MINAS BASIN, FUNDY SHORE SHIPWRECKS (August 29/11)

There was no aboiteau on the Canard River in 1760 and a brigantine making its way at low tide along the upper part of the stream struck a sandbar, toppled over and was stranded. The brig was demolished by the next high tide.

This was one of the first shipwrecks recorded in Kings County, and our reef-filled, sandbar littered shores have witnessed thousands of similar catastrophes. Dan Conlin of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic says reliable estimates place the number of shipwrecks on our shores as high as 25,000, the largest number occurring between 1850 and 1950.

In contrast to shorelines such as those around Sable Island, relatively few shipwrecks have been recorded in Kings County. We haven’t been entirely spared, however. The often threatening Bay of Fundy, even the relatively quieter waters of Minas Basin have had their share of shipwrecks.

During October, 1828, for example, the 25 ton schooner Mary left Cornwallis with a cargo of apples. The Mary made it around Cape Blomidon into the Bay of Fundy and ran into a storm. During the storm she went ashore at Port Williams (now Port Lorne) and was a total loss. All hands aboard the Mary perished.

This event is recorded in Jack Zinck’s two volume Shipwrecks of Nova Scotia. This lengthy compilation of ship catastrophes reveals that the comparatively placid Minas Basin is dangerous and over the years more than a few sailing ships never made it out of its confines.

In 1871, for example, the 17 ton schooner Achilles sailed from Five Islands on November 30, heading for Windsor. This is a relatively short distance but the Achilles ran into one of those treacherous autumn storms and was wrecked on the Minas shore. Two lives and the cargo were lost.

About three weeks later in the same year, the 72 ton schooner B. F. Chandler left Windsor (destination unknown) and quickly foundered in a storm. A similar fate befell the schooner Delta a few years earlier. Delta never made it out of Minas Basin either. Attempting to sail from Walton to Hantsport, she became yet another shipwreck when, due to a heavy deck load, she toppled in heavy winds.

Similar Minas Basin disasters include the 72 ton G. W. Johnson. Sailing from Parrsboro to Wolfville in the spring of 1879, she was wrecked at Partridge Island. Glide, a 72 ton schooner, attempted to sail from Canning to Boston in the fall of 1889 and never made it out of Minas Basin. Glide was wrecked at Pereau beach when a fire broke out. Another schooner, the 13 ton Golden Eagle, attempted to sail from Canning to Cape Blomidon late in 1897. She was wrecked on the Blomidon shore, apparently a victim of the infamous Big Eddy that swirls around the Cape.

Even in relatively recent times, well beyond the golden age of sail, the Minas Basin continues to have its share of shipwrecks. In 1916 the 40 ton schooner Annie Pearl left Hall’s Harbour on October 13, heading for the Minas Basin. Entering the Basin, she ran up on a sandbar and was stranded. The 76 ton schooner Pansy was another ship that never made it out of Minas Basin. She left Parrsboro on December 12, 1916, and was wrecked on the shoreline near there.

The list goes on and on. In the past two centuries countless sailing ships have been wrecked in the Bay of Fundy and at its head, in the Minas Basin. Except for brief listings in books such as Jack Zinck’s compilation, the story of these ships has never been fully told.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS IN KENTVILLE’S HISTORY (August 15/11)

In 1869 the first train arrived in Kentville. In the Kentville history, The Devil’s Half Acre, Mabel Nichols notes that the train arrived at 3:00, coming up from Annapolis in the afternoon with “conductor James Keys and Driver Billie Boyd” in charge.

Actually, two trains arrived that day, one up from Annapolis and one from Windsor; the trains arrived in Kentville around the same time with great fanfare followed by a grand banquet. This special moment in Kentville’s history was duly noted in Marguerite Woodworth’s history of the D.A.R. From that moment Woodworth says, Kentville became the railway town.

There’s little doubt the railway “made” Kentville. The Windsor and Annapolis Railway set up headquarters in town and maintained a magnificent hotel there; the day the first railroad tie was laid on the W & A line it became the largest employer in the town and in the Annapolis Valley.

Kentville thrived thanks to the railway but other “firsts” before and after incorporation contributed to the town maintaining a leading position in the Valley. Kentville had its first uniformed police officer in 1887, the year after incorporation. This was Robert Barry who served for part of two years and was followed by Thomas O’Grady, who served from 1888 to 1894, and the legendary Rupert Davis.

Less than a decade after incorporation, in 1892, the town literally lit up. In 1891 construction began on a steam operated power plant and electric lights were turned on “in the town and in the shops of the Windsor and Annapolis Railways” (Nichols) late the next year.

Kentville formed a fire department about two years after it was incorporated. In February of 1888 some 36 town citizens formed the Kentville Volunteer Fire and Protective Company. Many of the town’s prominent citizens were among the first officers to be elected and several future town leaders volunteered as ordinary firefighters.

Well before incorporation, in 1829, the first Kentville courthouse was constructed, a two-storey structure with a jail. Previously, the first courthouse and jail in Kings County were located near Horton Landing. Around the same time, in 1830, the first post office in Kentville was established. This was first located in the residence of the first postmaster (James Bragg, Sr.) in the back of the lot now occupied by Rockwell Home Hardware on Main Street.

Concrete sidewalks were laid in Kentville in 1914; four years later town roads were paved, a concession no doubt to the growing popularity of the automobile. In 1936 Kentville finally named all of the streets within the town, at the same time numbering buildings.

(Sources: Mabel Nichols’ The Devil’s Half Acre; Arthur W. H. Eaton’s History of Kings County).

WHERE TO FIND KENTVILLE HISTORY SOURCES (August 8/11)

Kentville marks the anniversary of its incorporation this year, and interest in the town’s history is peaking. Several of my recent columns have dealt with Kentville’s history but I’ve barely touched on its past (Column 1, Column 2, Column 3, Column 4, Column 5, Column 6, Column 7, Column 8, Column 9, Column 10, Column 11). If you’re a history buff and would like to know more about the town’s history I’ll suggest a number of excellent sources.

The obvious place to start is the Kings County Museum. There you’ll find Eaton’s Kings County history, Mabel Nichols Kentville history (The Devil’s Half Acre) and Louis Comeau’s pictorial history of the town.

Eaton’s history has a chapter on Kentville and various references to the town throughout the book. This work was recently put on line, so there’s computer access as well if you like reading history on a screen. Comeau’s book has a timeline for the town but if you’re like me and enjoy looking at old photographs, this is a superb book to peruse. The book has 158 pages. Except for the introduction there’s at least one old-time Kentville photograph per page and in some cases two, so there’s lots of interesting history to look at.

Mabel Nichols book has a few photographs as well and it’s the only in depth look at the town’s history from the early days up to recent times. This is the book to read if you’d like to know how Kentville became the leading town in the Valley. I just spent some eight hours going through the book from cover to cover and the detail in it is amazing. While it can be found in the museum, this book is currently out of print. I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag by saying this soon will be rectified.

As well as being available at the museum all three of the above books can also be found at the local library. Comeau’s book is also in local bookstores such as R. D. Chisholms in Kentville.

At the museum as well is Heather Davidson’s historical glimpse of Kentville. This is a short treatise on the town’s past but is well worth looking at. Also at the museum are two excellent papers on Kentville. Leslie Eugene Dennison’s work, Kentville and Vicinity a Half Century Ago, was published as a series in The Advertiser in 1932. This is a personal look at the town and is far from being hard history. Almost along the same line but more scholarly is E. J. Cogwell’s Kentville – An Historic Sketch. This was published in 1895 in The Western Chronicle, a newspaper based for a time in Kentville.

Finally, I have to suggest another source on Kentville that’s accessible at the museum. The museum has five community history binders which consist of newspaper clippings from Kentville’s past. Take it from me. Once you start flipping through the pages of these binders, you can’t stop. I like to think of it as history through obituaries, births and weddings but it’s much more than that as you’ll discover.

LOUIS COMEAU: “TWO BEECH HILL ROADS” (July 25/11)

At one time Kentville had two streets named Beech Hill, “and this must have been confusing to the townsfolk” Kentville historian Louis Comeau writes. Comeau was responding to my recent column on Beech Hill (July [18] Advertiser) noting he’d discovered this “duality” when he was attempting to find the location of an old Kentville business.

“A very long time ago I acquired an artifact for Pauline Bros., cobblers by trade,” Comeau writes. “They were listed as being on the corner of Beech Hill Road and Main Street.”

From this it would appear simple enough to find the cobbler shop location, but it wasn’t that easy. Comeau discovered that Kentville had two Beech Hill Roads coming down to Main Street, a fact he unearthed when studying a map of the town made in 1879. This meant that there were four possible corners for the site of the cobbler shop.

That map, says Comeau, was made by an American, one Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler. Thaddeus fought in the Civil War, was crippled and as a result, took up the less physically demand trade of cartography. “He specialized in ‘bird’s eye view’,” Comeau says, (the drawing of maps as viewed from above). “His work took him to 23 States and three Canadian provinces, one being Nova Scotia and eventually Kentville. His bird’s eye view of Kentville is dated 1879.”

According to Comeau the maps shows Kentville looking south-eastward from the high ground where the sanatorium (now the hospital) was once located. The curious thing about the map is that it shows two Beech Hill Roads. “The streets are named and a few buildings numbered with a legend …. and as one gazes towards the east end of Kentville one realizes there are two streets labeled Beech Hill. (What are now) Prospect Avenue and Chester Avenue both have the name Beech Hill.”

Comeau tells me Chester Avenue was probably renamed first. “The Beech Hill you mention in your article off of Chester Avenue continues through the woods to the top of Prospect Avenue where Dr. Healy’s house is.”

With two Beech Hill Roads in the 19th century and thus four possible corners for the site of the cobbler shop, how did Comeau pin down the location of Pauline Bros.? Comeau got the answer from the late Lena Redfearn who along with husband Fred once operated a grocery store on the southwest corner where Chester Avenue joins Main Street. Lena was able to name most of the businesses that previously had occupied the store site. One of them was the Pauline Bros. cobbler shop.

“So I had my answer,” Comeau concluded.

HISTORY LESSON BEECH HILL (July 18/11)

In 1932 Leslie Eugene Dennison wrote an article for The Advertiser describing Kentville as he remembered it in the mid-to late-19th century. Born in Kentville around 1865, Dennison moved to the States and for a time worked on the Boston Globe and Boston Post. Dennison apparently worked for the Boston newspapers and for newspapers in “all but one province” in Canada. The quote is from The Advertiser’s editor who noted that Dennison had served in three wars and was noted as a poet an d prose writer.

Over the years I’ve often quoted from Dennison’s article on Kentville and I did as recently as June 7 in this paper. I believe his “reminiscences” (as the editor called them) ran as a series in The Advertiser. Dennison described Kentville as he remembered it, and he had a fantastic memory. The streets of Kentville, the stores, schools, churches and especially the people whom he often described in detail, including a few personal quirks, are in his essay. This isn’t history in its truest sense; but if anyone decided to write another history of Kentville, Dennison’s article would be invaluable.

I’m rehashing Dennison’s essay for a reason. I learned when quoting him recently you have to be careful reading his descriptions of Kentville’s physical features. It appeared to me for example that Dennison lumped Gallows Hill and Beech Hill together; but I read this hastily, concluding erroneously the hill may once have been known by the latter name.

This was wrong. Beech Hill, as a reader pointed out, is on the opposite side of Kentville from Gallows Hill. Angus Corcoran gave me a history lesson on Beech Hill, mentioning several sources confirming this; Eaton’s Kings County history for one, the recently published book on Kings County schools for another, and the Ambrose Church map of Kings County.

Another work confirming the location of Beech Hill as south of Kentville is Charles Bruce Fergusson’s book, Place-Names and Places of Nova Scotia. Fergusson writes that Alton, which later was divided into North and South Alton, was once known as Beech Hill. Hutchinson’s Nova Scotia Directory for 1864-65 also lists Beech Hill as a thriving Kings County community with its own way office and 32 inhabitants, many of them Irish.

Besides mention in various historical works and maps, all that exists of this community today is what folks remember of it and a highway sign indicting the location, out at the far end of Chester Avenue, of Beech Hill Road.

FLASHBACK: KENTVILLE’S 1926 CELEBRATION (July 13/11)

In her book on Kentville, The Devil’s Half Acre, Mabel Nichols writes the town received this unflattering nickname due to the boisterous lifestyle of its inhabitants. Except for a few websites that repeat what Nichols wrote, this is the only evidence I’ve found referring to this nickname. Early on the hamlet that eventually became a town was known as Horton Corner. This is corroborated by the man who wrote the definitive history of Kings County, Arthur W. H. Eaton.

This year Kentville celebrates the 125th year of incorporation as a town. However, another anniversary will be coming up. In 1826 the inhabitants of Horton Corner decided their village, the leading commercial and railway centre of the Valley, should have a distinctive name. On April 19, 1826, a notice was published in the Nova Scotian proclaiming that at a public meeting the residents of Horton Corner “have resolved that their growing village should in future be called Kentville in honour of His late Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent.”

In April, 2026, the town will begin celebrating 200 years being known far and wide as Kentville. When it first adopted this name the village had a few stores and according to an article published in a Wolfville newspaper, “two grist mills, two manufactories for fulling and dyeing cloth” and two facilities for carding wool.

By 1926, however, the town had expanded considerably, thanks to the railway, and had become the largest, most prosperous towns in the province. The town didn’t let this important anniversary pass unmarked; in August of 1826 the town held a three-day celebration marking its 100th anniversary, a celebration that was to have a far reaching effect on future events in this area.

In 1926 the town fathers planned a three-day celebration that a few years later evolved into the apple blossom festival. There was a grand street parade in 1926, for example. A queen of the carnival was chosen with young ladies from the counties of Kings, Hants and Annapolis competing for the honor. Much like today, decorated floats and bands passed along Kentville streets during the grand street parade. There were athletic and musical events as well and like our current festival the event wound up with a “dance and evening frolic.” This was an open air event on Webster Street that concluded with the crowning of the festival queen.

The town fathers went all out to observe the 100th anniversary of the town adopting the name of Kentville. Some of those town fathers were so pleased with the celebration that several years later they became active in creating a similar event. As I mentioned, this event became the apple blossom festival.

A. L. PELTON – KENTVILLE’S VERSATILE 16th MAYOR (June 27/11)

“Prior to his first election as Mayor of the town, Mr. Pelton served four years as councilor, these added to his six years as Mayor constitutes a record which has not been equaled in the Town Council of Kentville.”

This was one of the many tributes paid to Archibald Leander Pelton when The Advertiser announced his untimely death in 1928. “During these years,” The Advertiser continued, “his restless energy and progressive views have been largely responsible for the favorable position in which the town finds itself today.”

This was fine praise indeed, and looking back at the life of A. L. Pelton from this vantage point, it was well earned. As well as noting his years of service to the town, The Advertiser hailed Pelton as one of the pioneers in the automobile business, as a business leader and a leading socialite.

There’s little doubt Pelton was an automotive pioneer. In his history of the McKay Motor Car, which was first made in Kentville, William H. McCurdy notes that the McKay brothers, Jack and Dan, depended on Pelton to provide “production knowledge as well as a general knowledge of the automobile.” Pelton was indeed familiar with the “one lunger” engines that drove the early automobiles; he acquired this knowledge through apprenticeship with an American company that made farm machinery with one cylinder gasoline engines.

Pelton’s role in the manufacture of the McKay Car has undoubtedly been understated. Without Pelton’s expertise, it’s unlikely the manufacture of automobiles in Kentville beginning about 1910 may never have happened. Pelton also opened the first automobile dealership in the province and he can be considered a pioneer here as well.

Between 1904 and 1925, Pelton was the distributor for at least seven makes of automobile, among them the Studebaker, Oldsmobile, Franklin and Gray Dort. It‘s noted in his obituary that he sold some of the first automobiles in Nova Scotia; for a long time he maintained one of the largest automotive dealerships in Nova Scotia and possibly in the Maritimes. “His firms, A. L. Pelton and Company, of Kentville and Halifax,” reads The Advertiser obituary “was known throughout the Maritime provinces as at least one of the most important in the auto business in the East.”

As noted in the obituary, Pelton took a keen interest in what was happening in Kentville. “During the many years he served as Mayor and Councilor, he devoted large portions of his time in looking after civic affairs,” reads The Advertiser obituary. “The remarkable progress (Kentville) has made in the past two decades was due to his efforts.”

Pelton may have been one of the first to travel across most of Canada by automobile. In 1911, Pelton and Dan Mckay drove one of the McKay cars, a 1911 model, from Kentville to Regina, a distance of 2600 miles. The object of the drive was to set up a Canada-wide chain of distributors for the McKay car. As far as is known this never happened, writes McCurdy in his history of the Mckay car, but several models were sold by a dealer in Saskatoon.

Pelton has never been formally recognized for his role as an automotive pioneer or for his contributions to the success of Kentville as the leading town in the Annapolis Valley. Perhaps with the town’s anniversary of incorporation being observed this year, this will be rectified.

11TH VIGNETTE OFF THE PRESS (June 20/11)

Among other definitions, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary describes “vignette” as a “brief descriptive account, anecdote, essay or character sketch.” Including “historic” is this definition describes a series of booklets published over the past 23 years by the Kings Historical Society. Since 1989 the Society has published 11 Kings County Vignettes, the latest just off the press this month.

Since the first publication, which was compiled by the late Elizabeth Rand, the Vignettes series usually contained an average of a dozen historical stories about Kings County. Each Vignette in the series has sold well, if anything a testament that local history buffs appreciate what the staff and volunteers at the Kings County Museum have strived to accomplish: That is to publish a historically accurate booklet that’s not only interesting but economically priced (each Vignettes has sold for less than $10).

Just released, as I mentioned, the 11th issue of Kings County Vignettes follows the standard set by the first volume. The eight essays in this issue run from stories about Camp Aldershot, the Nova Scotia Sanatorium and the legacy left to us by the Acadians. Gordon Hansford writes about Camp Aldershot as it was during World War 2. Two articles on the Nova Scotia Sanatorium by Jane Sponagle and Bria Stokesbury offer glimpses of what life was like for patients of the “San.”

Plants and Pioneers by Twila Robar-DeCoste and The Acadian Legacy in Kings County by Trevor Lloyd take us back in time to Acadian and pioneer times. Writing poetry that salutes people at the Kings County Museum and at the same time actually rhymes is a difficult task but Teresa Neary accomplishes this nicely with a poem about the Museum’s countless volunteers.

Bernice Taylor writes about the famed Covenanter Church at Grand Pre, which as she notes, is the oldest Presbyterian Church in the province. In her second article for issue 11, Bria Stokesbury, the Museum’s curator, covers the 25th anniversary of the Museum.

All in all, this is another great edition in the Vignette series and the compiler, Helen Hansford, is to be complimented. Vignette number 11 is available for seven dollars at the Kings County Museum and at Chisholm’s Book Store in Kentville.

ALL THE KENTVILLE STORES SOLD RUM (June 13/11)

In 1907 a former Kentville resident living in Chicago figured he was too far along in years to ever visit the town again. Henry L. Ross, age 90, decided instead to write the town newspaper, describing Kentville as he remembered it about 50 years before the town incorporated. Following are excerpts from the letter he wrote to The Advertiser in 1907.

“I first became acquainted with Kentville in the 1830s. There was only one street, commonly called the Post Road. The merchants were Caleb Rand, James D. Harris, James E. DeWolfe and Dan Moore. The village lawyer (was) John C. Hall, the village harnessmaker Cunningham, the village blacksmith Silas Masters, the shoemaker Beech, the sheriff (George) Chipman.”

Before he described the Kentville of his youth, Ross mentioned a ship built on the Cornwallis River by James E. DeWolfe. “The residents can scarcely realize that 60 years ago from that spot was heard the sound of the carpenter’s axe and maul and the ring of the caulker’s mallet.” This was the barque, The Kent, built in 1846 and mentioned in Eaton’s Kings County history. The site of the shipyard was just across the bridge from the town library. Two ships were built there. Ross apparently worked on The Kent, noting it was launched in 1847 with a large crowd in attendance, “many coming by ox teams.”

Getting back to the letter, Ross says all the stores in town sold rum “with the exception of J. E. DeWolfe,” and all the farmers had “a little brown jug (of rum) in their closets.” Given its availability, rum must have been important in those days.

Describing Kentville in the pre-railroad days, when the stagecoach ran from Halifax through the Valley two or three days weekly, Ross says the “great event of the week was arrival of the Mail Coach from Halifax. It brought the farmers in and served as an excuse for a trip to the village, the purpose of which was to patronize the Crown Inn and the Kentville Hotel (to) replenish the ‘little brown jug’ than to get mail which they did not expect.”

As Ross says, Kentville had its share of “characters” in the time of which he writes. “There was John Hall’s father, a walking encyclopedia. There was old Dr. Webster, father of the late Dr. Billy, an old fellow who swore like a man o’ war’s man. There was old George Bear, the coloured orator who used to spout to the crowd from his rostrum, the scales at the corner of the Red Store.”

KENTVILLE IN THE PRE-INCORPORATION PERIOD (June 7/11)

In 1932 a member of a pioneer Kentville family decided he would write a series of newspaper articles about the town. Leslie Eugene Dennison’s articles were published in The Advertiser over a period of about a year.

While mainly reminiscent in tone (Dennison said it was “Reminiscences of an ‘Upstreeter’ of the Beautiful Town Embowered in Blossoms) the articles describe Kentville in the late 1870s, the period leading up to incorporation. It was an interesting place at the time. In the downtown core, where banks and business blocks now stand, there were tethering posts and blacksmith shops; it was common for Kentville citizens to keep cows in pastures that are now parking lots.

“Kentville 60 years ago,” writes Dennison, “was a small country village. Its inhabitants were chiefly the descendants of the first settlers, with a few families of railroad officials and workers from the Old Country. Ox teams were common in the streets.”

Describing what eventually would become the town’s business core, Dennison said three blacksmith shops stood on lots now occupied by prominent buildings. “Thomas Cox had a shop on Church Street, near St. James Church. Otho Eaton had one on the south side of Webster Street, opposite the post office, and I do not remember the name of the blacksmith shop on Canaan Road.”

Blacksmith shops were necessary in Kentville’s pre-incorporation days. The automobile was yet to arrive and the horse and ox were the chief means of transportation and labor. Kentville’s blacksmith shops were “great gathering places for men from the nearby farms,” writes Dennison, since here besides shoeing horses and oxen, all sorts of iron work was carried on.

We learn from Dennison musings that Lee Neary was Kentville’s “first uniformed police chief,” that before Gallows Hill earned its grisly name it was called Beech Hill and Wickwire Hill at the town’s eastern edge was once Bishop Hill.

Kentville in pre-incorporation days obviously was much more than the country village Dennison that calls it. Dennison mentions the town had two newspapers, five hotels, five churches, several mills and 26 businesses offering a variety of goods and services. It appears that Kentville, on the verge of incorporation, was a thriving commercial center and at the time was the leading hamlet in the Annapolis Valley.