, radio and the daily press, all of which stood him in good stead as publicist when the Apple Blossom Festival need to be publicised beyond our boundaries.

“For many years Burns managed both the printing and editorial departments of Kentville Publishing and he was equal to the challenge. It was a bad year when the company didn’t win two national awards.”

In his history of the Apple Blossom Festival, published in 1992, Mr. Woodman wrote that Burns was known as Mr. Festival. “President and honorary president were Festival titles Francis J. Burns wore long and well. His ten consecutive years as president commenced in 1938 when he succeeded O. C. Jones. In 1948 he stepped down… Burns was immediately appointed honorary president, an office he held for almost 30 years.

“Always active in community affairs, F. J. as he was known to his intimate friends, joined the Kentville Board of Trade and Rotary Club. Like most persons in his chosen profession, he was appointed publicity chairman of most of the organisations with which he became associated. In 1932 he was a member of the… committee appointed to establish a springtime apple blossom festival. Later, in 1945, he helped found the Annapolis Valley Affiliated Boards of Trade.

“The festival committee had the good judgement to appoint Burns as publicity chairman. As a consequence, the Festival became widely known as early as 1934.”

Thanks to Burns, Woodman said, the Blossom Festival got its first national television coverage on the CBC in 1948. Burns was “interviewed often… as newspapers and radio stations from outside the area sought Festival news,” and perhaps more than any one person made Canadians aware of the celebration.

AS WE SAW THE ACADIANS IN 1743 (December 20/02)

One year after it was formed in 1878, the Nova Scotia Historical Society published the first collection of its papers. In the collection is a report written in 1743 with a detailed description of Nova Scotia, its geography and its people. The paper infers that the provincial authorities weren’t happy about the “Acadian situation.” Prepared by the Board of Trade, the paper states the government’s stand on the Acadians, in effect justifying the expulsion that would come 12 years later.

“It was provided by the Treaty of Utrecht,” the paper reads, “that the French Inhabitants of Nova Scotia should have a year allowed them to remove from thence with their effects, and such as remained beyond that time, which is long elapsed, were by the Treaty to become subjects to her said late majesty; but these People, being influenced by their Priests, did, till the year 1730, unanimously refuse to take the oath of allegiance to His Majesty, unless they might be allowed an exception in favor of France, which would have rendered their engagements ineffectual. And tho they have at last been prevailed upon to take the Oaths, they have done it with great Reluctance, and in all probability would join their Countrymen, in case of a French War against His Majesty’s subjects.”

In 1881 the Historical Society published volume two of their collections and again papers justifying the Acadian expulsion were included. One of the document, written in 1791, portrays the Acadians as warmongers. Keep in mind when reading the following excerpt from the document that while all Acadians are portrayed as hostile, in fact only a few conducted guerrilla warfare against the English.

“In the French War of 1744 they (the Acadians) joined the Indians in the attacks against the Inhabitants and garrisons of Annapolis Royal, and supplied the Indians with provisions: to this purpose they were instigated in some measure by the Governor and the Bishop of Quebec and their priests, who were indefatigable in poisoning their minds with dissatisfaction and enmity to the English.

“When the settlement was made at Halifax, in 1749, before the people had erected their huts, they, with their priests, excited the Indians to disturb the progress making in building the town, and twice within the space of two years the Indians, with one of the Acadians… at their head, attacked Dartmouth and put many people to death. The town of Halifax was palisaded to prevent their irruptions, and no person was in safety who ventured one mile from the town.

“From this time until the end of the year 1755 this country was kept in an uninterrupted state of war by the Acadians who, following the dictates of the Governors of Quebec and Cape Breton, to beak up the English settlements, excited and assisted the Indians to cut off all communications between Halifax and the different parts of the province.

“In the year 1755 when the French were driven by the English from Beausejour… six hundred French Acadians appeared in arms against the King’s troops. During all the time from 1749, and long before, these people were treated with the utmost lenity, and frequently called on to take the oath of allegiance – for no advantage could be expected from a country unpeopled – but every effort of this kind was in vain.”



“In 1879 a municipal election was held in Kings County at the cost to the county’s taxpayers of $91.65. L. DeVere Chipman was the county clerk of the day, and councillor J. W. Barss was the warden. This was reported in The Advertiser of Kentville, then one year old.”

This publication’s former managing editor and current columnist, Harold Woodman, began a recent address at the Kings Historical Society with this introduction. The topic was the history of Kings County newspapers, and a condensed version follows.

The Advertiser was by no means the first newspaper in Kings County,” Woodman continued. “Campbell Stevens, a deaf mute, started a paper in Wolfville in 1859. It lasted for only a few issues.

“The first newspaper of any consequence was the King County Gazette, which in 1864 began to publish in Canning. It lasted only about two years, being forced out of existence by the major fires which destroyed the whole of Canning’s business district. Major Theakston had at the time been the owner and publisher and perhaps editor as well.

“Theakston then moved the paper to Wolfville where it lasted for about three years, going under in 1869. It had been known as The Acadian. Some years later, in 1883 to be precise, the brothers Arthur and B. O. Davison entered into partnership to produce the Wolfville Acadian.

“The Western Chronicle, founded by a group of young men headed by Joseph Cogswell, came on stream in 1873, six years before The Advertiser made its appearance.

On July 5, 1866, James A. Starr bought out The Star in Berwick. In 1866 he moved to Kentville where he continued to publish The Star for another five years before returning to Berwick. In 1879 the Star’s premises burned to the ground. Around 1883 A. J. Pineo made an attempt to revive The Star in Wolfville (later moving it to Kentville and calling it the New Star).

“The Western Chronicle and New Star became bitter rivals and warred with words… on their front and editorial pages. They also gave full support to the two political parties of the day, becoming unofficial spokesmen, the Chronicle for the Liberals and Star for the Tories.

“In 1888 another paper, The Canning Gazette, was founded by Alexander M. Liddell. The Western Chronicle was its printer. Less than a year later… it was merged with the Western Chronicle.

The Advertiser‘s birthing was not easy. It struggled long trying to make its way in a county which appeared to be already more than adequately served by weekly newspapers. Around the turn of the century The Advertiser bough the Western Chronicle… and for several years there was a succession of owners, all of whom ran one man shows. It is significant to note that of all those newspapers, just two, The Advertiser and Berwick Register are their only surviving descendants.

“In 1921 Kentville Publishing Company Ltd. was incorporated and became publisher of The Advertiser. The plant was situated east of the Main Street Church Avenue intersection.”

To follow: The conclusion of Mr. Woodman’s talk, in which he discusses the Baker family’s role in moulding Kentville Publishing into a major Valley business and the career of the illustrious Frank J. Burns.


When I wrote about the 1907 smallpox epidemic recently, I asked readers if they would share any memories they might have or pass along stories parents or grandparents told them.

One reader (name withheld on request) sent me a photocopy of an article by Kathleen E. Cogswell, which ran in the Berwick Register in 1990. The reader asked that her name not be used since she felt the article may be copyrighted. Perhaps so since an “all rights reserved” line was tagged at the end of the article. I will say that the article confirms a smallpox outbreak in Kings County in 1907, which apparently was confined to the Mi’kmaq community in Cambridge.

I’m not sure the material in the article can be copyrighted since it comes from records in the Public Archives, which are public property. However, I’ll forgo further mention of the article and tell you about confirmation of the smallpox epidemic in Cambridge from another source.

When she was doing research for her recently published history of Cambridge, Frances Taylor went through sessional paper records housed in the library at Acadia University. In the 1911 papers Ms. Taylor found references to the smallpox epidemic among the Mi’kmaq in Cambridge. When she called in response to my request for information, Ms. Taylor read the following quote from the sessional records:

“Their health was reported as good although an epidemic of smallpox raged among them last winter. Owing to the premises being kept clean, and thorough vaccinations, it was of light form in most cases. No deaths resulted from it. The people were quarantined until it was over.”

Kathleen Cogswell’s article quotes government sources which indicate a smallpox epidemic in “some counties” in 1907, including the Mi’kmaq community in Cambridge. Frances Taylor’s research indicates that an epidemic occurred in 1910. In her book, she also quotes from the memoirs of Mrs. George Webster which point to an epidemic in 1907. Perhaps we can conclude that there was a smallpox outbreak in 1907 and again in 1910.

Kentville marine historian Leon Barron called recently to give me information on the Kingsport dykes, which were mentioned in a letter published last week. Remember the welcome to Kingsport sign on the approach to the village? Barron tells me this stands on a small running dyke. “Near the sign, just to the south of the pavement, there’s an old cellar,” Barron said. “Where the house would have been there’s a little dyke running east; then it turns north. When the road was put through, they cut this dyke out; but if you look at the inshore road you can see the continuation of it.”

Another dyke on a grander scale begins on the west point of Kingsport, which on the (19th century) Church map is called Bass Point, Barron says. Remains of this dyke can be seen by looking west from the point towards the large creek.

On investigating this dyke, Barron found that it was “built up with marsh mud and layers of brush.” All the marsh from the welcome to Kingsport sign to the village of Kingsport was dyked off, Barron says. “It’s all reclaimed land.”

This dyke, from Kingsport to a point close to the present Canning (Habitant) River aboiteau, has a connection with a famous Canadian. Barron was told that the dyke was built and owned by Sir Frederick Borden and he got confirmation of this from a reliable source, Sir Frederick’s offspring.


The late Ernest L. Eaton’s hobby was history, in particular, the history of the Acadian connection with the Canard dykelands of which he was a recognised authority. Mr. Eaton’s working career was spent with the Department of Agriculture; he also operated a century farm in Canard which was noted for displaying the jawbone of a whale on its premises.

One of Mr. Eaton’s sons, Roger, was a friend and when I visited him I usually discussed local history with Ernest. I discovered that Mr. Eaton knew a great deal about the dyeklands and the Acadians. He could tell you where many of the Canard homesteads of the Acadians were located, for example, and he was familiar with the earliest dykeing efforts on various streams that are feeders of the Canard River.

As well as a diligent researcher, Mr. Eaton was a published historical writer. The Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly carried many of his articles and he often penned features for local newspapers. However, much of the historical research conducted by Mr. Eaton was simply filed away. I recall a conversation in which Eaton mentioned plans to publish a book on his dyekland and Acadian research but this never came about.

I’ve often wondered what became of Mr. Eaton’s research papers. Recently one of Eaton’s daughters told me that on his demise, his research papers were bequeathed to his oldest son. Later the family put the papers in order and donated them to Acadia University. The Ernest L. Eaton papers now reside in the Kirkconnell Room at the University.

Recently while looking through files at Kings Courthouse Museum I came across a 1980 issue of the Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly; in the issue is an article on the Canard dykes by Mr. Eaton. It was a revelation to read this article; as well as discussing the earliest dykeing attempts on Canard River tributaries, Eaton explained in detail how the dykes and aboiteaux were constructed by the Acadians. “It was an interesting process,” Eaton wrote of the dykes, which while “demanding much patience and skill, were extremely simple and practical.”

From the Acadians, Mr. Eaton moves on to the dykeing effort of the Planters, or as he calls it, the “early English dykes.” There are some interesting insights into the building of the great Wellington Dyke. “Tradition says that of every ten loads of material (used in building the Wellington Dyke) nine washed out,” Eaton wrote, for example.

One of the most interesting aspects of Mr. Eaton’s article is his description of how the dykelands were divided up by the Planters and maintained over the centuries by their progeny. On the Wellington marsh, for example, are a number of common fields, each a separate entity. “They carry such names as Long Dyke, Union Dyke, Middle Dyke, Kempt Dyke, Bowen Dyke” which are divided into lots with vague boundaries.

In 1893 a committee of three men appraised the Wellington Dyke marshlands and rated the various dyke lots; the best lot was given a rating of 100 percent and the remaining lots judged by this standard. The rating system was accepted for at least two centuries as a basis for tax assessment by the municipality and the province. This method of internal taxation is a unique feature of the Wellington Dyke, Eaton said.

The Canard dykes have their own peculiar language. Eaton writes of “turning on day,” when cattle were branded and turned loose on the dykes, as being a big event amongst dykeland lot holders. Eaton said that dyke lots were assessed on the amount of cattle feed each contained. This assessment “is given the name of ‘sizing’ and is measured in ‘cows’ and quarterly fractions of cows.”


One of the regular readers of this column, Dr. Frederick A. J. Mathew of Halifax writes from time to time with comments and information on the history of this area. In a recent letter, Dr. Mathews wrote about the old dykes and dykelands at Kingsport (a topic of which I’m unfamiliar) and told me about some of the happenings in that area in the 19th and early 20th century.

Dr. Mathews suggests that his letter might interest of readers who perhaps may have historical information about Kingsport’s dykes that “were to be found south of the road leading to Indian Point (now called Pier road) and south to the Thompson Creek, now only referred to as ‘the creek’.”

Readers who might wish to expand on the topics in Dr. Mathew’s letter are invited to contact me at 902-678-4591 or via email at

Following are excerpts from Dr. Mathews letter with notes on Kingsport people and references to various natural calamities that affected this area.

“1869. The infamous Saxby Gale broke the dykes of Grand Pre, Wolfville, Wellington dyke, (and) made a true island out of Nova Scotia by uniting waters of the Minas Basin with the Northumberland Strait and made a true island out of Long Island with the creation of Boot Island

“June 4, 1894: A fearful electrical storm passed over the province. In Kings County the storm lasted about an hour; the wind was unusually high, the fiercest ever known in the County, and the rain mingled with hail was heavy. Ornamental trees were uprooted, orchards were badly damaged, barns were blown down; windows were broken and in some cases cattle were killed by falling trees.

“1902: The western end of the Kingsport dyke was built up and extended directly to the bank of the Habitant (Canning) River high water line.”

In 1906, Dr. Mathews writes, there was heavy flooding on dykelands in the Kingsport area. As a result of the flooding some properties were threatened and Dr. Mathews recalls that at least one house had to be moved out of the way of the flood. “Due to the approaching waters the home built by Capt. Isaac F. Masters, on the north side of the road leading to Indian Point, was moved to the north side of Loomer Hill (now labelled Longspell Road). This house was eventually purchased by Elijah I. Loomer (1852-1928) the Kingsport Customs Officer.”

Mathews says that Capt. Masters built his home on his marriage in 1850 to Martha Newcomb and the property was the north border of the Kingsport dykelands.

In a footnote on the Kingsport dykelands, Dr. Mathews notes that in 1857 they were allotted to some of the families associated with the area from the time of the Planters, the Palmeters, Loomers and Bigelows, “farmers of Kingsport and Medford.”

Historic Sources

In last week’s column, I referred to several books as sources of information on the old Canaan Road. I’ve had a couple of calls asking if these books are for sale anywhere. The Pioneers of Canaan by Marie Bishop and the Morristown-Factorydale history are available at the Kings Historical Society museum in Kentville. The Aylesford and district history by John and Twila DeCoste can be found in your local library (the Kentville library has a copy) and possibly Olive Lloyd’s Prospect history as well. I’ve seen copies of the Aylesford history at the Odd Book in Wolfville. Douglas Eagles’ Horton history is out of print and is difficult to find.


When I ran an e-mail note from John and Sue Corbett asking about the old Canaan Road I expected no more than a little feedback from readers. However, from all the telephone calls and e-mail I received, people are curious about the road and there’s a lot of interest in it.

Several readers mentioned that the boundary lines of their property is the Canaan Road or the Canaan Line. These properties are on the South Mountain and may have been the original grants that were made when the Canaan Road was first laid.

Thanks to readers, in addition to now having lots of info about the Canaan Road, I also have several reference sources. Everyone who contacted me supplied valuable information; however, I’m particularly indebted to Marie Bishop, Kendall Best, Angus Corcoran, Richard and Bill Skinner and Carroll Kinsman for providing informative details on the road.

Marie Bishop tells me that while working on her book, The Pioneers of Canaan, she spent three years researching and found little information on the Canaan Road. After her book was published, Marie said, an old map showing the Canaan Road came to light and was added in a sheet of letterhead size to some editions of her book. The map came from a book called A History of Horton through Maps and Documents by Douglas Eagles.

Marie Bishop tells me that the Canaan Road “appears to have run from Gaspereau to New Albany and did go up the South Mountain.” Following this hint, I looked into local histories that covered South Mountain areas from Gaspereau to Aylesford. The following quotes from these books and from e-mail messages paint an interesting of the old road.

“I cannot give you a source but in the back of my mind is the recollection that the Canaan Road was surveyed, perhaps by the military, and marked as an alternative to the Annapolis Valley route from Halifax to Annapolis. It was never completed in its entirety although there were sections that were built and in fact form part of the present day highway system.” Via e-mail from Carroll Kinsman who adds that the Canaan Road was the southern boundary of most of the farms in Morristown.

Also via e-mail from Kendall Best who quoted A History of Prospect by Olive H. Lloyd: “As we understand by history handed down by word of mouth, this trail (Canaan Road) was blazed by the English or French…. The trail commenced near the town of Annapolis and continues through Kings County…. It continues in an easterly direction and crosses the township line… east to Tupper Lake (and) continues on and crosses the Beech Hill road near the New Ross Road at Casey’s Corner, then continues easterly to or near Windsor.”

“One of the early roads is the Canaan Road which border Morristown on the south and runs across the top of the South Mountain. Legend has it that this was a military road between Halifax and Annapolis but further research shows that this was probably only on paper and the actual road was only built from Annapolis to Prospect, Kings County.” – Morristown – Factorydale, Past and Present.

“Another early road was the Canaan Road, which ran along the crest of the South Mountain, south of Morristown, Factorydale, Harmony and ended near Tremont. It was originally built by soldiers as part of a military road between Windsor and Annapolis. By the 1920s most of the road had fallen into disuse. Only sections of it are still maintained to serve the several settlements along its route which have all but disappeared. – A History of Aylesford and District by John and Twila Decoste.


“He was a seafaring man. He went to sea in his early years,” Elaine Sanford says of her father who was born and brought up on the Bay of Fundy.

Alexis (Alex) W. Irving was born in Baxter’s Harbour in 1873, in a time when it was common for boys to take up a seafaring trade. Alex left the sea early, however, and worked most of his life as a cooper out of Sheffield Mills. He lived to age 90, dying in 1963.

Elaine Sanford remembers Alex working as a cooper when she was going to school at Kings County Academy in Kentville. “He didn’t have his own shop,” she recalls. “Most of his life he worked on farms around the county wherever they needed barrels.”

People still remember Alex Irving. In Sheffield Mills, in the nearby communities of Centreville, Canard and Canning, people still talk about him, especially in local musical circles. It’s in the musical field that the old time cooper had a unique talent and a special claim to fame

Irving’s name came up when I was in Centreville recently talking with Bill Tupper. Bill’s hobby is making and repairing musical instruments and he was showing me his latest creation, a three-stringed cross between a banjo and mandolin. “This is called a strumstick but I call it a strumoline,” Bill joked as he picked out chords on the instrument.

Setting the strumstick down, Bill picked up a guitar he had made, strummed it briefly and then picked up a fiddle and bow. “Listen to this tone,” he said, running the bow across the strings. “Not bad for an old, home-made fiddle.”

When I asked who made the fiddle, Bill held it up and told me to read what was written inside. “A. W. Irving, Sheffield Mills, 1924,” I read aloud.

“Who was he? I asked. “His name sounds familiar.”

“About all I can tell you is that he made fiddles and good ones,” Bill replied. “The story is that he only made 12. As far as I know, there’s only a few of them still around.”

As I mentioned to Bill Tupper when he showed me the old fiddle, Irving’s name rang a bell and I was sure I had something on him in my files. I dug through several files where I keep notes and after a long search, found the record of a telephone call from Elaine Sanford. I called her immediately and she told me about her father’s hobbies – besides fiddles, Irving made model ships – and about his life as a seafarer and cooper.

Bill Tupper may be right about there only being a few of Irving’s fiddles in existence today. Irving began making fiddle in 1920, Ms. Sanford says, and she wasn’t sure but he may have made only 12. One of the fiddles is in her possession and besides Tupper’s, may be the only one remaining.

Ms. Sanford remembers that her father had a lifelong fascination with wood and would go to any length to obtain the perfect piece for whatever he was working on. “He was particular about the wood he used,” she says. “There was a special piece of wood he wanted for a project and he had my brother bring it down to him from the States.”

One of the stories still told about Irving was his constant search for the perfect piece of wood for his hobbies. He would make the rounds of woodpiles in Sheffield Mills, pick up various pieces of wood and listen to the sounds they made when he tapped them with his fingers.

The fussiness about wood may have had some connection with Irving’s fiddle-making. Bill Tupper explains that “different woods have different sounds,” adding in effect that maple has a different ring than ash, and so on. “This is what Irving must have been after, a piece of wood with the right ring for a fiddle.”



In 1907 about 2,000 Nova Scotians were stricken with smallpox. Local newspapers wrote about a province-wide epidemic but not every area was hit. And, in fact, while many people contacted the disease, there were few fatalities.

Details on the epidemic are sketchy. Recently I went through old newspaper files at Acadia University and there was no mention of the epidemic. However, I have a photocopy of a report on the epidemic; its source is unknown but it may have come from the Public Archives in Halifax according to the person who gave it to me.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this report but here are highlights from it: Over 1,900 cases of smallpox were treated in 1907 by doctors who had filed reports with the provincial government. It was said to be the worst outbreak – and possibly the first major outbreak – of smallpox in the province; all the cases were mild, however, and few people died from the disease.

Readers who may have heard of the epidemic from older family members may have some useful information about the smallpox outbreak of 1907. If so, please share it with me and the readers of this column. You can reach me through this newspaper or by telephoning 902-678-4591. My e-mail address is

“Have you ever run into anything pertaining to ‘Canaan Road?’ John and Sue Corbett wrote recently via e-mail. “A friend who lives in Tremont has what appears to be an overgrown trail in the forest behind his house, noted on his deed as Canaan Road. Following this eastward, he says that it breaks from the brush onto an existing road on the South Mountain.”

It’s believed, the Corbetts write, that “this is part of the early road running down the Valley to Annapolis Royal.”

The Corbetts wonder if Kentville’s Canaan Avenue is somehow connected with the road mentioned on the friend’s deed and what was the old stagecoach road. “We recall Canaan Avenue in Kentville coming from the south side of town down to where (our father) mentioned the stagecoach stop was near the Mill.”

Perhaps a reader has information on this that they’d like to pass on. In the meanwhile, I plan to do a little digging and to contact local historians to see what I can find out about the Canaan Road.

When he passed away at age 90 in 1960 he was said to have been Kentville’s oldest son and a descendant of one of the town’s first families. Allison Patrick Redden, better known here as A. P. Redden, worked at an old Kentville mill that was operated by his father; later he opened a mill in north end Kentville which is now the site of the Goodyear outlet. A. P. was well-known for his woodcraft and his former residence located in the “Y” formed by Nichols Avenue and Cornwallis Street contain examples of his carving and intricate wall panelling that he created by hand.

I’m looking for information about A. P. Redden. Readers who remember him are invited to call me. I’m also hoping a reader can supply some interesting tidbits on two men who were master builders. One is Vernon Smith, the man in charge of building the Dominion Atlantic Railway through this part of the Valley. I’ve been told that Smith has relatives here. The man in charge of building the Cornwallis Inn, Jesse Fenwick Parsons, may also have relatives in this area



“They were essentially mediaeval peasants, simple, pious, frugal. They had the peasant’s hunger for land, the peasant’s petty cunning, the peasant’s greed, all perfectly comprehensible in view of their hard, narrow life of unending toil.

“Their disputes over land were endless. The government found it necessary to settle many of these, to issue proclamations against the neglect of fences and failure to repair dykes; and to repeat orders frequently.”

Will R. Bird wrote this description of the Acadians in a 1950s government publication, Historic Nova Scotia. Bird is describing the Acadian population under English rule after the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713 and his assessment is unflattering, to say the least, and perhaps inaccurate.

It may be presumptuous to question an historian and writer of Bird’s stature but should we accept his inference that the Acadians were a rather base and useless people? Other historians state the opposite when writing about the Acadians. In his Kings County history, for example, Arthur W. H. Eaton writes of the Acadians in this area, which he refers to as the chief districts of Minas and River Canard, as having performed miraculous tasks in settling the area. The Acadians, Eaton wrote, “built houses and churches and small forts, reclaimed from wildness many hundreds of acres of upland fields.”

While historians such as Bird portray them as ignorant, uneducated and shiftless, the Acadians managed to perform a near miracle with their dykes, wresting hundreds of acres of land from the sea. Quoting Eaton again: “And most laborious industry of all (the Acadians) enclosed from the sea several thousand acres of marsh land on the Grand Pre and along the county’s five rivers, the Grand Habitant (Cornwallis River) the Riviere aux Canard, the Petit Habitant (Canning River) the Pereau and the Gaspereau.”

In a recent address before the Kings Historical Society, Advertiser columnist Brent Fox put the industrious character of the Acadians in perspective. Noting that the Grand Dyke protected almost 2,000 acres of the Canard River valley from the salt tides, Fox said this it was all done with hand tools. “One can only imagine the enormous organization that was needed for both the cross dykes and running dykes on the Canard River prior to 1755,” Fox said. “And this does not mention the enormous maintenance efforts required,” he concluded.

The great dykes Eaton and Fox saluted could not have been built by the sort of people Will R. Bird describes. A truer picture of the Acadian character can be seen in that excellent paper on early settlements around the Minas Basin by James S. Martell.

“The Church was the centre of Acadian society,” Martell notes, telling us there was a resident priest at Grand Pre as early as 1689. “Before the expulsion there were five churches in the three population groups around the Minas Basin,” Martell says.

As for the Acadians generally being uneducated and ignorant, at the time this was true of most of the working class population of North America and Europe. However, there’s a hint that the Acadians may have had the first public school in North America. Quoting Martell again, “One writer asserts that Abbe Geoffrey… established schools at Minas, the fruits of which were borne out in the signatures in the Church registers.”

On a lighter note, not all was work and no play in the Acadian settlements on the Minas Basin. “Tradition has it,” Martell writes, “that they even had a track on the marshes for horse racing.”