ROYAL OAK – “WHERE TARRIED THE DUKE” (October 10/03)

It was the first real hotel in this area, claimed a nameless feature writer in a 1930 special edition of The Advertiser, and “to it can go credit for Kentville’s name.” If the inn hadn’t existed, the writer said, “it is extremely doubtful (that) the Duke of Kent would have stayed here, and today Kentville would in all probability have been known by some other name.”

The inn was the Royal Oak, then only four years old when the Duke of Kent “perchance tarried there overnight” in 1794. The occasion for mention of the Royal Oak was the grand opening of the Cornwallis Inn in 1930. One of the articles marking the opening was a history of hotels operating in Kentville since the late 18th century; the Royal Oak was singled out as being the first.

For Royalty to grace the premises, the Royal Oak must have been the 18th equivalent of today’s Old Orchard Inn. The Royal Personage was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and when his carriage stopped in Kentville it was a “small, picturesque hamlet in the Land of Acadie then known as Horton.”

True or not, the feature writer claimed that the Royal Oak gave Kentville its start. Along with other hotels, the Royal Oak made the town “one of the principal stopping places in the Valley and in general contributed to the commercial growth and prosperity.”

The Royal Oak certainly was worthy of mention in Eaton’s Kings County history. Eaton placed the inn on Wickwire Hill in Kentville’s east end. The inn was the residence of an early “Kentville grantee,” Cyrus Peck. The Peck house was destroyed by fire in 1881, long after it had ceased being used as an inn, and the property was purchased by Frederick Wickwire.

Eaton mentions a couple of small inns or hotels in Kentville that were operating at the same time as the Royal Oak. These were identified in The Advertiser feature as the Bragg Inn and the Angus House; Eaton refers to them simply as “Angus’ farther west near the corner where the Red Store is, and Bragg’s still farther west. Oddly, Eaton mentions that for a time Bragg’s Inn was the site of a private school.

The Kentville Hotel was the next major inn situated in the town. Eaton’s history tells us this became the “headquarters of stage travel between Halifax and Annapolis,” and left it at that. However, The Advertiser feature fills in the gaps. “About 1815, Caleb Handley Rand and other citizens of the town and county organised the first community enterprise ever undertaken here. They formed and built the Kentville Hotel. This building, which later came into the hands of the Lyons family, is still (1930) in excellent condition.”

The Kentville Hotel had another Royal honour bestowed upon it. James Lyons bought out the hotel in 1830 and operated it until the late 1880s, during which period he entertained a Royal guest. “It was at this hotel,” notes The Advertiser, “that the present King George stayed while on a shooting expedition in Kings County.”

In was in this period, The Advertiser continues, that the Mulloney (later the Victoria) Hotel opened. In 1855 William Redden built the Revere House next to the Kentville Hotel. The American House, with James McIntosh as the proprietor, opened in 1868. A few years later J. R. Lyons built the Lyons House on Aberdeen Street.

THE TIME OF SHIPS, TRAINS AND 10 CENT WAGES (October 3/03)

There was a time when you could stroll to a nearby town or village, hop on the train and take a leisurely trip to the outermost reaches of the county. There was also a time when you could hitch up your horse and wagon and journey to the shore to watch shipbuilders at work or a schooner being launched.

There was also a time when working a 10-hour day at 10 cents an hour was commonplace; and while the pay seems low by today’s standards, a week’s wages in those times would buy enough groceries to last two or three weeks.

You may be too young to remember those days so here’re a few glimpses of those times culled from the files of this newspaper.

August 27, 1918 Heading: North Mountain Railway. “The North Mountain branch of the Dominion Atlantic Railway was opened for traffic on August 15th with a service each way on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“It is a beautiful scenic route of over 10 miles through the most fruitful portion of our valley. The stations from Centreville westbound are Billtown, Lakeville, Woodville, Grafton, Somerset and Weston. It skirts the foothills of the North Mountain all the way and passes through beautiful orchards.”

A news story on shipbuilding, dated May 4, 1918, in which Hunting Point is probably Huntington Point. Heading: Ship Building at Hall’s Harbour. “Mr. Hatsfield has the keel now laid in the new shipyard at Hunting Point, Hall’s Harbour. It is a 135 ft. keel and will be a handsome vessel when completed.

“The shipyard and surroundings is now a hive of industry. A mill has been erected and is now busy turning out the material for the ship. A store has been established and quite a village now surrounds the works. Mr. Andrew Neville is the foreman.

“It is well on to half a century since the last vessel was built at the harbour by D. R. and C. F. Eaton and John Bucknam. The shipyard was just west of the pier. The present ship is the beginning of an industry that is likely to continue.”

In the summer of 1918 Kentville’s theatre was the Strand and a Mack Sennett and Mutt and Jeff comedy were featured. Admission price was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children. There was a note that the “war tax” of two cents had been included in the prices.

Now, let’s skip forward a few decades and look at food prices.

In a 1930 advertisement for a north end Kentville grocer, R. A. Neary, mincemeat was offered for 18 cents a pound, sliced bacon for 35 cents per pound and head cheese 25 cents a per pound. Raisins were 14 cents a package, dates two pounds for 25 cents and a 40-ounce jar of marmalade 35 cents.

The 1947 grocery advertisement for the Red Store will bring back memories for many readers. The Red Store offered two dozen oranges for 45 cents, two-pound tubs of honey for 52 cents and apple juice at two tins for 27 cents. Clams were 65 cents for two tins and various jams and marmalades were priced from 39 to 50 cents per jar.

A SHIP LAUNCHING IN CANNING, 1918 (September 26/03)

“Saturday will be a great day in Canning, it being a day memorable of the return of former shipbuilding,” read a notice in The Advertiser‘s August 20, 1918, edition.

“The launching of the 400-ton three masted schooner now being completed will take place on that day Sept. 21st., at high tide early in the afternoon. The Canning ladies are making preparations for serving refreshments for those coming in on that day.”

The schooner was the General George C. Hogg and launching day at the Bigelow shipyard was a memorable event. Canning, which at the time was one of the area’s major commercial centres, was inundated with people on launch day. They arrived by rail, automobile, horse and wagon and on foot, straining the resources of the town and creating a traffic jam along the village’s main thoroughfare.

It was to be a non-event, however. From the very first day the General George C. Hogg ran into difficulties; which with hindsight could be looked upon as a portent, an omen of things to come for what was to be a hard luck schooner. High tides and “boisterous winds” caused a freak accident and delayed the launching. But despite the setback, Canning enjoyed a memorable day. Here’s The Advertiser‘s report on the event in its September 24th issue:

“Despite the rainy weather a great crowd gathered at Canning on Saturday to witness the launching of the staunch three masted schooner…. The railway brought in about 400 people mostly from Kentville and the North Mountain section; and by estimation there was fully 200 autos on the Main Street and in different yards in the village, which brought in fully 1,200 people. With the teams from the vicinity, including the citizens, the (crowd) must have reached nearly 3,500 people, probably the largest number ever gathered in that town.”

The Advertiser reported that the “great crowd” taxed Canning’s “hotel and restaurant accommodations to the utmost.” However, said the newspaper, the ladies of the village reaped an award by serving “excellent meals and lunches to a jolly and hungry crowd,” realising $200 in cash for the Red Cross.

The General George C. Hogg never made it down the ways that stormy September day some 85 years ago. And, said The Advertiser, perhaps it was fortunate that it didn’t:

“The tide was high and the wind boisterous when at 1:30 o’clock the ship was ready for the water. The swell of the water caused the weights on one of the launchways to go overboard and the launchway floated to the surface. In five minutes more the vessel would have been sliding to the water. This accident made necessary a delay in the launching and the props were again put in place and the launching postponed until Monday.”

With conditions not quite right it seemed fortunate that the accident with the launchway weights occurred, The Advertiser concluded, since “the vessel propelled by the wind might have reached a bank before being placed under control and been damaged.”

Was this a prophetic beginning of the schooner’s career? The General George C. Hogg ran aground several times before being destroyed on a reef off Maine a few years after being launched.

BUILDING THE MEDFORD DYKE (September 19/03)

“I John H. Fluck do swear that I will keep a correct record of all money spent and expences incured (sic) in building the Medford Dyke… and generally do the duties of clerk to the best of my judgement and ability.” This statement was sworn before commissioner Leander Rand on 29 May, 1893, and was the initial step in constructing a dyke on Bass Creek in Medford.

Work began immediately on the dyke. As required, John Fluck (pronounced fluke) kept a detailed account book and the first entry, also dated May 29, shows that the dyke body paid for 10 hours of manual labour on that day. Fluck’s account book, a school exercise scribbler, has been preserved to this day and is in good condition; the ledger is now at the Kings County Museum, the gift of a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

In recent times remnants of the old Medford dyke were still visible. Marine history buff Leon Barron of North Alton tells me that remains of the dyke walls, a few pilings and some of the sluiceway were visible just below the highway when he explored Medford beach a few years ago.

The Medford or Bass Creek dyke was built over a four month period. Compared to the might Wellington Dyke on the Canard River, it was minuscule but of no less importance. That the Bass Creek marsh was dyked originally by the Acadians is possible since these people had scattered farms in the Medford area; however, while no records exist to confirm this, the Planters who took up Acadian lands generally maintained existing dykes.

When the Medford dyke was built 110 years ago, John Fluck entered in his ledger the cost of manual labour, the amount and cost of materials that went into the dyke and sluiceway, and other expenses. These entries give us a peephole into the past and reveal some amazing facts about the late 19th century.

For example, the going rate for hard manual labour in 1893 apparently was ten cents an hour. Labourers were often called upon to work a 10-hour day. George P. Baines was one of those labourers and we find entries after his name reading, “To five days and one hour’s work @$1.00 – $5.10;” and “To five days and six hours – $5.60.”

Building a dyke required among other things timber and tools. Thus we find that John Fluck purchased two buckets at 25 cents each, three kegs of spikes at $2.60 per keg, an axe, including the handle, for $1.00, three pounds of wire nails at five cents per pound. Other purchases included tar, oil, oakum (a loose fibre used for caulking) “sawn timber for sluiceway,” and one of the largest purchases, “six thousand, 200 feet lumber.”

Some outside help may have been brought in during dyke construction. Fluck’s ledger has one page devoted to “Rufus Borden’s board bill” at the rate of $3.00 per week. Most likely Borden was a specialist in some phase of dyke construction. He was on hand during construction from June 2 until September 1.

On September 5 a committee of three men was selected to appraise the completed dyke. Selected were Rufus Borden, Levi Eaton and Stanley Eaton. Apparently, these three examined the work to determine if it was up to the standard set by the dyke commission.

PIPPINS AND OTHER APPLES FROM THE PAST (September 12/03)

Relatively scarce today, the Strawberry Pippin is one of the apples popular when our great grandfathers had youthful twinkles in their eyes. As apples go, it probably ranks as a two or three in a scale of one to 10. Once popular as a dessert apple, it has been replaced by hardier varieties.

While the Strawberry Pippin is one of the older varieties, it probably hasn’t been around as long as apples grown by the Acadians. In Valley Gold, the apple industry history by Anne Hutten, the author writes about several varieties known to the Acadians. At least two of these varieties were found growing in Nova Scotia orchards as recently as half a century ago.

A list I obtained recently from the Fruit Growers Association has 233 apple varieties that have been grown here since the time Acadian orchards flourished. Some of the varieties on this list had their heydey several generations ago and have for the most part disappeared.

One of the oldest apple listed is the Pommi (Pomme) Gris, another the Fameuse. Anne Hutten writes that both were grown by the Acadians, along with the Bellefleur and perhaps the Belliveau. The Fruit Growers Association list indicates that only 18 Pommi Gris trees were found in the province 50 years ago. The Fameuse lasted longer and several hundred trees existed three decades ago.

Getting back to the Strawberry Pippin, there was only one tree in our neighbourhood when I was a boy and I figured the variety was almost extinct. There were a lot of old orchards in those days and we scoured many of them, finding Russets, Cox’s Orange and Bishop Pippin but never the Strawberry Pippin. The Fruit Growers list indicates there were only a few trees, but apparently this has changed and the Strawberry Pippin may be making a comeback.

When Arnold Burbidge was growing up on is father’s farm in Canard, there was a single Strawberry Pippin tree in their orchard. For some reason, Burbidge said in effect, the Strawberry Pippin was synonymous with the old homestead. “I guess it was nostalgia or whatever,” he said, “but whenever I thought about the old homestead, this tree came to mind.”

When Burbidge discovered a Strawberry Pippin tree in Port Williams on the property of Lloyd Gates he wasn’t long in getting a scion. This was grafted onto a Cortland tree at his Centreville residence. Today Burbidge has plenty of Strawberry Pippins and he often shares them with friends and neighbours. I was the recipient of a bag of this old variety and I can report firsthand that calling it a dessert apple is an appropriate description.

The strawberry Pippin is faintly sweet, a bit tart and close to the Astrachan in flavour. It’s shaped somewhat like a strawberry, hence the name I suppose. The flesh of the Strawberry Pippin is soft and the apple deteriorates quickly; which might explain why growers who shipped apples to Britain preferred hardier varieties.

Other members of the Pippin family are Bishop Pippin, Scarlet Pippin, August Pippin, Cranberry Pippin, King Pippin, and Newton Pippin. While popular generations ago, most of the apples of the pippin family, which apparently also includes Cox’s Orange and the Ribston, are rarities nowadays.

HALL’S HARBOUR IN THE 19th CENTURY (September 5/03)

In the history of Kings County Arthur W. H. Eaton notes that as well as being one of the first shipbuilding areas, Hall’s Harbour was for a time one of the “notable trading centres” in this region.

Eaton was referring to the period when commerce, for the most part, depended on sailing ships and favourable tides. For a lengthy period, commercial goods reached Kings County through ports such as Hall’s Harbour, Kingsport and so on. As road improved and when the railroad reached Kings County, entry ports on the Fundy and Minas Basin shore disappeared, becoming the quaint tourist destinations we know today. In effect, thriving seaside villages and trading centres such as Hall’s Harbour went the way of sailing ships once overland commercial trafficking was viable.

It’s difficult to picture Hall’s Harbour as previously being one of the “notable trading centres” Eaton lauded. But there is plenty of evidence that it was. First, a quote from a clipping dated 1995 that I found recently in a trivia file: “Hall’s Harbour… served as a fishing station for the people of the Valley until about 1826 when it began to grow. Two new families settled there; and in 1820 the first store was opened by Sylvanus Whitney. Five years later the first vessel, the Dove, was built in Hall’s Harbour.”

While I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this quote, another source verifies that in the 19th century Hall’s Harbour was indeed a thriving centre. Hutchinson’s Directory, the 1864-65 edition, describes a Hall’s Harbour that has an amazing mix of merchandisers, tradesmen and mariners, suggesting that indeed that it was as prosperous and notable as Eaton claimed.

In 1864-65 Sylvanus Whitney was still operating the store he opened in 1820. There were shops other than Whitneys, Hutchinson’s Directory listing Henry Cox and C. & T. Ilsley as merchants. Hall’s Harbour was important enough to have a way office, the keeper being one Thomas R. Ilsley. The extra “L” must have been added to this surname at a later date since the five Illsleys listed as Hall’s Harbour residents are spelled with only two.

In the period covered by Hutchinson, Hall’s Harbour has 48 heads of households. Two are blacksmiths, John H. Boles and George Sandford. Two of Hall’s Harbour’s most famous surnames – Bucknam – are represented by John Bucknam, a marine and naval architect, and Judson A. Bucknam, shipwright. In total, Hall’s Harbour had 10 shipwrights, or carpenters involved in the manufacture and repair of ships, an indication of its importance as a port. One of the shipwrights was John Nevils, a name still associated with the port.

Hall’s Harbour also had three shoemakers and two coopers. There was a school – John Boles and Martin Porter are listed as teachers. Rev. Joseph Noble looked after the area’s religious requirements and five of the port’s residents are listed as sea captains, of which three have the surname of Parker.

Oddly, 15 residents of Hall’s Harbour are listed as farmers and only three as fishermen. This probably can be explained by the fact that in early times farmers had dual occupations, working the land and also harvesting from the sea.

INTIMATE GLIMPSE OF A PROSPEROUS PLANTER (August 29/03)

I find it unusual that one of the most influential and industrious Planters settling here in the 1760s is ignored in Eaton’s Kings County history.

In 1760, reads the Benjamin family genealogy, Obadiah Benjamin of Connecticut received a grant of 500 acres in the original township of Hortonville (Horton). Before he died some 45 years later, Benjamin had amassed a large estate and was by far one of the most successful of the New England Planters.

Eaton includes Obadiah in his list of original Horton grantees (giving the grant date as 1761) and this is the only mention of this illustrious gentleman. Surely Eaton was aware of Obadiah’s accomplishments since some of the enterprises he started were still in operation when the history was compiled.

What were Obadiah Benjamin’s accomplishments and why name him as one of the most successful Planters?

Obadiah Benjamin apparently was a miller by trade; shortly after settling here he traded some of his Horton Township grant for property on the Gaspereau River where he built a couple of mills. Benjamin parlayed these mills into a sizeable estate and when he died about 45 years after settling in Kings County he was a wealthy man. The evidence that he was indeed a man of affluence is found in the Benjamin family genealogy, which can be found at the Kings County Museum.

“When Obadiah Benjamin died… he had a considerable estate,” reads the section of the genealogy devoted to him. “He established a grist mill and saw mill on the Gaspereau River and gave a farm to each of his four sons.” The genealogy continues with its sketch of Obadiah by quoting from his will, thus providing an intimate glimpse of this Planter pioneer’s wealth.

“His will dated November 6, 1806, leaves to the eldest sons Stephen and Caleb, 20 shillings each, having provided both of them on farms with marshlands. To son Abel the lot of land where his house stands together with the Grist Mill and sawmill together with the water privileges next to Jacob Benjamin’s land.

“To the fourth son Obed, the sum of 160 pounds by sons Abel and Jacob (and) already received marshland. Fifth son Jacob, all farmland (and) buildings where I now live. To daughters Lydia Parker and Elizabeth Kinnie (besides what I have already given them) all household furniture of any kind, plus 20 pounds to be paid by my sons, Abel and Jacob, and one cow each.

“To his wife Deborah Strong (his first wife, Mary Hurd, had died in 1786) one half of a house, namely kitchen and east parlour with household furniture; also a good riding horse and saddle and two-year-old red heifer.”

A postscript: The Benjamin genealogy records that Obadiah and Mary Hurd are buried in the “old cemetery on Highland Avenue, Wolfville.” There is no old cemetery on Highland Avenue. Obadiah and Mary Benjamin are buried in the old Horton-Wolfville Burying Ground on Main Street, facing Highland Avenue. James Doyle Davison’s book on the burial ground, What Mean These Stones, contain a brief sketch of Obadiah. It’s interesting to find that Benjamin once owned the land that’s now centre square in Kentville.

TRAGIC AFTERMATH OF A TRAGEDY (August 22/03)

When a monument was erected to Perez Coldwell several years ago, various newspapers chronicled the 1852 boating accident that resulted in the loss of seven lives and lead to coining the now familiar term “six precious souls from Acadia and a man from Gaspereau.”

Almost as if it is an afterthought, the newspaper articles mention the sole survivor of the boating mishap, George Benjamin of Gaspereau. In every account I’ve read of the incident, some of which date back more than 50 years, Benjamin is mentioned in passing, usually as a footnote; other than this mention, he is generally ignored.

But what of George Benjamin? What became of the other man from Gaspereau who survived that terrible day on Minas Basin in the summer of 1852?

There is evidence that George Benjamin’s life changed drastically after the tragedy. This was brought to my attention by Richard Skinner who with a bit of detective work, discovered Benjamin’s fate after the Minas Basin drowning. But some background first.

In a column last June I quoted from W. C. Milner’s Minas Basin history, offering some of the off-colour glimpses the author included in his work. One excerpt mentioned that a man named Benjamin, “who did not possess a very sound mind,” burned down a church in Wolfville around 1878. Benjamin was “taken in charge by his friends,” the account concluded and “sent to the asylum in Halifax.”

As a descendant of the Benjamins, Richard Skinner was curious to know if this was the same man who had survived the Minas Basin accident. He determined first that the Roman Catholic church in Wolfville had been destroyed by an arsonist around the year given by Milner. Judy Forsythe has written a history of the Wolfville Catholic church, an update based on an earlier work by David Young; and this gives the year of the fire as 1875 and names Charles Benjamin as the arsonist. Forsythe and Milner write that Benjamin set fire to the church when a priest refused to approve his marriage, said Benjamin apparently being “of unsound mind” at the time.

All accounts of the Minas Basin tragedy give Benjamin’s first name as George; Forsythe’s history of the Wolfville church gives Benjamin’s first name as Charles. However, they apparently are the same man and two sources confirm this.

The first is the extensive Benjamin family genealogy on file at the Kings County Museum. In the genealogy of Planter grantee Obadiah Benjamin, one of his descendants sired a son, Charles. Quoting from the genealogy, “Charles Thompson Benjamin was the sole survivor of an expedition on Minas Basin on June 7th, 1852, when ‘six precious souls from Acadia and a man from Gaspereau’ were drowned. Charles Thompson is believed to have died at the provincial asylum at Dartmouth.”

The second source is an obituary dated June 6, 1901, from the Berwick Register: “Charles T. Benjamin of Wolfville died at Mount Hope Asylum (in Dartmouth) on Monday of heart failure. He was 72 years of age and had been insane a great many years. He was the only survivor of the Minas Basin tragedy of 1852 when Professor Chipman, Rev. E. D. Very, four students and ‘a man from Gaspereau’ were drowned’.”

Undoubtedly overcome by the terrible accident, Benjamin apparently became unstable. Sadly, eight lives were lost in the 1852 accident on Minas Basin, the final victim being claimed decades later.

KINGSPORT’S “K SHIPS” MET UNUSUAL ENDS (August 15/03)

Kingsport’s most famous native son undoubtedly is Ebenezar Cox, 1828-1916; for a 30-year period beginning around 1864, Cox designed and built some of the finest sailing ships in Canada. At the very least, Cox ranked among the best as a shipbuilder and if he wasn’t first in Canada, he was number one in the Maritimes.

The Cox shipyard was located in Kingsport no more than a stone’s throw from the rejuvenated wharf and new marina. Cox is famous for having turned out some 30 schooners, brigs, barks and barquentines from his shipyard, a shipyard noted for producing some of the largest sailing ships in Canada.

Among the many outstanding ships that came from the Cox shipyard was a series quaintly named the K ships, the “K” obviously standing for Kingsport. Each of these ships, 10 in all, were given names beginning with the letter K, Katahdin and Kelverdale, for example.

The K ships of Kingsport were constructed between 1876 and 1890. Cox built them in partnership with Peter R. Crichton and Wolfville shipbuilder and merchant C. Rufus Burgess who also was involved with the Cornwallis Valley Railway. Crichton and Burgess apparently financed the building of the K ships and in his later years Cox may have been in the employ of one or both these gentlemen.

One of the odd things about the K ships of Kingsport, besides the unusual series of names, is that most met with violent ends, either as a result of submarine attacks or as victims of catastrophic weather. A number of the K ships ended their days sailing under foreign flags.

The last K ship built in the Cox shipyard was the barque Kings County, which was launched in 1890. Marine historian Leon Barron says the Kings County was one of five or six of the largest sailing ships built in Canada. Due to her size, Barron said, she had to be loaded and offloaded at moorings well away from shore.

Before the Kings County, Cox built the ship Karoo of 2031 tons. Launched in 1884 with C. Rufus Burgess as the major shareholder, the Karoo later sailed under a Norwegian flag.

The ship Kambira, 1952 tons, was launched in 1882, again with C. Rufus Burgess as the major shareholder. The Kambira was abandoned at sea in off Uruguay in 1905. The barque Kelverdale, 1132 tons, was launched by Cox the pervious year and was financed mainly by Peter R. Crichton. In 1903 the Kelverdale was sailing under a Spanish flag.

In 1880 the barque Kedron, 1160 tons, came down the ways at Kingsport and C. Rufus Burgess was the majority shareholder. In 1894 Kedron was under a Norwegian flag. The barque Katahdin, 1145 tons, was also launched in 1880 with Peter R. Crichton as a shareholder. Katahdin was abandoned at sea in 1904 while under a Norwegian flag.

The 1099 ton barque Kelvin was launched from Cox’s shipyard in 1879, again with Crichton as the major owner. The Kelvin was condemned and sold in Buenos Aires in 1899. Crichton financed the ship Kingsport, 1161 tons, that was launched in 1878. The Kingsport was wrecked near Buenos Aires in 1897.

The first two ships built by Cox in the K series, the Barque Kentigerm, 1877, and the barque Kingsport, 1876, were destroyed by German U boats in 1916.

LEON BARRON’S LIGHTHOUSE LORE (August 8/03)

During the Kings Historical Society lighthouse tour on August 24, Leon Barron will participate by giving a talk on the history of one of the old lighthouses that once stood on the Habitant River at long vanished Borden’s wharf.

It was a logical, appropriate choice for a speaker. Few local residents know as much about Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin lighthouses as Barron. In many years of research, he has gathered a near-encyclopaedic collection of lore on local lighthouses. That may seem to be an exaggeration. But when I met Leon recently he brought along two huge folders containing local lighthouse history and other marine lore. The folders represented only a fraction of the lore he’s found in the Journal and Proceedings of the House of Assembly.

Talking with Leon and reading the file, I discovered that we’ve had lighthouses on the local shoreline for over 150 years. To be exact, it was in the year 1848 when the first lighthouse was erected in Kings County. This was at Black Rock and Barron tells me it was “the first lighthouse east of Digby Gut.” The second lighthouse in this area was constructed at Horton Bluff a few years later, in 1851.

Barron said that at the time the Black Rock lighthouse went up there was “a lot of controversy for a long time on where it should be located.” When the government was looking at lighthouse sites, Barron said, some of the locations suggested were Black Rock, Isle Haute and Partridge Island near Parrsboro, which was then part of Kings County.

“There was a lot of wrangling and arguing, by sea captains, pilots and such over where to place lighthouses in this area,” Barron says. “I remember one story about the proposal to place a light on Partridge Island. This sea captain or pilot opposed it, saying it ‘would do nobody any good and would be an entire waste of taxpayer’s money’ and a lighthouse was never built there.”

Barron points out that a logical place for a lighthouse would have been Cape Split, but one was never built there. “There’s nothing in the old records (of the provincial House of Assembly) to indicate a light at Cape split was even suggested,” Barron says. “Instead, they built a lighthouse on Isle Haute, apparently figuring that a sea captain coming up the Bay of Fundy could see this light and use it to avoid the treacherous shoreline at Cape Split.”

While talking with Barron I made a few notes on local lighthouses. On the Isle Haute lighthouse, for example, the House of Assembly records indicate it was first proposed in 1840. When it was finally built in 1878, its first keeper Nelson Card (not Leon Card as I erroneously reported last week) received a salary of 100 pounds yearly.

The first lighthouse keeper at Horton Bluff was Robert King. King’s yearly salary was exactly half of that received by the keeper on Isle Haute. We can only speculate that the Isle Haute keeper was paid more because it was considered more hazardous, and certainly a more isolated, location than Horton Bluff.

As recently as 100 years ago there were two lighthouses on the Habitant River channel below Canning. They apparently weren’t all that far apart but they serviced two wharfs, one connecting with Saxon Street, the other with Canard Street which at the time weren’t joined as they are today.