THE GREAT 1710 CYCLONE, 1710 FIRE (December 20/10)

In a November column I wrote about a fire in 1710 devastating huge areas of forest land in Kings and Hants County. As mentioned, the destruction caused ongoing hardship for settlers who had taken up Acadian land in these areas. The destruction led to more than a decade of firewood rationing and limited cutting of timber for home construction.

I quoted two sources for 1710 as the year of the fire; one was Loomer’s Windsor history (published 1996), the other an 1896 newspaper article which used reports of the provincial surveyor general describing the devastation caused by the fire. The newspaper article was signed by “H. Y. H.,” which I assumed was Henry Youle Hind (1823-1908) a prominent geologist and teacher who wrote a history of Windsor.

Hind’s article, if it was his, is in the Robie Lewis Reid collection, a series of newspaper articles on deposit at Dalhousie University. In the same collection is an article dated 1892 by E. J. Cogswell, a prominent Kings County Judge of Probate who died in 1900. In the article, Cogswell writes that in 1710, around the same time as the great forest fire, a cyclone leveled huge stands of forest in Kings and Hants County. Cogswell says his source for the article was “Windsor records,” indicating it was the combined one two punch of the fire and the cyclone that wreaked havoc with the settlers wood supply. Here’s some of what Cogswell wrote:

“I understand that records were a few years ago found at Windsor substantiating the fact of the great cyclone and fixing the date in A.D 1710, the cause of the mention being that quarrels had arisen in regard to the supply of timber and fuel as the forests were so destroyed by the cyclone …. and the new wood being young, the supply was inadequate.

“The Windsor records speak of the cyclone alone. But the tradition relates also an accompanying fire. To put it all together, it appears to be this: That some time in the summer or autumn of 1710 the winds came down in the counties of Annapolis, Kings and parts of Hants …. and the forests for a hundred miles were all laid prostrate.

“Tradition has it that the next year, after the prostrate forest became dry, they in some way caught fire and that the fire swept over all ….”

So there you have it: A devastating cyclone in 1710, and close on its heels, an equally devastating forest fire, possibly in the same year, and possibly in the following year. Cogswell and HYH (Hind?) published their articles several years apart in a Kings County newspaper, the Western Chronicle. In a way, one article contradicts the other regarding the year of the great fire. Looking back today, all we know for sure is that 1710 was a year of calamity, and the impact of the cyclone and fire was felt by the Acadians and the New England Planters.


“At the age of 87, I would like to share some of my memories from my childhood in Canning,” writes Jean Calkin in a letter it was a delight to receive. Ms. Calkin now lives in Black Rock and she spent the first 17 years of her life in Canning. The daughter of the late Albert and Bessie Burgher, she grew up listening to tales of the early days in Canning, as told by her father who she says was “a renowned story teller.”

Ms. Calkin writes that she is “happy to share (her) memories with future generations.” These are wonderful memories and I thank Ms. Calkin for sharing them with me. It is with pleasure that I share them with readers of this column:

Memories of Growing Up in Canning
By Jean (Burgher) Calking, Black Rock, Born May 7, 1923

As a former Canningite I remember: The eerie feeling I had when walking with my Dad out to the Axe Factory road when the tide was high and the noise that grew ever louder as you neared the factory.

When the high tides used to cover the highway in front of the Whitman Newcombe home and one had to wear rubber footwear to go to the Post Office to get mail from Earl Bigelow, Postmaster.

John Turner’s arrival in Canning from Scots Bay, replete with long, heavy overcoat, winter or summer, via ox team.

Ronnie Annis with horse and coal wagon. Frank Brown travelling on his bicycle to daily work at the axe factory for years. Melvin’s Mill, Blenkhorn’s Axe Factory and (the) Blueberry Special whistles. The horse in L. W. Slack’s store. Wonderful aromas wafting from Mrs. O’Dell’s bake shop and ice cream parlour.

Monthly visits of Mr. Day, the Rawleigh man, in his covered buggy, with a package of gum for the children. The birth of my baby sister at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kervin. Edna Kervin was the local midwife. The patent medicine man and his bear. Mrs. Gibson’s boarding house. Palmer Grant and George Acker in their barbershop. H. R. Ells’ store next door to the barbershop.

Taking dairy butter, eggs and blueberries to H. R. Ells’ store. Penny candies, 5 cent bars and 5 cent ice cream cones. The building west of the blacksmith shop on which circus advertisements were always posted. The cooper shop and mill. Vinegar factory, east of the village stores. Seeing Fred or Ralph Melvin leading the cows to pasture north of our home.

The taste of cow’s milk when (they were) pastured on dykelands (or) grazing on salt marsh hay. The peal of church bells on Sunday morning. Participating in Christmas and Easter pageants and concerts. The urgent pealing of the church bell, sounding the alert when fire broke out in the Canning area.



When it comes to Acadian settlements in Kings County, is the area around Upper Dyke, Lakewood Road and Gibson Woods overlooked and little investigated? This is suggested in the following email note I received recently.

“Evidently Upper Dyke was quite an Acadian community; by that I mean several houses and perhaps some farming/forestry industry,” writes Ernie Hawboldt in response to a recent column. The column (Tracing An Old Acadian Road) mentioned an Acadian settlement between Upper Dyke and the Gibson Woods Road. I had expressed surprise the Acadians had resided in an area with no tidal waters but as Hawboldt points out, there was dykeing not that far from Gibson Woods.

“Down near the Lakewood Road where the Sherman Belcher Brook crosses the road,” Hawboldt writes, “there were some old dyke works. Probably none remains today due to highway construction and farming. There is quite a bit of dykelands just south of the Lakewood Road.”

Hawboldt believes this dykework is of Acadian origin and in his letter he mentions Acadian basements and a mill in this general area. “When I was a child,” he writes, “there were three Acadian basements near our house, and the site of an old mill, but I don’t know what the mill was used for. One basement was located on the South Branch Road. The second was at the junction of South Branch Road and Sherman Belcher Road …. The third is about where the Channing house now sits on Sherman Belcher Road.”

As well as pinpointing the site of the mill near Sherman Belcher Brook, Hawboldt mentions the old Acadian dyke works around the Sheffield Brook. “The Sheffield Brook kind of divides Upper Dyke and Canard. These old dykes are south of the highway and are partly concealed by bush and high grass.”

Most interesting are Hawboldt’s observations about Lakewood Road and Saxon Street. When he was young Hawboldt says, “Lakewood Road was nothing more than a trail between Upper Dyke and Steam Mill. Regarding the roads, the present Saxon Street was previously known as the French Woods Road. It ran from Centreville, through Gibson Woods, then down across the fields to where the old Bill Newcombe farm is. There was a rough trail running from the farm to the dyke. That part of the French Wood Road I know ran from Centreville through pine forest; that forest still exists and is between Saxon Street and the Sherman Belcher Road in Centreville.”

Hawboldt concludes his letter with mention of the Acadian dyke works on and around Sheffield Brook, which may have been some of the first dykeing by the Acadians in this area. He suggest that perhaps there should be some official recognition of this site.


In a rare aside, when he wasn’t glorifying the Planters of Kings County, Arthur W. H. Eaton mentions the community of Gibson Woods. In an early chapter of his county history Eaton writes that an Acadian settlement existed between Upper Dyke Village and Gibson Woods road. He doesn’t expand on this observation, nor does he say where he learned about the settlement.

If you are familiar with this area at all, this may be surprising. Generally the Acadians tended to settle in areas where they could dyke tidal streams. The Canard River, which was tidal when the Acadians settled here, doesn’t reach the area between Upper Dyke and the Gibson Woods road. And as far as I know, there are no tidal tributaries of the Canard, or any major stream that drains from the Gibson Woods area.

However, unlikely as it seems, there appears to have been an Acadian settlement near Gibson Woods. Eaton mentions the settlement in a newspaper article he wrote over a decade before he published the Kings County history. Eaton’s article, “The French Settlements in Kings County,” was published circa 1896 in the Western Chronicle.

Not only was there an Acadian settlement there. In the newspaper article, Eaton says that a major Acadian road passed near the settlement by Gibson Woods. “This road probably began in Centerville, near the settlement on the Gibson Woods road,” writes Eaton. The road ran from Centreville, down to Steam Mill (where one of the first dykes was built by the Acadians) and “through the trotting park,” the site of which eventually became Camp Aldershot.

From the trotting park the Acadian road continued in a southerly direction until it reached Kentville. Eaton writes that this road came into Kentville “through the dry hollow, by Charles Jones and over the Joe Bell Hill, a little west of the present road.”

Joe Bell Hill, of course, is Gallows Hill. The “dry hollow” may be what residents call Mosquito Hollow, which runs parallel to the highway going up Gallows Hill. If so, then Eaton erred slightly when he said the old Acadian road was a little west of the present road; it had to be a little east of the present road.

Anyway, bottom line, when you leave Kentville by crossing the bridge and driving over Gallows Hill, or if you drive north from Kentville to Aldershot, Steam Mill, Centreville or Gibson Woods, some of the time you are following an Acadian road. Originally the road was undoubtedly a Mi’kmaq trail and it led to Kentville because a well-used, convenient ford was there.

“BURNT COUNTRY” – THE GREAT 1710 FIRE (November 8/10)

This is an anniversary year of sorts, one few people know about and few will celebrate. If historical writers can be taken at their word when documented evidence is scarce, it was 300 years ago, in 1710, that a fire destroyed much of the forests of eastern Kings and western Hants County. The great fire disrupted the economy of Acadian settlements and to an even greater extent, impacted on Planter settlements in Kings and Hants.

Several historical writers mention the 1710 fire, usually devoting little more than a line or two to the fact that it occurred. In his history of Windsor, for example, L. S. Loomer simply states that in 1710 a “forest fire destroyed the area between the Gaspereau and Pesegitk (Avon) river.” Gwendolyn Vaughan Shand, in Historic Hants County, devotes a single line to the fire as well, mentioning only that the “whole forest area between the Avon and the Gaspereau River in Kings County was leveled.”

A 1947 travel book by one T. Morris Longstreth (To Nova Scotia) also mentions a great fire that destroyed large areas of forest in this region. Longstreth gives no dates and it’s possible he was referring to a prehistoric fire. This fire was widespread, Longstreth says, affecting most of the province with the exception of a few pockets here and there.

But back to the 1710 fire. I’ve mentioned it several times in previous columns, hoping someone has documentation from a historical source. Such documentation has recently been found in an 1896 newspaper article in the Robie Lewis Reid collection at Dalhousie University. The article, discovered recently by Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury, describes the area the fire devastated and its effect on the Planters. Extensively quoted is a dispatch to Governor William Shirley from Charles Morris, the provincial surveyor general. This describes the terrible condition of the woodlands in Kings and Hants and the “disastrous consequences” of the 1710 fire.

Briefly, the Morris manuscript says wood, so all-important to the Planters “for fuel, shallop building, fencing, and the construction of houses, barns, etc.,” was scarce due to the fire “50 years earlier” and would have to be rationed. The “woods in Falmouth, having suffered at the same time as Horton (from the fire) the growth of timber is small” and unusable, Morris writes.

Such was the condition of the forest around the Planter settlements that the new settlers quickly passed resolutions limiting the harvesting of timber. As the following quote from the newspaper article indicates, the situation was so serious that the townships turned against each other:

“According to these resolutions the 70 emigrants from New England to Newport in 1760 were compelled to enact stringent resolutions to prevent the 107 emigrants to Falmouth from the same country from cutting wood and timber within their limits; and the Falmouth occupants, as a consequence, passed laws to restrict the cutting of firewood and timber on their own location by their own people.”

All this was done within 10 weeks after the Planters arrived, all because “the forest was leveled over the burnt land and nothing but second growth was visible in the burnt country.”



In an 1896 issue of the Kentville newspaper, the Western Chronicle, Edmund J. Cogswell writes that it “would be amusing if they (the inhabitants of the village) should discover that New Minas was not New Minas at all, but another place.”

Cogswell, a Probate Judge in Kentville, was a historian who wrote often for Kings County newspapers. The 1896 article referred to above looked at the early days of New Minas and the origin of its name. In the article Cogswell notes that while the name is of Acadian origin, the place they called New Minas (New Mines) was actually located elsewhere. “The real New Minas (is) not New Minas at all,” Cogswell says, and at “the present time little more than an airy nothing.”

This sounds confusing and it is, but as you read Cogswell’s article you’ll see what he was getting at. Based on his research, Cogswell argues the area the Acadians called New Minas was centered around what was known later as the Griffin house. After the Acadians were deported, says Cogswell, “the English built their village further south upon the military road. But although they left the original village site, they retained the old name of New Minas.”

This historical trivia is interesting. More interesting, however, is Cogswell’s historical glimpses of early New Minas and the searches for buried Acadian treasure. Along with mentioning an Acadian mill, a burial ground, the location of Acadian homesteads and a church, Cogswell says caches of Acadian money, buried at the time of the deportation, were found in or near the New Minas settlement.

“I never thought until of late years that the French buried much money when they left the country,” Cogswell writes. “But it is intimated by one of the oldest historians …. that a very large part of the money the French King spent at Louisburg came here (and) the Acadians were never renowned for their spending proclivities.”

What spurred interest in possible coin caches, Cogswell said, were a couple of French priests “making enquiries about (the) Foster farm” where it was “always supposed that there was a cache.” Later, mysterious diggings were discovered on the farm where “something had been removed.” Cogswell also says that many of the old caches “have almost all been opened and mostly by the French themselves who have returned from time to time for that purpose.”

Most of what Cogswell writes about buried Acadian coins is speculation and rumor. Here’s an example: There was another cache down by the little village on what is now known as the Burden …. place. It was looked for long and dug for long and carefully but one day someone going down the dyke road found a great chest sitting there empty. It was supposed that some Frenchman had come up the (Cornwallis) river in the night and had dug up and rifled the chest.”

Cogswell said that a cache of Acadian coins was also found on the crest of Gallows Hill in Kentville, discovered he said when a new road was being constructed up the hill.


In the past six or seven years I’ve written [two] columns on the history of Kentville’s Gallows Hill and how it obtained its name. For the most part, the columns are based on folklore, on stories passed down from family to family, and on a few “facts” that couldn’t be verified.

It’s fairly certain, a “given” you could say, that a gallows was constructed on the hill and a public execution took place. The hanging that gave the hill its name took place early in the 19th century. Every bit of folklore I’ve collected on the hill points to this period of time; folklore also says the man hanged there committed murder, but there are conflicting stories on who was hanged and who was killed.

If folklore can be believed, Gallows Hill was once called Joe Bell Hill, named it is said after a man of that name who either lived in the vicinity or was hanged there. However, the late historian, Ernest Eaton, believes that a man named Powell was hanged on Gallows Hill. In a letter Eaton wrote to me, he quoted a Kentville historian, Burpee Bishop, who found that Powell was the name of the man executed on Gallows Hill.

The year the hanging took place, according to Burpee Bishop, was 1826. It isn’t known how Bishop determined this but another source indicates he has the right year. Robie Lewis Reid, who was born in Steam Mill in 1866, and became a noted lawyer and writer in British Columbia, kept a series of scrapbooks that are now in Dalhousie University. For the most part, the scrapbooks contain clippings of historical interest from local newspapers.

Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury recently obtained photocopies of the clippings pertaining to Kings County. A letter found there indicates Burpee Bishop was right about 1826 being the year the execution took place on Gallows Hill and about Powell being the name of the man executed. Printed in the Western Chronicle on 9 August, 1884, the letter writer (Henry Starr) says he “noticed an article speaking of William Woodworth …. that he was in Kentville 58 years ago when ‘Old Black Powell’ was hanged as we used to call him. I well remember the time myself although but seven years of age at the time.”

In the letter, Henry Starr places the gallows where folklore says it was. “I remember where the gallows stood on the hill – on the Cornwallis side of the river and bridge at Kentville,” he wrote. The Cornwallis River is the boundary between Cornwallis (north of the river) and Horton Townships, so the “Cornwallis side” Starr refers to is across the river where Gallows Hill looms over north Kentville.

Readers interested in my earlier columns on Gallows Hill can find them on my website. The columns can be found on July 18 and July 25 in the posting for the year 2006.


Most history books deal with wars, revolutions, mass movements of people and significant social upheavals. These books rarely mention the impact people have had on the environment, but one or two exceptions immediately come to mind. Locally, the dykeing of areas such as Canard and Grand Pre by Acadian and Planter settlers figure largely in our history and has impacted on the habitat in numerous ways.

In the book, A Natural History of Kings County, the authors tells us of various ways the Acadians and Planters introduced changes in the natural habitat of this area; this for the most part isn’t “history.” All kinds of plants and a variety of trees were introduced to Kings County, first by the Acadians, then by the Planters, and later by an assortment of individuals who left little or no record of their dabbling with nature. As for the effect some of the introductions have had, we simply have to look at the apple industry, which started with the Acadians introducing six or seven types of apple trees.

As for trees other than the fruit bearing varieties, several sources indicate that some of our elms, poplars, willows and beeches among others were introduced. I have no idea how some of these introduced trees and other plants figured in the history of Kings County but surely there was some impact, even if it was minimal.

Some of our introduced trees came from far away places; and as trees go, some are unusual. Take, for example, a different kind of tree found growing here and there around the county in residential settings. Locally it’s known as the umbrella tree – for obvious reasons since the mature tree is shaped like an umbrella. One of these trees can be found in Greenwich, another in New Minas. This is the Camperdown Elm or Weeping Elm, and it’s unusual because of its origin and uniqueness.

I first heard about the Camperdown from my wife, Lorna. One of these trees has been standing on a residential lot for more than half a century and Lorna always pointed it out when we drove through Greenwich. Intrigued by its name (which Lorna found in an old gardening book) I hit the Internet and learned that the tree (actually a branch) was first discovered around 1835 growing along the ground in Scotland. Apparently the gardener who discovered it realized its unique nature, that it was a mutant. The tree was named after The Earl of Camperdown; it became a fixture in Victorian gardens, says one source, since it satisfied the British passion for curiosities. It was often planted, says another source, when stately, elegant landscaping was desired.

I’d like to know how and when this unusual mutant reached Kings County. While at least one local nursery has it as a grafting from time to time, the tree in Greenwich appears to have been in place long before such commercial enterprises existed. Most likely it was grafted privately and perhaps, I like to think, it came right from old Scotland. Search on the Internet, by the way, and you can find a photograph of the original Camperdown tree.

A typical Camperdown tree with its distinctive umbrella shape

A typical Camperdown tree with its distinctive umbrella shape. This one grows along Commercial Street in New Minas. (E. Coleman)


Driving along Main Street in the eastern end of Kentville, it’s easy to miss the grave of one of Kentville’s distinguished citizens. A relatively modest stone in Oak Grove Cemetery marks the resting place of Dr. Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton; it stands on a hill overlooking Main Street and few passersby realize it is there, or that Oak Grove is the resting place of an outstanding historian.

Dr. Eaton was laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery the summer of 1937; he had passed away in Boston on July 15, at age 87. At his request, little fuss was made over his funeral. He had made his own funeral arrangements years earlier and even had the stone in place awaiting the final dates. Only a few relatives and friends were present when his ashes were interred in Oak Grove near his brother, Frank.

His passing, while certainly newsworthy, was given little coverage by The Advertiser. “The ashes of Dr. Eaton buried at The Oaks,” ran a heading in the paper, followed by a few words on his death.

As we well know, Eaton compiled the History of Kings County. This was his greatest work. In a lifetime devoted to the church, to historical and religious writing, his research resulted in many books and essays. However, none came close to the depth and importance of his county history. Referring to this work and other books by Dr. Eaton, Acadia University Archivist Wendy G. Robicheau notes that they “have withstood the test of time and are an important resource for anyone studying local community and family history.”

Ms. Robicheau further assess Eaton’s Kings County history as a “monumental work,” a work that “continues to be on the ‘must consult list’ for genealogists and historians.”

This says it all and few will disagree with Robicheau’s assessment. Eaton’s Kings County history is indeed a monumental work and it happens that this is the centennial year of its publication.

Eaton’s history was first published in 1910. I mention this with the hope the year won’t pass with the anniversary unmarked, that the anniversary of the publication will be observed. Perhaps a plaque with a dedication to Dr. Eaton, placed on his grave site, is a suitable way to commemorate the anniversary.

Something should be done to mark the 100th year of Eaton’s history. Hopefully, the various historical groups in Kings County will come up with at least a plaque that’s suitably inscribed. I volunteer my assistance to any group willing to take up this challenge. For starters, I can contact potential financing sources and see how thing go from there. Anyone wishing to donate to an Arthur W, H. Eaton centennial plaque fund should contact the Kings Historical Society.


In the autobiography of Robie Lewis Reid, a prominent British Columbia Lawyer who was born in Steam Mill in 1866, mention is made of a controversy involving a church minister, Rev. Benaiah Phelps. The farm of Reid’s father was once part of a 666 acre grant Phelps received in 1765 or 1766; hence, I suppose, Reid’s interest in the land’s history.

Reid writes that Phelps was given the grant as the “first Minister of Cornwallis (township).” Once he established the credentials of Rev. Phelps, Reid writes that he eventually departed Cornwallis under circumstances that left a bad taste in the mouths of the recently settled Planters. Looking at it a couple of centuries removed, the controversy Phelps stirred up in the 1760s appears to be a tempest in a teapot. Yet historians such as Arthur W. H. Eaton, the compiler of the Kings County history, and more recently Julian Gwyn, write about Phelps and the outrage his parishioners felt towards him.

Gwyn, in his recently published book on Cornwallis Township, mentions Phelps, noting only that he left “in a cloud of controversy.” Eaton, the other hand, goes into detail about Phelps and you can sense he didn’t approve of the good Minister’s actions when he sold his land and returned to New England.

Reid, Eaton and Gwyn write that when Phelps departed Cornwallis, he sold the land he had been granted and appropriated the money. The parishioners of Cornwallis were certain the grant to Phelps had been intended for “the continual benefit of the church” (Eaton) and it was morally wrong to keep the proceeds of the sale or sell the land.

Perhaps it was, but we learn from Eaton Phelps had legal right to the land since it had been granted in his name by the highest authority. However, there’s more to the tale. From the beginning of his ministry, Phelps apparently was disliked by Handley Chipman and Samuel Starr, two of the most prominent and influential men in Cornwallis township. Both men questioned his dedication to his calling and Chipman undoubtedly was instrumental in having Phelps put on probation his first year in Cornwallis.

“How soon after Mr. Phelps formal settlement as pastor of the church (that) strong opposition to him began to manifest itself we do not know,” writes Eaton. “Nor are we informed precisely what the grounds of the people’s dislike of him were.” After making this statement, Eaton notes that part of the problem with Phelps may have been his openly supporting the American Revolution. To quote Eaton again, “it is said that Mr. Phelps added somewhat to his unpopularity in Cornwallis by showing decided sympathy with the revolt against England on the part of his New England friend.”

Phelps ministered in Cornwallis about a decade, a long time to serve for an unpopular minister who was disliked immediately by the shakers and movers of Cornwallis Township. At the least, the Phelps controversy, minor as it may seem today, sheds some interesting light on religion at a time when the Planters were adjusting to life in Kings County. In that period it undoubtedly was a major disruption in the fledgling settlement.

(On his return to New England, Phelps assumed the pastorate of a church at Manchester where he served for some 15 years. His former congregation in Cornwallis appealed to church authorities in New England to have the money Phelps received for the land returned. Eaton writes that this appeal was disregarded.)