Santa Claus is usually associated with the North Pole, with snow and reindeer. However, the original St. Nick, or Saint Nicholas, lived in Lycia in Asia Minor where you are more likely to find wild goats, ibex, sheep and poisonous vipers.

Few people know much about the original St. Nicholas. He lived during the fourth-century a.d. and was renowned for his acts of charity and generosity. The centuries-old tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time, which started with started in Europe, began December 6th, St. Nicholas’ feast day. Because of the proximity of St. Nicholas day to Christmas day, the saint eventually became associated with the yuletide period.

St. Stephen is another saint associated with Christmas. His feast day is celebrated December 26 and is one of the 12 days of Christmas. St. Stephen is the patron saint of horses and he was the first martyr of the Christian church. In the past, St. Stephen’s day was observed in Sweden where celebrations included horse races.

St. Lucy is another saint whose day was once popular in Sweden. The patron saint of the blind, St. Lucy is also considered a Christmas saint because her feast day is December 13. To celebrate this day, Swedish households selected a young girl to be Lucia Queen.

Dutch colonists are said to have brought the tradition of gift giving at Christmas to the New World, in fact, to New York where the Americans revised Sinterklaas to Santa Claus.

Apparently, there is no historical evidence that Christ was born on December 25. The first mention of a December 25 celebration of Christ’s birth appeared around 353 a.d.; however, it wasn’t until 440 a.d., more than four centuries after His actual birth, that the Church proclaimed that day as His birthday.

It may have been convenient to name December 25 as a holiday since it already was a celebration day. Pagan Europe used December 25 to mark the winter solstice, the beginning of lengthening days and the expectation of spring and rebirth. As the celebration of Christmas spread, people in various cultures retained many of the pagan solstice customs and incorporated them into Christmas rites. For example, mistletoe was used in midwinter Druid rites, while holly was used similarly used by Anglo Saxons. Pagan Scandinavian people regarded the evergreen tree as a symbol of survival.

The 12 days of Christmas originated with another pagan celebration. The ancient Celtic and Teutonic tribes once observed a 12-day Yule celebration. When converted to Christianity, they kept many of the Yule customs and used them at Christmas.

Gift giving, another popular Christmas custom, also had a pagan origin. Historians say the ancient Romans marked the feast of Saturnalia by exchanging gifts, a custom that was continued once Christianity and Christmas was established.


You may remember her for her talent as a doll maker. Between 1950 and 1980, she made hundreds of dolls, of which many were based on historical and literary characters. One of the most popular and most in demand was the Evangeline doll, which for years was available at a Grand Pre gift shop, and today is treasured by many collectors.

On the other hand, you may remember her as a school teacher; she taught at Kings County Academy in Kentville for 20 years.

In a way, she also has a historical connection with Kentville through her ancestors. A few generations ago her family owned the Elderkin farm, which today is part of the agricultural station in the east end of Kentville.

School teacher, doll maker, and a “gracious lady with an interesting personal history” is how Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury describes Marguerite Gates. I’ve only touched on a few of the highlights of Marguerite’s life. Stokesbury talked with Marguerite this past summer at Annadale House in Wolfville, and the interview that follows, which I’ve condensed, tells a more complete story.

Marguerite (Sharpe) Gates was born on February 23, 1915, in the Galleghar House, located on Main Street across from the Kentville Agricultural Centre. Her parents were Ellen (Stillwell) Sharpe and William Kenneth Sharpe. Through the paternal line, her family once owned property which now forms part of the Agricultural Centre. Her great grandfather Sharpe married Agnes Elderkin and through this union, the Elderkin farm and land, along with three other farms, were purchased by the government in 1915.

After the early death of her mother, Marguerite and her siblings lived with relatives in Kentville. Marguerite attended school in Kentville and following the Great Depression, eventually found work at The Advertiser as a proofreader and copy holder. Her boss at Kentville Publishing, Frank Burns, learned of her artistic ability and put her to work on the floats entered in the blossom festivals in the early 1940s.

Marguerite worked at The Advertiser for three years before marrying at age 26 in 1940. She met her future husband, Lloyd Gates, during the war years at the Palace Dance Hall in Kentville. Marguerite and Lloyd remained married for 64 years.

In addition to being a homemaker and mother, Marguerite returned to school in the early 1960s and received a BA and BEd from Acadia University. She proceeded to teach at Kings County Academy, retiring in1980.

Her artistic ability also found another creative outlet. In the 1950s she took up doll making. Oftentimes the dolls were based on historical personages or characters from literature, such as Evangeline or Alice in Wonderland. The Evangeline doll was in high demand and sold well at a gift shop at Grand Pre Park. Marguerite made some 300 dolls between 1950 and 1980.

One prized doll was based on the woman that started the Women’s Institute in 1897. This doll placed first in a 1980s competition which celebrated the Institute’s 175th anniversary. The doll remains with Marguerite and is a prized possession.

Following the death of her husband in 2005, Marguerite took up residence in Wolfville at Annadale House, where this interview was conducted. The complete interview (not the condensed version I’ve given readers) will be available for future generations in the Kings County Museum’s archives.


I’ve been told by my family that since I reached my senior years, it has become difficult to shop for me at Christmas. “Hey, no problem,” I generally reply. “Just give me a history book.”

Like many seniors, I revel in reading and collecting local history books; especially community history books of which there have been more than a few in recent years. With that hint out of the way, I’m going to make it easy for seniors whose spouses, children and grandkids are wondering what to give you for Christmas. Tell them to visit the Kings County Museum and get you a couple of history books for Christmas.

I’ll make it even easier for anyone to shop for you. Here’s a mini-review of a few of the books available. Pass it along to anyone who says it’s difficult to find a suitable gift for you.

Kings County Vignettes. A vignette is a brief account and that’s exactly what this soft covered series is, a 10 book collection of concise historical sketches covering various aspects of Kings County history. Price per book: $7.

Township books, Kings County, Nova Scotia : Aylesford, Cornwallis, Horton, compiled by Lorna Evans. Basically a record of marriages, births, and deaths in the townships between 1784 and 1862. A good research tool for anyone looking up their ancestors. $25.

A Genealogical History of Long Island by Douglas Eagles. While a history of farms dating back to the Planters, this book also describes the trials and tribulations of settling here and dividing up the dykelands following the Acadian expulsion. Recommend as an overview of early Planter life in Kings County. $15.

Camp Aldershot by Brent Fox. One of my favorite books and a great read if you’re interested in the military. Fox gives the history of Camp Aldershot from 1904 until roughly the present. Well researched, well written and a pleasure to read. A great stocking stuffer at $4.

Also for military buffs, We Remember the Veterans of New Ross. While primarily a record of the men and women of New Ross who served in the military from the time of the Riel rebellion, the Boer War and up to World War II, this book also covers the history of New Ross as a military settlement. $39.

Boats, Books, and Apples. A portrait of E. D. Haliburton, the life and writing of one of Kings County’s most distinguished politicians and farmers. New release. $30.

All the Old Apples and More. I hope readers will forgive my immodesty in mentioning this collection in soft cover of 100 of my history columns from The Advertiser. Published by the Museum and proceeds are used to fund Museum activities. $20.

I’ve only covered a few of the 40 or more history books available at the Museum. Also available on disk are records of births and deaths in Kings County and other Valley areas. Check at the Museum for a complete list of other books and records that are available.


In a couple of years, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton’s Kings County history will have been in print for a century. Since 1910, when Eaton’s history appeared, numerous history books have been written about Kings County communities; none have approached the scope of Eaton’s work. His is the most detailed record ever compiled of early days in the county, well deserving of a phrase I often use, the bible of Kings County historians.

We owe a debt to A. W. H. for sitting down, taking pen in hand, and writing this history. Compiling it alone was a tremendous task. Imagine the great mounds of historical records A. W. H. sifted through, read and rewrote before deciding what was relevant and what to set aside. I know I’m using a cliché, but the amount of effort required to collect and write the history is best described as mind boggling.

In the preface to his work, Eaton said the physical act of writing took three years. He started collecting material for his work 20 years before the writing and editing took place. Perhaps he never intended to write the history in the first place; but as his collection of manuscripts grew, it probably dawned on him that a comprehensive history of Kings County was not only possible and in his words, imperative.

While Eaton wrote the Kings County history in Boston, he was born here and spent his early, formative years in the county. He studied for the ministry in Boston. Later, in 1904, some six years before the history was published, he earned a masters degree at Dalhousie University.

Eaton was born in 1849, possibly in Kentville since his father was a prominent citizen of the town. The Kings County history was published when Eaton was in his 61st year and was compiled and written while he was in the ministry. He died in 1937 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Kentville. His prominent tombstone, reading he was a Doctor of Civil Law and a Priest of the Diocese of New York, overlooks the highway at the east end of the town.

Postscript: I’m repeating myself but in an age when records were stored as handwritten documents in widely scattered locations, Eaton must have collected, copied, sorted and edited an enormous number of historical papers before he could even think about writing his history. For some of his history, he referred to the research of several historians, most of whom he credited in his work, a few that he did not. However, this takes nothing away from a great historical work that today many of us take for granted.

I was unable to determine how many copies of the original edition were released, but it’s definitely a collector’s item. Copies of the original edition are now being offered on the “web,” (at AbeBooks, for example) from $225 to $370. Used copies of the Mika reprint, published 1972, are currently selling for $30 to $40.

HOW THEY “MADE DO” IN THE 1930S (November 13/07)

In a column earlier this autumn, I quoted from the privately printed autobiography the late Alex Middleton compiled for his family. As mentioned, Middleton arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1929, when he was 13, but his autobiography covers his earlier days in his homeland, as well as the period when he was growing up in Kings County.

Mr. Middleton’s nephew George Reid, who is a printer, was responsible for getting the autobiography into book form. I was talking with George recently, expressing surprise that anyone could remember so much detail about what had occurred on the farm more than half a century ago. “Alex was a born storyteller and a born writer,” George said in effect, “and he had a photographic memory to go along with these talents.”

George added that Middleton had a keen sense of humor. Reading his book, I found he often had something to laugh about when a relatively minor crisis hit his farm during the lean, hungry years of the 1930s. It wasn’t a period of levity, however. Far from it. Middleton says he found it “hard to believe that people were so poor” at the time. And, he writes, since money was scarce, people had to be creative when it came to getting the most out of worn out equipment and personal things.

On boots, for example: “No one thought of buying (them) if you could make the old ones do for a while longer. You could buy a half soling kit at the store for fifty cents. Also, many talented people soled (their boots) with strips of old tires. Since there was no such thing as tubeless tires, there were many discarded tubes around. These were converted into screen door springs (and) braces for holding pants up.”

If money for clothing was scarce in the lean 30s, people came up with a simple solution to replenish wardrobes, Middleton said. “All flour and sugar bags were saved to make clothing; in fact, there were places in Upper Canada where you could send and buy large quantities of this material. Underwear, shirts and children’s clothing were the most common uses.”

Automobiles were rare in Middleton’s neighborhood during this period since few people could afford them. There were a few farm trucks, however, and says Middleton, this meant there was an opportunity for an occasional night out. “Most of the people wanting to go into town on Saturday night (open night) paid a few cents and rode in the back of a big truck. This would be the only outing many would have.”


I find it amusing that at one time away back, trains stopped for meals and the “liquoring up” of passengers at various stations along the line. Apparently there were scheduled stops in the early days of the railroad solely for the purpose of serving alcoholic beverages to male passengers, meals being added as an afterthought.

William W. Clarke mentions the beverage and lunch stops in his railway book, Clarke’s History of the Earliest Railways; I surmise from what Clarke wrote that some of those victualing stops were over and above the regular stops at established stations, but that may be wrong. It appears, however, that train passengers were encouraged to get off the train and partake of a drink in restaurants located in various stations along the line.

Of course, the railway operated some of the restaurants and it was another way to profit from what literally were captive customers. When the train stopped at Windsor Junction, for example, the restaurant located there – the Junction House – had signs posted inviting passengers to have a glass of ale and a leg of chicken.

More than ale was served with the food. “In the pioneer days of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway,” Clarke writes, “ale, porter and other intoxicants were sold at the railway stations.” Passengers could also enjoy a wee “dock ‘n” doris” (doch-an-doris – Gaelic for drink at the door) at four places along the line, Clarke said. Traditionally, the wee doch-an-doris in Scotland was whiskey, which apparently was one of the “other intoxicants” Clarke mentions.

In Kentville, railway travelers once were served by the Kentville Railway Restaurant and we can assume that intoxicants were available here as well. This restaurant, Clarke writes, was famous for its fish meals. The restaurant was operated for a time by a “motherly Mrs. Patterson who won the hearts of the boys, supplying daily, quantities of appetizing fish patties.”

I’m not sure when the Kentville Railway Restaurant was in operation (or when it closed) but likely it was between 1890 and as late as the 1920s. (Mr. Clarke died in 1929). After Mrs. Patterson, and until the C.P.R. came into the picture around 1911, the lunchroom was operated by one Capt. LeCain, Edward Moore and Jim Rooney.

Farther down the line, one of the station lunchrooms posted an amusing and poetic sign advising potential customers that “Lunches tempting (are) served by the Misses Vye/And featured oft by luscious custard pie.”


I have before me (to use an old fashioned phrase once favoured by long ago writers) some interesting and useful facts about operation of the railway in the Valley during the 19th century. What I have is a copy of a column written for The Advertiser and published circa 1930, giving the railway’s seniority list and pay scale for the late 1800s.

Now what could be interesting and useful about this column? Well, for interesting, how about the payroll in the early days of the railway. According to that long ago columnist who used a pen name, the entire payroll for the Windsor and Annapolis Railway for 1869 totaled the grand sum of $17,500.17.

Even more interesting is how those funds were dispersed to the almost 100 men who worked on the railway at the time. In those days, the salary of station agents was $200 to $400 per year, and that was reasonably good money for the times. Agents in the larger stations, Kentville, Wolfville and Berwick, for example, received the larger sum of $400; agents in stations that apparently were considered to be smaller or perhaps less busy as far as traffic went – Grand Pre and Aylesford, for example, received the lesser sum of $200.

The pay rate for men out on the road was considerably higher. Engine drivers and conductors received at least a third more salary than station agents in Kentville and similar stations. Even the seemingly less important jobs – watchmen, brakemen, etc., – were on a pay scale that was much more than men could make working as farm laborers.

The columnist also named the station agents for the period and this is where the “useful” comes in, especially if you are looking for railroad ancestors. Kentville’s station agent (surname only given) was a Metzler; the Port Williams (Greenwich) agent was E. A. Forsythe, Wolfville was manned by J. M Dennison, Grand Pre by A. Borden and Berwick by G. E. Lydiard.

Also useful if you’re into genealogy and looking for an ancestor is the railway’s seniority list The Advertiser’s columnist included in his article. Some of the railway employees listed will be familiar to long time residents of Kentville and the immediate area since many of their descendants still live here. Among them are Raymond Crosby, Harry Williams, Avard Morse, Wilfred Longley, A. E. Hartlen, Walter Taylor, C. Corey, C. Clamp, William Lightle, Addison G. Nichols, Ralph Cleveland. Joseph Dickie, Stanley Burrell.

Readers wishing to do further research on their railway ancestors should consult Clarke’s History of the Earliest Railway. This is the book the columnist used to compile his payroll figures and employee list. I believe a copy of the book is available for perusal at the Kings County Museum. If it isn’t, readers can contact me and check my copy.


He was one of the pioneers in the automotive business in Nova Scotia, and a major figure in a firm that in the early 1900s manufactured automobiles in Kentville; he was civic minded as well, serving four years as a town councilor, and in 1916, 1917, 1921, and 1924 to 1927 he served as Kentville’s Mayor. He died in office late in 1927 with only two weeks left in his final term as Mayor.

On the personal level he was an ardent sportsman, maintaining a racing stable for many years; he was one of the first Nova Scotians, perhaps one of the first Canadians to travel across Canada from Nova Scotia to the Prairies by automobile; he accomplished this feat in 1911 for the purpose of setting up a Canada-wide automobile dealership.

This was Kings County native A. L. Pelton, who was known to his friends and contemporaries as “Arch.” Born in Billtown in 1872 to Henry and Almira Pelton, Arch left home in his teens to work in Massachusetts. He was in his mid-30s when he returned to Kings County to sell farm machinery in Berwick; here he gained a reputation as a first rate mechanic who knew his way around the relatively new automobile engines.

Pelton’s obituary notes that in 1910, he “removed to Kentville and entered the automobile business with the McKay brothers, As a mechanic, Pelton was in on the birth of the McKay Motor Car, but earlier he was distributing automobiles in Nova Scotia and learning what made them tick by taking them apart. William H. McCurdy’s history of the McKay Car says Pelton joined the McKay brothers as head mechanic when they began to manufacture automobiles in Kentville in 1910 in the facilities of the Nova Scotia Carriage Company.

Apparently Pelton remained behind when the McKay moved their operation to Amherst in the winter of 1912-1913. While in Kentville, however, Pelton and Dan McKay drove 2600 miles across Canada to Regina in an attempt to set up dealerships. Until two years before his death in 1927, Pelton maintained an auto dealership in Kentville and Halifax where he was the distributor for Franklin, Gray Dort, Studebaker, Oldsmobile and several other makes of automobile.

Pelton is said to have sold some of the first automobiles in Nova Scotia, two Oldsmobiles which he purchased in New York in 1904; at the time, say William H. McCurdy in his McKay Motor Car history, there were fewer than 20 automobiles in Nova Scotia. For a time, Pelton maintained one of the largest automotive dealerships in the Maritimes; his activities in this field must qualify him as one of the early automotive pioneers.

On his death, The Advertiser ran a lengthy obituary that saluted his business accomplishments and civic record, stating that “much of the remarkable progress this town (Kentville) has made in the past two decades was due to his efforts.” While he had been suffering from ill health for three years, The Advertiser said, his death in his mid-50s came as a shock to the community.

TRIVIA FROM 1920s, 1930s SCRAPBOOK (October 16/07)

Since August I’ve been quoting occasionally from the scrapbook of the late Lucy MacInnes of Kentville, who through the late 1920s and early 1930s saved many of the interesting stories that appeared in this newspaper.

I’ve only scratched the surface in covering the various articles Ms. MacInnes saved, many of which are of historical interest, covering long forgotten or little known events in Kings County and Kentville history. On the other hand, numerous stories in the scrapbook are, well, let’s say they’re interesting but belong in the category we call trivia today. A sampling of this trivia is what I’d like to offer readers this week, beginning with sports items.

We like to think of the soccer boom in Kings County as a fairly recent event, but it isn’t so. There’s no date on The Advertiser clipping but from other articles pasted in the MacInnes scrapbook, it appears that a soccer league with several teams was formed in Kentville in 1929. In 1927 the Kentville Wildcats won the Maritime hockey championship; the team was comprised of hockey stars from Kings County and the town.

The American House, “Kentville’s leading hostelry for many years,” says The Advertiser, closed its door in 1928; the hotel was opened in 1868 by James McIntosh and operated for 60 years.

There’s no date on this clipping from The Advertiser but based on other dated material in the MacInnes scrapbook, a dial telephone system was installed in Kentville circa 1930. The Advertiser announced that the system was the most up-to-date and modern telephone system in eastern Canada. Shortly after, The Advertiser announced that to report a fire or accident one could dial 5-5-5.

When was Kentville’s first hospital opened? Apparently it was in 1930 and it was a children’s hospital operated by the Red Cross. According to a clipping from The Advertiser, the hospital was located on Canaan Avenue and was managed by a practical nurse, Mildred Laing. Mabel Nichol’s Kentville history (The Devil’s Half Acre) names Laing as the hospital’s general manager but places it on Oakdene Avenue.

The Canada-wide census in 1931 indicated that the population of most Valley towns, with the exception of Windsor, had increased. When the census was taken, Kentville’s population was 3,092; The Advertiser reported that this was an increase in population of 312.


In conjunction with October being Mi’kmaq history month in Nova Scotia, celebrations were recently held to observe the Peace and Friendship Treaty that was signed in 1752.

Remarking on this event in e-mail I received recently, Mi’kmaq historian and author Dr. Daniel Paul said that October 1 “is treaty day, which is widely celebrated among our People.”

Dr. Paul also pointed out that October 1 is a day of remembrance. “It is the 258 anniversary of a proclamation issued by Governor Edward Cornwallis and Council, which offered a bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women and children. It was the beginning of an effort by British colonial authorities to exterminate our ancestors.”

Now, at first glance, this may seem to be a harsh accusation. However, facts are facts. As Dr. Paul and other historians have documented and documented well, Edward Cornwallis and the provincial Council did indeed issue a proclamation – on October 1, 1749 – offering a bounty on the Mi’kmaq people. It’s in the records. Also in the records is the fact that British officialdom apparently approved of the action by Cornwallis.

Dr. Paul, in his book We Were Not The Savages, calls the offer of a bounty on the Mi’kmaq a “sick proclamation.” He further contends that by not rescinding or condemning this “inhuman proclamation, the Lords of Trade, policymakers for the British government, showed support, thus implicating the British Crown itself in the act of human genocide.”

If you find this difficult to believe, here’s an excerpt from Cornwallis’s proclamation: “And we do hereby promise, by and with the advice and consent of his Majesty’s Council, a reward of 30 pounds for every male Indian Prisoner, above the age of sixteen years, brought in alive; or for a scalp of such male Indian twenty-five pounds, and twenty-five pounds for every Indian woman or child brought in alive: Such rewards to be paid by the Officer commanding at any of his Majesty’s Forts in this Province, immediately on receiving the Prisoners or Scalps above mentioned, according to the intent and meaning of this Proclamation.”

In 1750 Cornwallis and the provincial Council issued a similar proclamation upping the bounty on scalps. To his credit, Cornwallis rescinded both proclamations before he left office. However, Dr. Paul says the proclamation has never been officially repealed by the federal government, despite claims that it has, and is still on the books. Readers interested in reading Dr. Paul’s article on the government’s failure to repeal the scalp proclamation might wish to check out his website.