The Blomidon Naturalists Society publication, A Natural History of Kings County, fittingly is dedicated to Rachel and John Erskine. In the introduction to the book the Erskines are saluted as “exemplary rural naturalists.” John Erskine was also a noted historical researcher and has written several papers on pioneer field work he did on the Acadians in Kings County.
Of particular interest to me is what Erskine wrote about Acadian mill sites. In the Natural History of Kings County there is a one line reference to these mills – “There may have been an Acadian windmill on the higher ground along Church Street”- and I can easily imagine Erskine’s research inspired this conclusion.
I’ve mentioned possible Acadian mills here before – in New Minas and on the border between the village and Kentville – and I’ve run into more than a bit of scepticism about their existence. However, it seems natural that the Acadians would have some sort of grist mills. Erskine’s research indicates that this was more than a possibility. He actively investigated known and suspected Acadian settlements throughout Kings County and as mentioned, published his findings and his speculations about mill sites.
While Erskine mentions sites where the Acadians could have operated mills, he apparently found little concrete proof. The approximate location of the windmill near Church Street is shown on a map the late Leon Barron had but other than this and what Erskine concluded re possible mill locations, no sites have been confirmed.
Erskine speculates that one Acadian Mill was located about where Elderkin Brook runs under Highway #1 between Kentville and New Minas. The Cornwallis River tides back up into Elderkin Brook (now controlled by an aboiteau) and it would’ve been a natural mill site. Erskine suggests another mill may have been situated on the stream running behind the New Minas Elementary School. There was physical evidence at one time of a dam on the brook, but whether this was Acadian or Planter isn’t known.
Erskine speculated about Acadian mill sites in some of his historical essays. Here’s a quote from one of his essays:
“Acadian mills were small, frequent and various windmills were on the ridges of Grand Pre and Canard; tidal mills at Kentville and Martock. The major part of the work fell to steep brooks, usually small ones. One type dammed a brook high on the slope and released the water to rush down the mill-race to spin the millstone for a glorious few minutes. Such mills were found at Gaspereau, (and) New Minas.”
Erskine noted that the Acadians did not “seem to be been good workers in stone.” Hence, Erskine says, they “bought their millstones from New England.” No millstones have been found at suspected Acadian mill sites so likely, if there were any, they were confiscated and used elsewhere after the Planters arrived. However, sites where mill may have existed could have trees and flowers common to the Acadians. Or as Erskine puts it, “plants less dear to the Planters.”
Summarising, John Erskine wasn’t 100 percent certain where the Acadians established mills here; and given the time that has passed, it likely isn’t possible to find the sites today. However, if the mill sites are ever identified, let’s hope they will be marked with suitable plaques.