GLIMSPSES OF EARLY PLANTER LIFE (August 12/13)

There are various history books and research papers devoted to the period when the Planters arrived here.  I have in mind the writing of Esther Clark Wright, James Stuart Martell, and the book They Planted Well, a collection of historical articles on the Planters.*

But besides the Chipman Papers in the Public Archives (which cover a century of Planter history mainly in Kings County) there are relatively few published personal records, diaries and such offering contemporary views of the early Planter period.  A few Planter family diaries exist but for the most part they’re not available to the general public.

Sometimes you come across descriptions of early Planter life in Kings County where you’d never expect to find them.  An example is the autobiography by a New England soldier (Capt. David Perry) who served in the Seven Year’s War and was briefly stationed in Kings County just after the Acadian deportation.

In a recent column I mentioned Perry’s reference to one of the first forts built in Kings County and his military activities.  Interesting is Perry’s reference to the Acadians that remained after the deportation, noting as I’ve read elsewhere they were of great assistance to the Planter settlers.

“Two Acadian families came to reside with us, who were very useful to our people,” Perry writes, “and learned them many useful arts, and among others, how to catch fish.  Which was of great service to them, as the provisions they brought with them were soon exhausted.”   We learn from Perry that without the Acadian’s help and “provision from the King’s stores,” the settlers “must in all probability have starved.”

Interesting also is Perry’s description of an environment he found not to his liking:  “Three large rivers (the Habitant, Cornwallis and Gaspereau) run through the town of Cornwallis.  At high water vessels of the largest size could sail up and down them with safety.  The rivers made a vast quantity of marshy land and the upland between them was not very good.  I did not like (this) country.”

Perry described the Acadians that remained in Kings County and the Mi’kmaq as “quite peaceful and to all appearance friendly,” questioning whether a fort really was needed to protect the settlers.

Another view of Kings County and the Planters is found in a book by Rev. Jacob Bailey, a Maine Loyalist.  As the American Revolution began, Bailey was forced to leave his country.  For a few years he preached in Kings County – from 1779 to 1782 – before moving to Annapolis Royal.

In his memoir, The Frontier Missionary, Bailey wrote a gloomy description of the Planter arrival in Kings County:  “Upon the departure of these unfortunate people (the Acadians) their houses and church were burned by the English, their domestic animals perished with hunger and the dykes, which protected their fertile land from the seas, fell into decay.

“Five years after this event a fleet of twenty-two transports, convoyed by an armed vessel of sixteen guns, landed emigrants from New England on the territory that had been occupied by the neutral French.  Two hundred persons from Connecticut settled at Cornwallis.  Although, as before stated, the natural features of the country were beautiful, yet the ruin which had befallen the former inhabitants was distinctly visible, and could hardly fail to inspire melancholy emotions.”

*Available at the Valley Regional Library

EARLY MILITARY FORTS IN CORNWALLIS, HORTON (July 29/13)

“Beside this fort ran a large river of the same name, Pisga (Piziquid) River, over which we passed in boats into the Menus (Minas) country,” wrote Capt. David Perry in an autobiography published in 1822.* “The people had laid out two towns, one called Horton and the other Cornwallis.  We were stationed at the latter ….  We had a very agreeable time of it, among our own country people, and built a picket fort there.”

Perry’s “picket fort,” built in 1760 after the Planters arrived here – or perhaps early in 1761- is one of the earliest records of a military fort in Kings County.   In his history of Kings County, Arthur W. H. Eaton refers to two forts the military erected here shortly before and just after the Acadian expulsion in 1755.   One, Fort Montague in Horton Township near Grand Pre, is mentioned briefly.  Eaton has more detail on what was called Fort Vieux Logis in Cornwallis Township, even though he notes that Fort Montague was the more important of the two.  Of course neither is the picket fort Perry mentions in his book, this being simply a hastily made post barrier that wasn’t meant to be permanent.

Vieux Logis (said to be an Acadian place name in Kings County) was originally a blockhouse at Annapolis Royal.  Eaton writes that in 1749, on orders from Governor Cornwallis, “the block-house now erected at Annapolis Royal (is) to be taken down and transported to Minas, there to be set up for the protection of the detachment you are ordered to send there.”

Late in 1760, Jonathan Belcher wrote to the English Board of Trade informing them that as soon as the townships of Horton and Cornwallis were laid out, “palisaded forts” were erected in each of them.  Eaton writes that the fort in Horton Township (Vieux Logis) likely was the renovated blockhouse carted up from Annapolis Royal.  However, says Eaton, it’s probable a new fort was constructed in Cornwallis Township and perhaps this was the aforementioned Fort Montague near Grand Pre.  This fort was still standing “as late as from 1840 to 1850,” Eaton notes.

Exactly where Fort Vieux Logis in Horton Township was located has never been determined.  Local folklore places it several places, one of them on a rise overlooking and above the south side of the Gaspereau River, approximately where the landmark Stirling tower stands today.  However, recent research places the fort more to the north on the opposite side of the river.

Apparently Fort Vieux Logis was named after the Acadian locale in which it stood – a bilingual friend tells me it translates as “old house.”  Eaton says the fort was established in Horton Township in 1749 and abandoned in 1753, the military outpost moving to Windsor.  In historical research I have on the fort (origin unknown) it’s suggested the fort was located on the Hortonville side of the Gaspereau River, near a landing used by the Acadians.

Perhaps one day when the exact site of the fort is located, a suitable monument will mark where it stood.

*The Life of Captain David Perry, a Soldier of the French and Revolutionary War.   Perry began his military career with the New England militia in 1758 when he was 16 and participated in several battles during the Seven Years’ War.

LLOYD SMITH – CARRYING ON A TRADITION (July 15/13)

The red mid-18th century replica of an officer’s uniform of the 45th   Regiment worn by Lloyd Smith for decades has been retired.  The long-time Valley Crier – some 35 years and counting – is resplendent today in dress representing the clothing of 18th century aristocrats.

But Smith’s role as a Crier remains hasn’t changed. The centuries old tradition of Criers announcing news and proclamations in the village square continues, with Smith still playing a prominent role at functions and celebrations throughout the Valley

However, the breeches, jacket and trim are now in subdued shades of green and gold (the colours of the town of Windsor), the hints of blue in the waistcoat representing our Acadian heritage.  And while his new uniform might not be traditional town Crier apparel (if there is such) the bell, staff and tricorn, part of the Crier costume for centuries, are still there.

In other words, a proclamation made today by Smith is, in effect, a historically correct re-enactment of the ancient art of crying.   Bells and staffs have been carried by town Criers for hundreds of years.  The tricorn  many Criers wear today was a fixture on Criers centuries ago.

It’s believed the ancient Greeks and Romans were the first to employ Criers but little documentation exists. What we do know is that after the Norman invasion of England in 1066, Criers are mentioned in official records.  In Great Britain Criers eventually became the voice of ruling Kings and Queens and officers of the Crown; most of the time they were used to inform people of orders and decrees from higher up.  So entrenched in British history and so vital was this role that Criers became protected under English laws; laws, by the way, still in effect today.

This is Lloyd Smith’s third Crier uniform.  The first, a gentleman’s dress of New England/Planter style was designed locally and was prominently green and gold.  The outfit worn by a military officer stationed in Windsor was the model for the red uniform Smith wore until recently.  This uniform was officially retired May 18 and is now on display at the Hants Historical Society.

Now, let’s take the significance of the paraphernalia Smith carries in his town Crier role.  In every sense it is historical.  The bell, for example, has traditionally been used as an “attention getter” for centuries.  Ringing the bell three times before an announcement symbolizes the time when a Crown appointed Crier was required to rap three times with a mace to introduce guests into a Royal Chamber or Royal presence; hence both the mace and the bell are carried by Criers today as an acknowledgements of this ancient tradition.

As for the introductory O Yea, O Yea, O Yea preceding Crier announcements, this custom likely goes back to the period when Great Britain was under Norman dominance.  Originally the cry was Oyez, Oyez, Oyez, an old Norman French term meaning “to harken,” or “hear ye.”

As for the tricorn Smith wears, this hat was popular in civilian fashion and with the military throughout the 17th and 18th century.  While the military discarded the tricorn in favour of other headwear, the hat became the traditional dress of Criers, a symbol of what is so British about crying.

Lloyd Smith in his new uniform

Lloyd Smith in his new uniform, the dress of an 18th century aristocrat. (Submitted)

GASPAROT/GASPEREAU /GASPER– HISTORY OF A NAME (July 9/13)

The Acadians called it the river of the gasparot; as we know, those bustling Planter people, once they saw the tremendous runs of herring-like fish up the river every spring, thought the name was appropriate.

The Planters called it Salmon River at first.  But eventually, by anglicizing the Acadian name slightly, the stream became the Gaspereau River.  Eventually, Gaspereau was applied to the river, to the village on its banks, to the valley the river flowed through and the lake at its headwaters.

If Esther Clarke Wright is correct, Gaspereau applies to more than a fish, a river, a village and a lake.  It also indicates a state of mind, says Wright respectfully in her book Blomidon Rose, noting that the early settlers along the river were “God-fearing, tight-fisted, house-proud, farm-proud people.”  It all had something to do with the Gaspereau Valley being relatively isolated from other communities in the area, Wright implies, that isolation perhaps creating a Gaspereau mindset.

The oddest thing about the word Gaspereau is that a few people believe it’s has nothing to do with the Acadians and their prized fish.  Years ago I heard that the Gaspereau River, and the village, valley and lake weren’t named after a fish.  In all seriousness, a friend told me Gaspereau came from the surname of a man named Gasper.  I scoffed of course, but the friend insisted it was true; it’s documented in history books and it is common knowledge, he said.

The Acadian origin of Gaspereau, for the fish, the river and so on, is so well known I couldn’t believe the friend was serious.  Then I discovered the booklet I wrote about in a recent column – the Souvenir of Wolfville and Grand Pre published in 1897 and written by D. O. Parker.  There it was in the book.  Just what my friend told me, that the word Gaspereau came from a man named Gasper.  Here, word for word, is what the author of the book says about the origin of Gaspereau:

“Legend says (Gaspereau) is a compound of Gasper and eau.  Gasper was a gentleman who died on his way to Acadia and was buried near the mouth of the river.  Eau is the French word for water; hence the water near his grave was called Gasper-eau, i.e. Gasper water – Gaspereau.  Others say it takes its name from a river in France and is sometimes spelt with an x, eaux, the plural for water.”

This is remotely possible, I suppose, but I suspect Parker wasn’t serious and simply was passing along a whimsical, curious piece of county folklore.  I hope so.  I see that Parker signs off his book as Rev.  D. O. Parker; a man of the church, in other word, and well educated enough to know fact from fiction.

PRIMORDIAL BEASTS – A BOOK ABOUT OXEN (June 24/13)

Did you know it’s considered an insult to call an ox shoer a farrier, or that the word “ox” is a term of endearment, that oxen predict the weather? Or that oxen have been used as draught animals for over 6000 years, and the Acadians farmed and built their dykes here in Kings County with the aid of oxen?

These are a few on the interesting, little known facts about oxen Carmen Legge divulges in his book on the care, training and use of these hardy animals.  Legge’s book is just off the press – it will officially be launched July 14 at Ross Farm in New Ross – and I’ve been given the privilege of reading and reviewing it.

What an eye opener this has been!  I’ve seen oxen around, mostly at pulling competitions and farm fairs, for as long as I can remember; but I was never fully conscious of the role they played in settling our land.  From the Acadian period right up until relatively recent times, Oxen have played a vital role in field, dyke and forest, helping settlements establish and helping them flourish.

“We can say that societies would not be were they are today (without oxen)” Legge observes in his book.  They were fixtures in the farms of old, performing tasks no other draught animals were capable of handling.  As Legge amply illustrates, there simply would not have been any farms, no clearing of the wilderness or of fields without these animals.

Basically written as a how-to-do book on the care, training and use of oxen, Legge’s book has enough historical background and is so well researched that I recommend it as a good historical read. I’ve often looked with disinterest at oxen plodding along at community fairs but not anymore.  Anachronisms they may be today, but they weren’t always, as you will discover in Legge’s book.

In the book you will be introduced to various words and expressions that in our great grandparent’s days were commonplace.   You will see what farm life was like with oxen and how difficult life would have been without them.  You will discover how important, actually how vital oxen were when Nova Scotia was a wilderness that was waiting for the axe and the plow.

Most of all, you will discover why oxen were cherished for the work they did and why they are still cherished today.  Carmen Legge grew up farming with oxen and his love and understanding of this magnificent animal shines through.  You may wish to skip the sections of his book dealing with the care of oxen but the remainder is educational and enlightening.

Book cover, "Oxen: Their care, training, and use" by Carmen Legge

AN 1897 SOUVENIR BOOK OF WOLFVILLE (June 10/13)

In 1897, D. O. Parker, M. A., compiled and published a book that is an unusual combination, a historical document, tourist guide and local directory.  Parker called it a Souvenir of Wolfville and Grand Pre.  The book was published in Wolfville (likely by Davison Bros., publishers of the Acadian newspaper) and sold for 25 cents.

Only 24 pages, there are historical notes, tourist information, and a business directory that’s brief and incomplete.  Yet it is interesting.   Written over a century ago, the book contains some historical nuggets.  Doug Crowell, who sent me the text of the book, notes for example that it has information on the location of the friar’s house that “Parks Canada has been searching to find for years.”

Parker places the friar’s house a “few steps west of the chapel.”  Here are the “remains of a cellar,” Parker writes, that “without doubt belonged to the house of the friar,” – I assume he meant the house of an Acadian priest.  The chapel, in turn, is said to have been west of “Evangeline’s well,” which was “discovered a few years ago by treasure seekers digging for hidden gold.”  Many valuable Acadian relics were found at the bottom of the well, Parker says.  An Acadian graveyard was also close by, “a little east,” according to Parker.

Also historically interesting is Parker’s contention that the grounds of Acadia University once held Acadian homesteads.  In the rear of Acadia University are Acadian cellars, Parker writes.  Many Acadian relics, found on University grounds, were stored at one time in the college museum but were destroyed in a fire.  “A valuable cabinet of (Acadian) relics was lost when the college was burnt,” writes Parker, no doubt referring to the 1877 fire that destroyed most of the University.

Readers familiar with an earlier Wolfville will be intrigued by Parker’s reference to Acadian homesteads where “about one mile and a half east of the P. O. (Post Office?) a private road leads in by C. C. Harris’s to one of the most picturesque nooks imaginable.”  There, says Parker, one can find old willows, old apple trees, the remains of old cellars and a “remarkable road down to the dyke… where the Acadians passed up and down a century and a half ago.”

The reference to the C. C. Harris property may be enough of a clue for amateur archaeologists to find this “picturesque nook,” and its Acadian cellars.  Parker mentions that a brook ran through the site and there were old willows, which also may be helpful clues.

As for being a local directory, Parker only mentions a few businesses, most of them catering to tourists.  “Only” is the correct word here since in 1897 Wolfville was a prosperous town, the largest in the county at the time.  In the early 1890s Wolfville had 16 stores and hotels, several boarding houses, a busy port and a patent medicine factory.

Parker writes about six Wolfville and three Grand Pre hotels in his  book and briefly describes points of interest that might attract tourists.  There are “pleasant walks” and “pleasant drives,” and mention that in 1897, land now occupied by Acadia University held “3,000 young apple, pear, plum and peach trees.”

Readers interested in early Wolfville and the various references to the Acadians will find Parker’s book more than interesting.  While the book is out of print, it is posted on the Internet and can easily be accessed.

AN ACADIAN/PLANTER ABOITEAU IN KENTVILLE (May 28/13)

Two events, one of major importance taking place in 1995, the other a recent discovery that seemed insignificant at first, may be related.

In 1995, the Terry-Young house at 229 Main Street in Kentville was designated a heritage property.  About 200 years old, the house may have been built on an Acadian cellar.  Eaton’s history of Kings County mentions the Acadian cellar on which the house stands; this to me suggests the possibility Kentville was the site of other Acadian homesteads.

The other event was discovery this spring of an object protruding from the claylike banks of the Cornwallis River in Kentville.  Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury noticed the object while walking in Miner Marsh and decided to investigate.  “Something caught my eye sticking out of the bank on the opposite side of the river from the marsh,” Stokesbury wrote in an email.  “I finally took my camera and got some pictures.  It looks like an aboiteau to me.”

When I looked at the photographs Stokesbury emailed me, my first impression was the same as hers – that I was looking at an aboiteau sluice.  An aboiteau is a sluice with a one-way valve the Acadians used to prevent flooding of land they dyked.  The aboiteau allows water to drain from dyked fields but prevents tidewater from flooding them.

Intrigued by photographs of what appeared to be the remains of an aboiteau sluice, I decided to take a closer look at it.  I walked down the side of the river the sluice was on and when I got close I was surprised by what I found. First of all, the object is an old sluice of the type once commonly used by the Acadians to make an aboiteau functional.  The sluice appears to have been handmade, hewed out apparently from a log.  This alone would indicate it is old, but how old it is difficult to say.

Secondly, the sluice protrudes from the bank of the river about a meter below ground level, meaning it has to have been buried for a long time, perhaps since the Acadian or Planter period.  The ground nearby is really marshy, the type of tide-flooded marsh the Acadians would have tried to reclaim by putting in dykes and aboiteaus.

Now, as for the connection between the Terry-Young property and the old sluice, let’s speculate that the house confirms an Acadian presence in what is now the town of Kentville.  The marshy area where the sluice was discovered isn’t far from the Terry-Young house.  If Acadians had settled in this area and had decided to reclaim land from the tides, the nearby marshy area was a logical place to start.  Evidence of this dykeing should show up from time to time and it has with discovery of the old sluice.

There’s more to the story.

The marshy land where the sluice protrudes from the banks of the Cornwallis River is owned by Jim and Sally Haverstock; part of this marshy land is also the property of the town of Kentville.   The Haverstock land, which is behind their Chestnut Place house, is bordered on the east side by Mill Brook and on the north by the Cornwallis River.  Jim Haverstock discovered an old aboiteau on Mill Brook decades ago and you can still see the ancient trough jutting from the bank.  There’s also the remains of an old dyke on this property, which is separate from the running dyke constructed and maintained by the Department of Agriculture.

The Haverstock meadow was cattle pasture at least a century ago.  The late Garth Calkin recalled when he was boy herding cattle on the meadow, then known as the Calkin Meadow, about a hundred years ago.  This land was once part of a Planter grant.  On February 19, 1766, Jonathan Darrow received a grant of 500 acres, land Arthur W. H. Eaton mentions in his county history as including some of downtown Kentville.   About six months later, Darrow sold the land to James Fillis and Joseph Pierce. Fillis farmed his land, part of which today is the town’s business section. According to Eaton, Fillis built a house smack in the town’s business district, about where Centre Square is today.

To sum up, from what Eaton has to say, the area in and around downtown Kentville was farmable land we can speculate would have interested the Acadians.  Furthermore, the aboiteau on Mill Brook discovered by Jim Haverstock, and the aboiteau sluice found recently by Bria Stokesbury indicate the area close by the town’s business section was dyked and at least two aboiteaus were constructed.  We also know, from the Terry-Young house, that Acadians once lived close to this land.

Early attempts definitely were made on the Haverstock/town property to reclaim tidal marsh from the Cornwallis River; but was it Acadians or Planters who were responsible?   Unless further investigations are made in that triangle of land formed by the Cornwallis River and Mill Brook we may never know.

aboiteau sluice

This old aboiteau sluice, recently discovered jutting from the banks of the Cornwallis River, suggests either Acadians or Planters dyked land in the town of Kentville. (E. Coleman)

WOODWORTH PLANTER REUNION – THE FIRST IN CANADA (May 13/13)

In his chapter on the coming of the New England Planters in his Kings County history, Arthur W. H. Eaton notes that seven members of the Woodworth family were grantees in the townships of Horton and Cornwallis; Eaton writes that all the Woodworths of Kings County are descended from one man, Walter Woodworth of New England.

The Woodworths also received grants in Hants County, in areas adjacent to the Horton and Cornwallis townships.  Many of the Woodworth descendants can still be found here and in Hants today, some of them still working land that was part of the original grants.  One such descendant is Church Street farmer George Woodworth, who not only is descended from some of the first New Englanders receiving grants here but may also have a special distinction.  George believes he may be the only one with the Woodworth surname still farming Kings County land granted after expulsion of the Acadians.

Actually, he says he isn’t farming land originally granted to his family circa 1795.  That distinction belongs to his father, grandfather, great grandfather, etc., who until 1937 farmed the original grant.  In 1937 Charles purchased the farm George now works on Belcher Street and the original grant land was taken over by a family member.

George Woodworth may be the only Woodworth still farming grant land in Kings County, as he says.  However, there’s an extensive Woodworth family scattered throughout Canada and the United States, many with direct links to the Kings County Planters through Walter Woodworth.

In 2005 a group of these “Woodworth cousins,” as they call themselves, started a tradition of holding a reunion every two years.  This year, for the first time in Canada, the reunion will be held in Kings County, right in the heart of the land where so many Woodworth Planters settled between 1759 and 1761.   George Woodworth will be there when the reunion starts on June 9 at the old Orchard Inn.  Included in the reunion, which runs for several days, will be tours of the areas their Planter ancestors settled and farmed.

During the reunion I expect those Woodworth cousins will visit the graveyards in Kings County where many of their ancestors are buried.  About 225 Woodworths ancestors lie in county graveyards from Lower Horton to Aylesford; most, if not all of them, are descendants of the Planter grantees who settled on land in Cornwallis and Horton townships.

Getting back to George Woodworth, he believes his ancestors may have arrived a year before the main influx of Planters.  George jokingly refers to his family as “pre-New England Planters.”  He tells me his ancestors belonged to one of three Woodworth families that arrived at the same time.  His people stayed here while the other Woodworth families took up land towards Berwick and on the North Mountain.

A 1760 SHIPWRECK ON THE CANARD RIVER (May 6/13)

In a column in 2007, I wrote about a shipwreck in the Canard River in 1760.  This may qualify as the first recorded shipwreck in Kings County I suggested, citing as my source a historical thesis on early Minas Basin settlements, written in 1933 by James Martell.

My mention of the shipwreck was sketchy.  All Martell said was the ship, a brigantine, was delivering provisions for the settlers of Horton and Cornwallis in December, 1760; and the ship capsized going down the Canard River after completing its mission.  Running out at low tide, the brigantine struck a sandbar, was trapped in the mud and eventually was demolished by the rising tides.

Martell didn’t give the name of the brigantine; and I heard nothing from readers when I appealed to them for help in identifying the ship.  However, I recently learned that the brig was called the Montague.  With the brig’s name and the year it was shipwrecked, I had no trouble finding the Montague in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic’s shipwreck data base.  The Montague was listed as being a total loss, sinking after being trapped in the mud.  The cause of the shipwreck: “Judgement error.”

While I believe this is the Montague that was lost on the Canard River, there’s a discrepancy in the listing that made it seem doubtful at first. The location of the shipwreck given in the data base is Hortonville which, when you look at a map, isn’t near the Canard River.  There appears as well to be a discrepancy in the time of year in 1760 that the shipwreck occurred.

However, thanks to history sleuth Doug Crowell I can tell you more about the Montague and that long ago shipwreck.  The Canard River shipwreck is mentioned briefly in a 1915 article in Americana by Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton, the author of the history of Kings County.  In the article, called Rhode Island Settlers on the French Lands in Nova Scotia in 1760 and 1761, Eaton writes that a “vessel that is conspicuously mentioned as bringing food to the settlers was the brigantine Montague (under) Captain Rogers, whose crew consisted of a mate, a pilot, and eighteen men.”

Eaton said the Montague, “after unloading provision for the people of Horton and Cornwallis, in her passage through the river Canard ran upon a bank of mud and was ‘overset so deep’ that she became a total loss.”

As well as referring me to this article, Doug Crowell said the Montague is mentioned in James Doyle Davison’s book on Handley Chipman, published privately in 1988 by the author.  Davison writes that the “Province Brig Montague, captained by Jeremiah Rogers, was one of the ships carrying provision and settlers for the townships of Minas and Canard (the names changed later to Horton and Cornwallis).  Davison confirms the Montague’s fate, writing that it “ran aground upon a mud flat, on her passage down the River Canard and became a total loss.”

An interesting footnote is the discovery by Doug Crowell that before she was commissioned by Governor Charles Lawrence to transport settlers and their provisions, the Montague was a privateer under Captain Rogers.  The website Three Decks, which is devoted to warships in the age of sail, notes that the Montague, nationality Great Britain, was a vessel of 90 tons with a crew of 20 and armed with 10 British swivel guns

So, somewhere on the Canard River, possibly lower down towards the Minas Basin, lay the bones of a British privateer cum Planter transport ship.  “Possibly” is the key word here.  Those treacherous tides that sweep the muddy reaches of the Canard River may have swept away every stick of the Montague long ago.  It’s also possible enough of the wreck remains to someday be found and identified.  Those infamous tides of Minas Basin and the Bay of Fundy are notorious for revealing shipwrecks, covering them again as quickly as they uncovered them.

Looking at the Canard River today, you wouldn’t think it was navigable at one time by brigantines.  But before the Wellington Dyke was put in place, much of the Canard River at high tide was what has been described as an inland lake.   At one time, the Minas Basin tides swept up the Canard River for nearly eight miles above Wellington Dyke and smaller ships could sail up it.

GOING TO SCHOOL ON THE TRAIN (April 15/13)

“I can always remember coming home from school on the train, the old locomotive they had on there,” Bill Kennedy said, talking about the Cornwallis Valley Railway that ran for decades between Kingsport and Kentville.

“Sometimes they’d have a bunch of boxcars along with the passenger car.  They had to stop in Steam Mill on the return trip in the afternoon since there was a little grade there towards Centreville, maybe half way up.  They’d get part way up the grade and there they’d be, stopped.  So they’d have to take four or five boxcars up to Centreville first and then back down and pick the rest of the train up.  Once they got to Centreville it was downgrade to Kingsport, pretty well downhill all the way.”

Bill Kennedy was reminiscing about the time in the early 1950s when he took the train to the high school in Kentville.  Like many kids reaching grade 9 in schools along the corridor between Kingsport and Kentville, to take grades 10, 11 and 12 it was necessary to attend classes elsewhere.  The closest high school for kids living along the CVR line in those days was Kings County Academy in Kentville, and the train’s morning schedule – they called it the “school run” – made it easy to attend KCA.   Leaving Kingsport at 7:30, the train usually arrived in Kentville before classes started at the high school.

Kennedy took the train to school from Sheffield Mills for three years.  “I still remember those days going up to Kentville on the train,” he says.  “It was an interesting time.”

How many kids in Nova Scotia can say they took the train to school? I asked in a recent column on the Cornwallis Valley Railway. Not many, I bet.  I speculated that the train’s school run likely was unique.  Maybe it wasn’t but it was convenient at least.  The ride to Kentville took from an hour or so to about 15 minutes depending on where you got on the train. But once the train arrived in Kentville it was a less than a kilometre walk from the station to Kings County Academy.

“Sometimes it was a long day,” says another former KCA student from Kingsport who like Bill Kennedy, rode the train to school every morning to Kentville for three years.  “The train sometimes stopped at warehouses along the line to pick up apples and potatoes and the time it took to reach Kentville was affected by these stops.”

The former KCA student (name withheld on request) recalls that on the return trip from school she normally arrived in Kingsport around five o’clock.  “In the fall, at harvest time, when there were stops at warehouses, it could be later,” she said.

“In the morning the train picked up kids at every stop and when we reached Kentville we had a train full.  It was quite an experience, going to school on the train, and the kids today wouldn’t believe it.”

Another Kingsport resident who caught the CVR train to school in Kentville is Helen Burns.  What stands out in her memory was the big rush to catch the train leaving Kingsport in the morning.  “Everybody was always running late for it but the trainmen were good to us,” she says.  “They always made sure everyone was there before they took off, looking back at the last minute to see if anyone was running to catch up as the train was moving out.

“I remember that and I remember everyone was always carrying on while we on the train to Kentville.  Some of us would try to study on the way in.”

The return trips to Kingsport after school also stands out in Burns’ memory.  “It seemed to take a long time.  Sometimes, when it was apple harvest or whatever, they’d have to shunt all the freight cars off at the warehouses.  When this was happening it would take a long time to get home.   I don’t remember much about the morning trips taking a lot of time but I suppose they did at times.  I can’t remember exactly.”

Now, what about the school run in the wintertime.  Surely there were there problems getting to school during winter storms.   I asked Bill Kennedy about this and he doesn’t recall winter storms stopping the train in the years he took it to school.  “If there was any amount of snow they’d always run the plow, over here to Kingsport and back,” he said.  “I can’t remember the train ever getting stopped in the wintertime.”