THE TALE OF AN OLD FIDDLE (December 19/03)

The handwriting is faint but if you hold the old fiddle up to the light in the right way you can read the inscription: “Bought October 16, 1916, in London, England, by John A. Campbell, 185th Battalion. Price 15 pounds.”

Bill Tupper told me about his much-prized fiddle recently and as they used to say in old adventure books, therein lies a tale. Tupper would like to know more about John A. Campbell and he’s interested in tracing the history of the fiddle, learning exactly how old it is, for example. But first, let’s start with how the fiddle first came into Tupper’s possession.

Tupper saw the fiddle at an estate auction and decided to add it his collection of musical instruments. The auctioneer, who had purchased the fiddle as part of a house lot, didn’t know anything about it or its previous owner; about all he could tell Tupper was that the fiddle may have belonged to a Halifax family. Tupper purchased the fiddle and took it home. There he refurbished the old instrument, making a few minor repairs.

For years Tupper played the fiddle at musical gatherings. Then in a weak moment, he sold it. “I regretted it the moment the fiddle left my hands but the money I was offered was too much temptation at the time,” Tupper said in effect. Years later he had the opportunity to trade one of his hand-crafted guitars for the fiddle and it was back in his hands once more.

It isn’t likely that Bill Tupper will part with the fiddle again but as I said, he’s curious about John A. Campbell and the instrument’s history. When Bill told me the story about the fiddle I went to the Internet to see if Campbell was on the federal government website which lists the soldiers who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the first world war. I discovered that there were over 100 John Campbells serving in the Canadian army in this war; some 30 of these were John A. Campbells.

The John A. Campbell who purchased the fiddle in London undoubtedly is one of these 30 John A’s listed in the website. However, it’s difficult to know for sure. One candidate is John Angus Campbell, from Grand Mira, Cape Breton. Another is John Alex Campbell who was born in Halifax.

The John A. Campbell who left the inscription on the old fiddle may never have returned to Nova Scotia. Military buff Gordon Hansford believes Campbell was killed at Vimy Ridge. The inscription indicates that Campbell joined the 185th battalion, which after being shipped overseas was broken up and the soldiers transferred to other regiments. Hansford said that the 185th was the Cape Breton Highlanders, which was part of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.

If the John A. Campbell whose name is on the fiddle was killed at Vimy, how did the instrument get back to Nova Scotia? Bill Tupper may never know. However, the old fiddle is now a cherished part of his musical collection and there it will remain. Gordon Hansford, who is a fiddler, told me that the instrument is “nice sounding and a beautiful thing. It’s not a flashy looking fiddle but by gosh it’s got a lot of music in it.”

A “ROYAL OAK” IN WOLFVILLE (December 12/03)

“I was in Wolfville on November 11th and I went down to the monument along with the rest of the guys from the (Wolfville) Legion branch,” Gordon Hansford said when we were talking recently. “While we were there, I pointed out an oak tree on the right-hand side of the (post office) driveway and asked a companion to look at the leaves.”

“He said, ‘gosh, it looks different from any oak tree I ever saw. Where did it come from’?”

“I replied that it’s a royal oak,” Hansford said, “and I told him how it got there.”

Gordon Hansford is a talented storyteller and he has many fascinating tales to tell of wars, warriors and his boyhood hometown of Wolfville. One of these stories is about the royal oak which he pointed out to his companion on Remembrance Day. The story begins, Gordon said, during the reign of the British monarch, King Charles II.

Most of us known the story of how King Charles, pursued by Cromwell’s army after the defeat of loyalists forces in the Battle of Worcester in 1651, hid for 40 days in a huge oak tree at Boscobol. When Charles regained his crown an oak was planted at Windsor Castle to commemorate his escape and the role the tree played in it.

During World War One, Wolfville resident Alfred Lake was stationed in Great Britain for a time with the 85th Battalion. During leave, Lake visited Windsor Castle, where he must have heard the tale of how King Charles hid in an oak to elude Cromwell. While at the Castle, Lake picked up an acorn from a royal oak, put it in his pack, and promptly forgot it.

Gordon tells me that Lake was momentarily puzzled when he discovered the acorn in his pack after he was shipped home. “He asked himself, ‘where did this come from’?” Gordon said. “When he recalled that he had picked up an acorn from a royal oak, he went out and planted it on the post office grounds.”

The acorn Lake planted thrived and a descendant of King Charles’ royal oak now stand tall on the post office grounds in Wolfville. “It stands out from the native oaks growing there since its leaves are different,” Hansford said.

Gordon tells me that Lake was the caretaker and gardener at the Wolfville post office for many years and the caretaker at the curling club, which was also used for a time as the Wolfville armouries. “Lake told me the whole story about the royal oak and the acorn one night at the armouries,” Gordon said.

Lake was a native of Great Britain who had emigrated to Wolfville with his family before the first world war. Hansford describes him a great gardener and handyman who could make anything. Lake is mentioned in the Wolfville history, Mud Creek, as playing an important role when in 1938 the garden club landscaped the post office grounds and planted memorial trees. Lake passed away a decade ago.


NEW MINAS OF THE 1920s AND 1930s (December 5/03)

New Minas had an outdoor rink in the pre-World War Two days, with a change room and an outside privy. “They used to have a lot of hockey games and skating there in the 1930s before the war,” says a New Minas resident, Ann Perrier.

Ms. Perrier was the first of several people who called to comment about [a recent] column on the Acadian cellars and old roads of New Minas. While she telephoned to tell me about a couple of roads she remembered seeing when she was a “wee youngster,” I quizzed Ann about the rink when she mentioned an old road that ran up from it to the south of the village.

When someone sits down one day to write a history of New Minas, its outdoor rink and the great recreation it provided in the 1920s and 1930s will undoubtedly be part of the story. Ann said the rink was located where the senior’s complex now stands, and she has a few tales to tell about it.

In fact, Ann remembers much about New Minas as it was in the period from the 1920s through to the time when the village began to change rapidly and became a commercial centre. She tells me she can name most of the people who once lived along Commercial Street; most the old houses and farms are long gone, but if anyone is interested, Ann knows where they were located and who lived in them.

Perrier’s father once operated a farm in New Minas in what is now a business and residential area. George Perrier’s 75-acre farm fronted on Commercial Street, taking in a block that ran from Perrier Drive to the Pipeline service station. The upper part of the farm was expropriated when the 101 was being constructed. She has a story to tell about the expropriation and the various efforts to buy her father’s farm when New Minas started to boom and this will make an interesting footnote when the history of New Minas is done.

One of the stories concerns a man who offered George Perrier over 100,000 dollars for his land. Perrier wouldn’t sell, refusing he told Ann because the man making the offer was a total stranger. Perrier later sold his land to a local family who named Perrier Drive after him when a subdivision was established.

Ann Perrier has promised me to sketch a map of New Minas as it was in the heydey of the outdoor rink. The map will show the location of a couple of old roads, the one that ran south from the senior’s complex and another that apparently ran parallel to Commercial Street. Ann remembers seeing this road when she was a girl; it was just north of Commercial Street and ran behind the civic centre and behind McDonalds.

I plan to hold Ann to her promise of that sketch. Hopefully, I can convince her to include all the old homes of New Minas in her map. Memories of this nature are worth preserving.



You dabble in your family genealogy and you’ve spent countless hours searching in archives and newspaper files trying to track down your ancestors. It’s been frustrating and the rewards have been few and far between. But you’re not giving up. Somewhere there is important information on a missing uncle, aunt or great grandparent. You tell yourself it’s just a matter of sticking with it and you’ll find it.

There’s some good news for you. The Kings Historical Society has already done some of the research for you. Records of births and deaths for the counties of Kings, Hants, Annapolis and Digby and the census of 1871-1901 and 1786-1861 are available on two computer discs at the Kings County Museum in Kentville. I hope I don’t sound like I’m making a sales pitch but they’re a great buy at only $25 per disc.

These files would make a great stocking stuffer this Christmas for the amateur genealogist and historian in your family. I’ll give you a couple of examples of how useful they can be for anyone looking for family history.

While I was searching for information on my Irish-born great grandfather David Coleman, I came across a list of children from his first and second marriages. I had no way to confirm the of accuracy this list is but I was told it was taken from census records. I found two of David’s daughters in the disc containing births and deaths and this was confirmation that my list was accurate; at least it was accurate concerning these offspring, so I assumed that it was correct in other details.

The information on the disc told me that my great aunt Allice was born in Hall’s Harbour and died there unmarried at age 25, of consumption, in 1868. Another great aunt, Esmorilda, died in 1876 at age 13 in Hall’s Harbour where she was also born. There is a puzzle about her death; the cause is given as “inflammation,” whatever that means.

As I did, you can find information on your ancestors that otherwise wouldn’t be available. Sometimes an ancestor disappears from the records simply because they died as a child or their name changed at marriage. The detailed list of births and deaths also provided information on marriages. In the case of my great aunts, for example, I found confirmation that my great grandfather was married twice.

The various censuses on the discs will also prove invaluable in your genealogical research. Again using my great grandfather David as an example, I found him listed in the 1851 census. At first glance, this may not seem important or of any value. However, this provided a valuable clue as to when David emigrated from Ireland. Oral family history has it that he arrived in Canada in either 1840 or 1850; while the 1851 census doesn’t give me an exact date, at least I know I’m in the neighbourhood.

You’ll find countless uses for the information on these discs. As the covering letter that comes with the discs says, it’s “genealogical information not found anywhere else.” Don’t forget to put them on your Christmas list.


Were they Acadian or Planter in origin – the old cellars and old roads that people say were visible some 50 years ago around New Minas?

Bev Eaton, who is 85, believes some of the old cellars he played around in his boyhood days were Acadian. “That’s what we were told,” Eaton says of three cellars he and friends found south of his Aalders Avenue residence in New Minas.

The cellars were close together in an area between Aalders Avenue and the D.A.R. tracks, Eaton recalls. “They had rock walls and we used to dig around them looking for buried treasure,” he said. Eaton also mentioned a mysterious mound of earth in the area that apparently had been there for some time. As well, Eaton remembers hearing stories of an Acadian church that was in the same area.

It’s possible that the cellars Bev Eaton remembers seeing were Acadian in origin. A. W. H. Eaton quotes a source in his Kings County history that pinpointed an Acadian village in New Minas and the location of a chapel and a “French fort.” In fact, the historian confirms that New Minas was the site of a large Acadian settlement and he names the farmsteads where they were located – for example “the Best farm, now owned by Amos Griffin,” and “the centre of the hamlet… known as the Foster farm.”

Eaton published his county history in 1910, only a few years before Bev Eaton investigated the old cellars, and the historian writes that Acadian homesteads sites were visible at the time his work was published. “In later times French cellars have been numerous here,” Eaton says. He places some of the cellars as approximately in the area where Bev Eaton remembers seeing them.

As well as there being evidence of what A. W. H. Eaton calls “a somewhat important (Acadian) hamlet” in New Minas, the village apparently was crisscrossed by various French roads. Eaton’s history gives enough clues so that some of the Acadian roads probably can be traced. “North of Robert Redden’s, across the hollow running east and west, the French road can be traced yet,” Eaton writes of one old road, for example.

A former long-time resident of New Minas remembers the location of various old cellars roads in and around the village, but he isn’t sure if they were Acadian or Planter. Wayne Downey tells me he found cellars near the trailer park west of the Big Stop. There were a rock foundation and a well beside the 101 down ramp there, Downey says.

Downey says he also found an old cellar south of the #1 highway in New Minas near the liquor commission store. He also found an old cellar on the “laid out road” that once started by the senior’s complex and ran south. And during his explorations when he was a youth, Downey also found a cellar near an old dyke road which ran to the Cornwallis River. Downey tells me he also explored another old road that ran south from New Minas to Canaan. Sections of this road are buried under the 101 highway but some stretches are still visible and can be walked.


It was an excellent framed colour print with a three-word caption – “Kentville Nova Scotia.” Two names were at the bottom of the print – W. H. Barlett to the left and to the right H. Adlard. While undated, it obviously was a view of Kentville when the town was in its infancy. The artist sketching the scene had stood on the high ground immediately north of the town, just over the Cornwallis River. Several large buildings and a few residences are shown; a rough footbridge spans a narrow section of the river, apparently where the current town bridge now stands.

My wife Lorna told me about seeing the print at a nearby yard sale and I immediately rushed over to look at it. I was told that it was a view of Kentville from the “Chester Avenue brook.” But at a glance, I realised I was looking at the Cornwallis River and early Kentville from the hill on its north side near the regional hospital. Oddly, the sketch looked familiar; I knew I had seen it somewhere before.

Several days after I purchased the print it dawned on me why it looked familiar. In 1974 Longman Canada Limited had published a pictorial record of Nova Scotia, a series of historical prints from 1605 to 1878 with thumbnail descriptions of each scene. This book is in the Wolfville library and on several occasions I had taken it home and poured over its pages. I was sure the Kentville sketch in my newly acquired print was in the Longman book and I was right.

The sketch of early Kentville was drawn by William Henry Barlett (1809-1854) and is plate number 101 in the Longman book. Bartlett’s sketch was engraved by H. Adlard for a book called Canadian Scenery Illustrated, which was printed in England in 1842. The print was later copied by Currier & Ives and erroneously titled Sussex, New Brunswick.

Born in London, William Henry Bartlett made four trips to Canada between 1836 and 1852. The Kentville sketch was made on one of these trips in or before 1842, the year it was first published. There are 160 prints in the Longman book, depicting many interesting historical aspects of the province over approximately a 250 year period beginning as I said in 1605. But even more interesting than the prints are the descriptions of the areas illustrated in them. Following is the description of Kentville as it originally appeared in Canadian Scenery Illustrated:

“Kentville – a prettily situated village, containing several handsome private residences, a court-house, gaol, and a good grammar school. The views in the vicinity are remarkably fine, and the formation of land such as to present the greatest diversity of landscape; the chief charm of which consists in the unusual combination of hill, dale, woods and cultivated fields – in the calm beauty of agricultural scenery – and the romantic wilderness of the distant forest.”

There are various other local scenes in the book as well – a view of Windsor in 1837 and 1842, several sketches of Blomidon made between 1781 and 1842, Cape Split as an artist saw it in 1842 and views of Wolfville and Acadia University in 1871. My favourite print is an 1837 sketch of “Cornwallis, Grand Priare (Grand Pre) and Basin of Minas from North Mountain.”


According to Eaton’s Kings County history, in the year 1900 Kings County farmers harvested 57,658 tons of hay. Eaton doesn’t say how much of this was tidal marsh grasses or salt hay, but much of it must have been. Lewis Downey, who was born in 1908, recalls that when he was in his teens on his father’s Highbury farm they were still harvesting great quantities of salt hay.

The annual harvesting of tidal marsh grasses saw its last days about two generation ago. However, Lewis Downey, who is 95, remembers it well. When I talked with him recently at his nephew Wayne’s residence on Belcher Street he clearly recalled the harvesting, remembering that it was a lot of hard work for something that really wasn’t all that good nutritionally as cattle fodder. “It would physic the devil out of them, run right through them,” Downey said.

Farmers owning marshland would harvest salt hay every autumn during periods of low running tides. Lewis’ father, Frank, owned nearly three acres of marshland north of Wolfville and Lewis says it took at least a week to harvest the hay on it and haul it back to the farm. The hay was mowed by hand using scythes, then piled on poles and carried to ground above the high tide mark where it was allowed to dry. “We went out at low tide and had to cut the hay and get it off the marsh before the tide came in again,” Lewis said. “Everything had to be done in a hurry or we’d lose what we cut.”

Some farmers harvesting the hay took their wagons out on the marsh to collect the hay, Lewis recalls, using “mud shoes” on the horses to keep them from getting stuck on the marsh. “Only the quieter, older horses were fitted with shoes and taken on the marsh,” Lewis said. “The older horses were easier to handle.”

Once the strenuous task of mowing the hay and moving it to high ground was completed, the hay was carried by wagon to the Downey farm. “We used a team of two horses, making up a load of about a ton and a half of hay each time,” Lewis said. “Then we had a seven mile haul back to the farm.”

Back at the farm, Lewis said, the salt hay would be stacked in huge mounds by the outbuildings and was never mixed with upland hay. The salt hay was used as cattle fodder through winter. Lewis said that the general practice at the time was to feed the cattle two or three times a day, once or twice with upland hay and once with salt hay.

Not all the salt hay was immediately hauled off the marsh after it was cut. Lewis said that some farmers stored hay on upright poles called staddles which were driven into the mud. The poles were placed about a foot apart in a circle. Hay was placed on the poles in a rounded stack and secured with wire. Once the marsh froze, the hay was taken off the staddles and hauled to the farm by sled.

The custom of harvesting marsh grasses on the Minas Basin was begun by the Acadians who used salt hay as fodder for livestock. The Acadians harvested the hay with large flat-bottomed boats or by tying the grass into bundles and letting it float ashore. The Acadians passed on the art of dykeing to the Planters, and we can surmise that the Acadians also told the Planters about the great crops of marsh grass that were there for the taking.


Asked to contribute a history of Kentville’s early days to the Christmas 1895 issue of the Western Chronicle, Probate Judge Edmund J. Cogswell responded admirably to the task, writing a detailed description of the town as he remembered it. Some of Cogswell’s essay was later quoted (without credit) by A. W. H. Eaton when the latter compiled his history of Kings County.

Historians will be forever grateful to Cogswell and to a later writer, Leslie Eugene Dennison, who in 1932 reminisced about early Kentville in The Advertiser. Both Cogswell and Dennison gave detailed descriptions of the town and its citizens, providing valuable information that might otherwise have been lost.

In places, Cogswell and Dennison differ on a few details, but that was to be expected since they produced their works from memory when well along in years. Cogswell was 70 when he wrote Kentville: A Historic Sketch. Dennison, a lifelong newspaperman, was almost 70 when he wrote Kentville And Vicinity A Half Century Ago.

When she wrote her Kentville history – The Devil’s Half Acre – in 1986, Mabel Nichols credits Eaton’s history as one of her sources. While Cogswell and Dennison aren’t mentioned in the credits, some of the details she included on Kentville’s streets and its citizens can only be found in their works. We have to assume that Nichols was familiar with the mini-histories by Cogswell and Dennison.

This long preamble is leading to another mention of Kentville’s hotels. I wrote about several of the town’s early hotels, especially the Royal Oak, in a column [three] weeks ago when quoting from a 1930 newspaper article. Cogswell, Dennison and Nichols write about Kentville’s hotels in their works, for the most part agreeing on how many there were over the years and on details about ownership and so on. The works of these writers are an excellent resource, and in fact, are probably the only original sources when looking at the 200 plus years of hotel history in Kentville.

Since about 1790 Kentville has been served by many hotels, some on a grand scale. Looking at Cogswell first, he mentions several including the Royal Oak. Besides the Royal Oak, Cogswell recalled the Kentville Hotel, the Porter House, the McIntosh Hotel and Bragg’s Hotel, which he says was also called “Mulloneys or the Victoria House.”

Dennison doesn’t mention the Royal Oak and he differs from Cogswell, writing that it was the Kentville Hotel, not Braggs that was also called Mulloney’s Hotel. Included in Dennison’s list are a couple of hotels not found in Cogswell’s paper; these are Lyons Hotel, Reddens Hotel and the Riviere House.

Mabel Nichol’s book is a much better source of information on Kentville hotels than Cogswell and Dennison. Nichols lists 12 early day hotels with a brief sketch on each one, including the original owners and the dates the hotels opened and closed. Nichols writes that Kentville Hotel, Bragg’s Hotel (or Inn) and Mulloney’s Hotel are separate entities and she lists five hotels not mentioned by Cogswell and Dennison.


While it was never a bustling shipbuilding center like Canning, and there was no established shipyard, Kentville can rightfully claim to be among the communities in Kings County where ships were first built.

In fact, some of the first vessels built in Kings County were constructed on the banks of the Cornwallis River well inside the town limits. One ship, and possibly two or more, were built near the Goodyear Tire store little more than a stone’s throw below the bridge.

“It is said that the first vessel built in the county was a schooner rigged craft, of abut 40 tons register, built at the Cornwallis Town Plot about 1790,” A. W. H. Eaton writes in his Kings County history. Just over two decades later, in 1813, one Handley Chipman “built a brig of some two hundred tons,” Eaton writes. This vessel was built on the banks of the Cornwallis River “near the bridge at Kentville.”

Eaton also says in 1846, one James Edward DeWolf built a barque in the same location. Appropriately, DeWolf called his vessel The Kent, in honour no doubt of the Duke of Kent who had given Kentville its name some two decades earlier.

Another historical source verifies that Kentville had a brief fling with shipbuilding. About 90 years ago, W. C. Milner compiled from various sources a history book he titled The Basin of Minas and Its Early Settlers. In the section on the “Town Plot” in the Cornwallis Township Milner writes the following about shipbuilding with a reference to Kentville: “The first vessel built by the New England settlers was said to be one at Town Plot, Cornwallis River, about 1790. It was 40 tons register. In 1813, Handley Chipman built a 200 ton brig on the river near Kentville. In 1846, J. E. DeWolf built there a barque.”

Milner may have been quoting Eaton but it isn’t likely. At the time Milner was chief archivist for Nova Scotia and he had access to all the provincial historical records. In other words, Milner could easily have verified that vessels were indeed built by Chipman and DeWolf in Kentville.

Milner writes elsewhere that the business of the county (Kings) at one time was shipbuilding and “nearly every man possessing brains became more or less an expert.” He adds that there was “little wonder if in time the shores of the (Minas) Basin were not one vast shipyard.”

With all this activity it’s not difficult to understand why a few ships were built well up the Cornwallis River in Kentville. Milner suggests that there may have been other vessels constructed in or near Kentville on the Cornwallis River, along the dyke area in the section known as “the Klondyke.” However, he offers no proof and may have been confusing Kentville with Wolfville where there was also a spate of shipbuilding on a small scale.

“A few miles below Kentville, perhaps even within the town’s limits, several more vessels other than those produced by Chipman and DeWolf were built,” Milner writes. However, I’ve looked at several other reference books regarding shipbuilding in Kings County and couldn’t find another reference to Kentville.


In 1853 an end-of-January gale made the history books when it blew down forty-seven million cubic feet of timber in Scotland.

In 1780 a great wind started somewhere near Barbados, ravaged the island of St. Lucia, killing six thousand persons and destroyed an English fleet anchored nearby. Swirling onwards, the wind dubbed the “great hurricane of 1780” sank more than 40 French military ships carrying four thousand soldiers and killed nine thousand persons in Dominique, St. Eustatius, St. Vincent and Puerto Rico; along the way the hurricane sank countless other ships.

I found these gems of information on hurricanes in a book I happened to be reading a few days before Hurricane Juan savaged Nova Scotia. No mention was made of other damage the gale caused in Scotland but it must have been considerable for the storm to be remembered and recorded. Until modern times the 1870 hurricane was dubbed the most destructive windstorm in recorded history.

Another storm that made the history books occurred in more recent times. In 1926 a hurricane struck Miami and the damage was estimated at a hundred million dollars in then current dollars. A few years later another hurricane struck the same area. The death toll from these storms was in the thousands.

Who among us doesn’t remember Hurricane Hazel in October 1954, with winds of up to 150 miles per hour? The damage by this storm on the coast here and on the U.S. seaboard has been estimated at over 300 million dollars. An even more vicious storm, Hurricane Donna in 1960, caused damage to the tune of more than a billion dollars.

While we tend to think of destructive winds as a modern phenomenon, it isn’t so. Windstorms have been plaguing man for thousands of years. Ancient man looked upon winds with religious awe, named and worshipped wind gods, and in some cases dedicated temples to them. The Greeks decided there were eight winds, the Romans settled on and named 12.

There was good reason for the Greeks to deify the wind. When Xerxes, the King of Persia, led his army against the Greeks in 480, he was certain of victory. When the Persian fleet was anchored offshore, the Greeks consulted the oracle at Delphi who advised them to pray to the winds. Promptly an altar was raised and sacrifices to the wind were made. The next morning a violent wind storm struck the Persian fleet and destroyed it, saving Greece.

This was a coincidence perhaps but it reinforced the belief that the wind came from the gods. Other civilisations were just as certain that the winds were of godly origin. Over the ages, even primitive societies worshipped and deified the wind. We speak of Chinook winds, for example, without realising they were named after the Chinook Indians who handed down a legend about powerful winds.

Generations from now people will still be talking about the destruction caused by Juan and rest assured this hurricane will make the history books. But while Juan will join the ranks of other destructive winds, I wonder how it compares to a hurricane that struck Florida in 1900 with winds estimated at 250 miles an hour?