Four decades of service to the town of Kentville was celebrated with a “brilliant banquet” at the Cornwallis Inn, The Advertiser announced in a page one headline.

The date was April 10, 1928. Honored at the banquet for performing this “splendid service” was the Kentville Fire Department, and the occasion was the Department’s 40th anniversary. The Department had been organized in 1888, one year after Kentville was incorporated.

At first glance, this appears to be a ho hum story about a small town fire department celebrating an anniversary. However, the story I found in a scrapbook of newspaper clippings from the 1920s and 1930s is much more than this. First of all, The Advertiser story names the dignitaries attending the banquet, providing a then contemporary list, in other words, of who’s who in Kentville for anyone interested in the town’s history.

Secondly, the newspaper lists fire department members (some of whom had been with the department for 40 years) local musicians and other towns people and local officials involved in the celebration. What better source than this story for anyone looking for ancestors, especially since The Advertiser’s 1928 files can be accessed at the Acadia University library.

Third, the fire department and the town practically progressed together with only a one year difference in age. As mentioned, some of the fire department veterans had 40 years of service and at the banquet they recalled the town as it was in the late 1800s. The Advertiser dutifully reported the reminiscing of those veterans, providing glimpses of the town when it consisted of “eight houses and two stores.”

Attending the anniversary banquet were four charter members of the fire department, and for the record they were T. P. Calkin Who at the time was the sole survivor of Kentville’s first town council, William E. Webster, M. F. Carroll and Lewis G. Ells. John Publicover is mentioned in The Advertiser story as another charter member.

For the record also – and this is why scrapbooks of this nature are so valuable since they preserve such records – The Advertiser also listed fire department veterans attending the banquet: H. R. Best, Lewis G. Ells, S. L. Cross, H. L. Dennison, J. R. Webster, Bryan Smith, J. Roy Hiltz, Fred Hiltz, Monson Carroll, Ernest H. Dodge, A. E. Calkin, C. B. Lockhart, Robert Brown, F. L. Corey, Mel Benjamin, William Horton, M. B. Neary, Arthur Curry, Horace Grant, William Redden, Waldon Kennedy.

In this list are several prominent Kentville businessmen and a star athlete. Some families of the above still reside in and around Kentville and readers may recognize their ancestors.

DISASTER IN KINGS COUNTY – THE 1927 GALE (September 25/07)

It will go down in history as “the wildest, most severe, and most disastrous that had ever occurred,” said newspaper accounts of the gale that struck the Annapolis Valley in mid-August, 1927, and devastated Kings County farms.

The storm dashed the hopes of fruitgrowers in Kings County who were expecting a bumper crop that year. A provincial newspaper reported that “the loss to the farmers of the Valley (in fruit, hay and other crops) will go well over a million dollars. Damage to the apple crop alone is estimated at 25 percent of the expected crop which would amount to approximately 300,000 barrels.”

Elsewhere in the province, along the coastline, in particular, the storm that was dubbed the 1927 Great August Gale was equally destructive. If you want to read more about what happened across the province during this hurricane, go to Google and search under August gale of 1927. One website contains reports on the storm taken from 1927 editions of Valley newspapers, one of which is the Berwick Register.

Locally, in Kentville and its immediate vicinity, the great storm disrupted road and rail traffic and flooded the eastern and western edges of the town. Newspaper clippings from The Advertiser, which I found in an old scrapbook, tell of Kentville being shut off from outside traffic by extensive flooding. Washouts along the Dominion Atlantic Railway, some 20 to 25 The Advertiser reported, temporarily suspended traffic between Kentville and Yarmouth. At least three feet of water covered the main highway leading into Kentville, the newspaper reported.

“From eight o’clock last evening, until 10 o’clock today, Kentville was cut off from communication with the rest of the outside world,” a provincial paper reported. The Advertiser’s extensive report on storm damage explained why Kentville lost touch with the surrounding countryside. Here are excerpts from this report:

“Kentville came in for its share of the flood and today the east and west sections of the town, which were submerged by the floods, present a woeful appearance. Right in the town, by the Cornwallis Bridge, the river has overflowed (Brooklyn Street) which is the lower road to the Sanatorium, so that all traffic is cut off there.” “In a few minutes, a regular river of water was flowing through the yards of the residents of Brook and Dale Streets and Canaan Avenue, East Main Street, and Crescent Avenue.” “For nearly six hours there was a stream of water over a foot deep filling the road from side to road, flowing down Canaan Avenue. Practically all the all the cellars of the houses on the ‘flat’ were filled with water.”

The Advertiser later reported that it was weeks before Kentville recovered from the flood and repaired the storm damage.


Such was the prejudice against Catholics following the expulsion of the Acadians I wrote last week in the column on Irish Catholics of Kings County, that in 1758 the government passed an act forcing every “every popish person” and “every popish priest” to leave the province within one year.

Internet historian Ivan Smith, Canning, e-mailed me that the quote about popish persons and popish priests sounded familiar. He recalled reading these phrases in a law book he had purchased some years ago. The book, published in 1805 by order of Richard John Uniacke, is titled “The Statues at Large, Passed in the Several General Assemblies held in His Majesty’s Province of Nova Scotia ….

In the publication is the act referred to, an act that when enforced literally banished Catholics from Nova Scotia. Called an “Act for the establishment of religious public Worship in this Province, and for suppressing Poperey,” it is indeed a harsh piece of business. Here is the key section of the Act, which was e-mailed to me by Ivan Smith:

“And be it further enacted, That every popish person, exercising any ecclestical jurisdiction, and every popish priest or person exercising the function of a popish priest, shall depart out of this province on or before the twenty-fifth day of March 1759. And if any such person or persons shall be found in this province after the said day, he or they shall, upon conviction, be adjudged to suffer perpetual imprisonment; and if any person or persons so imprisoned, shall escape out of prison, he or they shall be deemed and adjudged to be guilty of felony without benefit of clergy.”

It is difficult today to believe there was this degree of religious intolerance in Nova Scotia at one time. But it’s there in writing in that old Statues book. Online, Ivan Smith has placed a “shot” of the book’s cover and the Act that applies to poperty. Readers can view these on the Internet at:


By the early 19th century the religious climate in Nova Scotia had changed. The same Richard John Uniacke who had ordered the printing of the provincial law book led the way in eliminating religious prejudice. His biography, which is online by the way, tells us that in the 1820s he was one of the foremost leaders in the struggle for Catholic emancipation in Nova Scotia.


Family lore has it that when my great grandfather left County Cork with his family, they immigrated as Catholics and arrived here as Protestants. The speculation is that Catholics may not have been openly welcome here at one time, even as late as the mid 19th century.

There is some evidence that this may be so. Kentville historian Louis Comeau tells me that in the early days here in Kings County, some of his Catholic ancestors had to keep a low profile because of their religion. Such was the prejudice, Comeau said in effect, that one ancestor who operated a business in Kentville was careful to keep his religious leanings to himself.

It’s also part of Kings County lore that Catholics settling in Kings County after the Planters were literally ostracized and had to live in outlying areas away from villages and towns. This is difficult to believe. However, there is a curious paragraph in a church history that suggests there may be some truth in this story.

Around 1930, The Advertiser published a history of the churches of Kentville. In the history of St. Joseph’s Parish, Dr. A. R. Donahoe writes that after the dispersion of the Acadians in 1755 “it was many years before other Catholics came into the Valley. During the time of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1849) a considerable number of families from that country, forced to leave their native land, settled on the North and South Mountains, and the present parish is made up of their descendants.”

Having no church, Dr. Donahoe writes, “their spiritual needs were attended to by a priest sent out once or twice a year from Halifax who celebrated Mass in different houses here and there ….”

Such was the prejudice against Catholics following the expulsion of the Acadians that in 1758 the government passed an act forcing every “every popish person” and “every popish priest” to leave the province by March of the following year. Restrictions against Catholics remained until 1827 when in that year they were formally removed. In Kings County, the first Catholic Church was built just outside Kentville sometime between 1850 and 1853.

But prejudice against Catholics still remained. Louis Comeau tells me that according to local lore, the Catholics were literally forbidden to build their church, St. Joseph’s Parish, inside the Kentville town limits. At the time the town’s northern border apparently was the Cornwallis River.


“As the years slipped by, each generation gets further away from the knowledge of the very important part horses played in creating the farming industry we take so much for granted today.”

This observation about the roles of horses in agriculture was written by Alex Middleton in an autobiography he compiled in 1985. Middleton was born in Scotland in 1915. In 1929, when he was 13, he immigrated to Canada with his family and settled on a farm in Sheffield Mills. He wrote the autobiography after he retired so, as he noted, his descendants would have a record of his life and times.

The autobiography is some 460 pages and only about a dozen copies were printed. I mentioned the autobiography before, when Mr. Middleton gave me the chapter that described the Canard River in the 1930s and 1940s. In currently reading the work in its entirety, I was struck by his humorous tales about farm horses and oxen and their now mostly forgotten role in agriculture in the early days.

When Mr. Middleton arrived in Kings County, the tractor was well on its way to replacing horses and oxen. Yet on many older farms at this time the horse and ox were still heavily used. “Speaking of horses, Middleton says in writing about their ancestry, “along until the early 30s there were few horses imported; replacements were all homegrown and it was a common sight to see a team working with a colt running alongside. When the team stopped for a breather, the colt helped himself to a free lunch.”

Middleton tells about a scheme a Montreal brewery (most likely Molsons) came up with in 1934 to improve the caliber of horses in Nova Scotia. The brewery offered “to bring in 10 registered black Percheron studs for breeding purposes at very nominal fees.” Middleton says the government put the kibosh to this plan and wouldn’t hear of it since there was a catch. “Each buggy these horses were going to pull was to have a small ad on it advertising the brand of beer the brewery manufactured.”

Reminiscing, Middleton recalls the “many different quirks some of (the horses) had, like the black mare, Dolly, who every time we stopped at a water managed to pull her bridle off, no matter how securely it was buckled. Also old Harry, who we had to stop watering on the road because he insisted on trying to roll in the water.”

One discovered that each horse had “an individual personality all of its own,” Middleton says, and “good or bad you learned to cope with it. Some (horses) were very smart, some very stupid, some high strung, some so damned lazy, like one of my neighbors said about one of his: ‘The old bitch would get on the wagon and ride if she could’.”

A good note to close on. Later I’ll look at social activities in the 1930s and 1940s as seen through the eyes of the late Alex Middleton.

EXTRACTS FROM A 1920s, 1930s SCRAPBOOK (August 28/07)

In an earlier column on Kentville’s 100th anniversary, I quoted on the event from a scrapbook compiled in the 1920s and 1930s by Lucy MacInnes, the wife of a Kentville storekeeper. The scrapbook is now in the possession of her son-in-law, George Ashby and as mentioned, he has been kind enough to let me read it.

The late Ms. MacInnes was interested in local history, and most of the clippings she collected for her scrapbook are of a historical nature. In it, for example, is a historical sketch of Kentville by A. L. Pelton, who was mayor of the town from 1924 to 1927. There’s also a series of essays on the history of Kentville’s churches; one of the essays was written by a man with a name most history buffs will recognize, Arthur W. H. Eaton, author of the History of Kings County.

I’d estimate that there are some 50 clippings in the MacInnes scrapbook on Kings County and Kentville history. Here are excerpts from some of the clippings:

Why was Kentville once known as Horton Corner? A. L. Pelton explains why in a review of the town’s history he wrote in 1926. “Kings County comprised the townships of Aylesford, Cornwallis and Horton; the embryo village known as Horton Corner derived its name from the fact that it was the northwest corner of Horton Township.”

In 1869, station agents of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway were paid $400 per year. The Kentville agent in that year is identified only by a last name, Metzley; station agents in Port Williams (Greenwich) and Wolfville at the time were E. A. Forsythe and J. M. Dennison respectively. Railway carpenters in 1869 received the sum of $1.10 per day.

A photographer was on hand to capture the arrival of the first train in Kentville. A clipping of the photograph, taken from an unnamed newspaper, is on the scrapbook. The caption under the photograph reads, “Above is shown the first Windsor and Annapolis train arriving at Kentville in 1869.”

From a series of historical sketches on Kentville churches: “After the dispersion of the French (Acadians) it was many years before other Catholics came into the Valley. During the time of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1849) a considerable number of families from that country, forced to leave their native land, settled on the North and South Mountains, and the present (Catholic) parish is made up of their descendants.”

A clipping in the scrapbook indicates that in the late 1920s Kentville could boast of having a children’s hospital: “The Red Cross of Kentville is doing an excellent work, of which little is known, in conducting a children’s hospital on Canaan Avenue, where children whose parents are not able to pay the usual hospital charges may receive medical and surgical treatment. This institution is made possible through the cordial co-operation of all the doctors in Kentville who give their services free.”


Kentville loses a valued citizen, The Advertiser said on announcing his death in the summer of 1932. When he died at age 89, the newspaper further hailed George E. Calkin as the town’s most outstanding citizen.

And indeed he was. If a list is ever compiled of the men and women who contributed most to Kentville’s growth since its inception, George E. Calkin’s name would be at the top of the rolls. Yet, despite what were successful pioneering efforts to establish a board of trade and a hospital here, and a lengthy association with Kentville as a businessman and postmaster, George E. Calkin is practically forgotten today, only remembered perhaps by a few historical writers and museum people.

I hope to rectify this to some extent in this column. My interest in George E. Calkin was piqued when I recently found a story about him published in The Advertiser in the 1920s. Since then, I’ve scoured local history books and obituary files to see what I could find about Mr. Calkin. Arthur W. H. Eaton mentions him twice in his Kings County history. Quoting another historian, Eaton says that George E. was the “pioneer advocate of Boards of Trade in Kings County.” It was through Calkin’s “spirited and persistent efforts that the Kentville Board was founded in 1886.”

Eaton also says that Calkin was a “prominent member of the Calkin family in the county,” and that he was “for many years postmaster of the town, and long engaged in business there.”

George E. Calkin undoubtedly should best be remembered for the prominent role he played in establishing the Blanchard Fraser Memorial Hospital. In her Kentville history (The Devil’s Half Acre) Mabel G. Nichols writes that the hospital “had its beginning in 1921” when Calkin started a movement for “erection of such an institute” which resulted in a hospital commission. In 1928, about four years before he died, Calkin turned over his entire real estate holdings valued at some $40,000 to the commission, practically ensuring the hospital would be a go. Calkin’s role in this respect is confirmed by Louis Comeau in his book, Historic Kentville.

However, when the hospital was eventually built and officially opened in 1938, Calkins name wasn’t on it. That honor went to the wife of A. Milne Fraser who willed $30,000 to the hospital with the stipulation that it be named in memory of his spouse. Calkin’s pivotal role in the formation of the hospital apparently had been forgotten.

George E. Calkin was born in Steam Mill and as a young man worked in the firm of Benjamin Calkin (later T. P. Calkin Ltd.) before starting his own business. As Eaton points out, he was a prominent member of the Kings County Calkins and a Planter descendant. It’s said that he was no more than a distant cousin of the founder of the prominent Kentville firm of T. P. Calkin. However, in the existing photographs of Benjamin Calkin’s son, T. P. Calkin, and George E. Calkin, the two appear to be twins and there may have been a closer relationship. Is it possible he’s the same “A. E. Calkin” that Mabel Nichols mentions as working for his uncle, Benjamin Calkin, before starting his own business?

Calkin was the Kentville postmaster for a decade (1867-1876), a position he relinquished to open up a hardware business in the town. He eventually acquired what was known as the Scotia Block in Downtown Kentville.


I couldn’t help chuckle a bit when I read Kirk Starratt’s excellent article on the “mystery cannonball” now residing in the dusty coffers of the Kings County Museum.

What brought the chuckle was reference to a skirmish grandly called the Battle of Blomidon. The so-called battle was mentioned as possibly explaining why a cannonball was found on the dykes in Lower Wolfville. However, if you read Arthur W. H. Eaton’s account of the event (page 432 and 433 in his history of Kings County) you’ll find that the skirmish, for the most part, took place in the waters off Blomidon and Cape Split.

It’s possible I suppose, but it isn’t likely cannons fired from this area could deposit a cannonball on the dykes of Lower Wolfville. Besides, Eaton doesn’t mention any cannon play. He does tell us a “carriage gun” was carried by one of the boats involved in the clash and this would fire cannonballs.

Most likely calling the skirmish the Battle of Blomidon was a poetic embellishment. This is the title of a poem about the clash and it does have a nice kind of ring to it. The poem was written by Belle Robinson and can be found in a Kings Historical Society publication, volume 1 of the Kings County Vignettes.

Further on the cannonball, I was surprised that the museum employee Kirk Starratt interviewed pleaded ignorance about a blockhouse (as a source of the cannonball) which is said to be located “in the Wolfville area” at the time of the Acadian expulsion.

Might I suggest that anyone interested in what existed in the way of blockhouses or forts here as early as 1749 and in the 19th century, check out page 426 and 427 of Eaton’s Kings County history. Eaton is quite explicit that a fort or blockhouse was moved from Annapolis Royal to Minas in 1749. Further, he gives details about other forts that were constructed here. According to Eaton, “palisaded forts” were erected in Horton and Cornwallis townships. Since Eaton tells us the forts were defended with cannons, one of them could be the source of the mystery cannonball.


When Kentville hosted a summer carnival in 1926 to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the groundwork was laid for the first apple blossom festival some seven years later. When I wrote about the anniversary last week, I noted that the celebration established a format that was used for the apple blossom festival. I assumed that the popularity of the anniversary carnival inspired the festival founders to set up a similar program for the first and subsequent blossom celebrations.

However, this assumption may be incorrect. Kentville historian Louis Comeau tells me he’s discovered blossom festivals predating ours. “In connection with the 1st summer carnival and its similarity with the Apple Blossom Festival,” Louis wrote via e-mail, “I had previously done some research in this area. I have found several much older Apple Blossom Festivals that are located in North America. Washington State’s 1st festival was in 1920, Fayetteville’s in Arkansas in 1923, Shenandoah’s in Virginia in 1925, and Doniphan County in Kansas in 1925.”

Louis said he often wondered if the late Frank Burns, one of the blossom festival founders and a newspaperman, had heard of these earlier events through the newspaper grapevine, and had “conveyed the idea to the other founding members.” Based on what he’s found in his research, Louis believes the idea for an apple blossom festival may have originated in New Zealand in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Attached to Louis’ letter was a tidbit he discovered about Hantsport hosting an apple blossom festival in 1932. This was one year before Kentville staged what is now called the Valley’s inaugural apple blossom festival. During the Hantsport festival a blossom queen was selected, Miss Roamonde Shankel.

It would seem from the above that the apple blossom festival founders simply took a great idea and expanded on it. Surely they were aware of earlier blossom festivals. And just as surely, they saw that the format used during Kentville’s 100th anniversary celebration was tremendously popular and they decided to adopt it. With a bit of research, we’ll probably find that some of the organizers of the anniversary celebrations had a hand in establishing a blossom festival.


“Having no distinguished name formally bestowed upon it (and generally known) by the absurd epithet of Horton Corner, it was unanimously agreed by those present (being most of the principal inhabitants of the place) that in honor of the memory of His late Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, their village should be called Kentville.”

Edited some for brevity, this is a notice published in the Recorder on April 15, 1826, advising the public of Horton Corner’s new name. The notice was reprinted on May 12, 1926, in the Acadian Recorder during the 100th-anniversary celebration. The notice doesn’t tell us who the “principal inhabitants” were but the “High Sheriff of the County,” George Chipman, chaired the name change committee. It was noted that when Horton Corner became Kentville, the village contained “two grist mills, two manufactories for fulling and dyeing cloth and two buildings containing machines for carding wool,” and a flax mill that was “nearly completed.”

When it celebrated the 100th year of its new name in the summer of 1926, Kentville could boast that it had progressed well beyond the mill and manufactories stage. By 1926 it was one of the largest, most prosperous towns in the Valley. Thanks to the railway and its numerous retail stores and offices, the town had become the business and shopping centre of Kings County, and rightly deemed itself to be one of the most important communities in the province.

The 100th-anniversary celebration was a grand affair. Taking place over three days in August, the celebration began with a grand street parade with bands, “a large number of decorated floats with… historical and comical features,” and marching school kids. I was surprised to discover that anniversary celebrations included the selection of a “Queen of the Carnival,” with young ladies from three counties – Kings, Hants and Annapolis – competing for the honor. We can see that with this celebration, the format for the Apple Blossom Festival that was to come some seven years later was established.

After the grand street parade, a “racing meet” was held at Aldershot Camp. That evening the public was treated to a “grand musical revue” at the town arena. During the Revue the Carnival Queen was selected from a “bevy of beauties.”

On day two of the celebration, the town offered “miscellaneous amusements,” town-wide shopping bargains, a “farmer’s picnic” at the experimental station, and sporting events at Memorial Park. Competing in the five-mile race in the afternoon was famed runner Johnny Miles of Sydney. The second day of celebrations wound up with an evening “old Fiddler’s Contest” at the arena.

On day three of the celebration, the town was “beautifully decorated and illuminated” for a “dance and evening frolic” on Webster Street. “On the occasion of the street dance,” it was announced, “the Carnival Queen will appear in her decorated coach, and will be crowned Queen of the Carnival and presented with a handsome silver Loving Cup, a gift of The Advertiser.”

History buffs take note that the grand street parade with its floats, bands and marching groups, the musical programs, the crowning of a queen and other features of Kentville’s anniversary celebration – in fact, its entire format – would be incorporated into the first apple blossom festival in 1933.

Note: The scrapbook of the late Lucy MacInnes, who saved clippings from the 1920 and 1930 issues of The Advertiser and other newspapers was used for this column. My thanks to George Ashby who kindly let me read the scrapbook.