“It wasn’t just a case of a jug of apple cider in every pantry,” George Hanson said. “It was more like barrels or puncheons of hard cider in every cellar and barn in the county. That’s what it was like in prohibition days. It may have been illegal, the cider, but we couldn’t stop people from making and selling it; bootlegging was everywhere.”
When he made these statements, the late George Hanson was talking with me about the last few years of prohibition in Nova Scotia (which ended in 1931). Hanson was a member of the Nova Scotia Police when he was a young man, joining a few years before they were replaced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He recalled that one of his jobs was attempting to stop the smuggling and bootlegging of rum and whiskey. Kings County, with its multitude of inlets and hidden coves around the Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin, was nearly impossible to patrol, the entire shoreline offering many safe places for rumrunners to come ashore.
Cider, Hanson said, came second in importance when looking for lawbreakers. “It was probably as popular as rum and whisky and a lot easier to get since so many people made it.” From 1921 to 1930, the period of total prohibition in Nova Scotia, cider presses sprung up everywhere in Kings County and elsewhere in the Annapolis Valley. The Valley was the prime apple-producing area in the province during prohibition, and one of the natural by-products of the apple industry was cider. Or to be specific, hard cider, as opposed to freshly pressed apple juice which was and still is popular as a refreshment. Hard cider was so readily available here in the prohibition period and people had code names for it. George Hansen said he always knew someone was talking about cider, for example, when “liquid gold” was mentioned.
“I am going through my mother’s things and came across a 1936 newspaper clipping with a column called ‘Annapolis Blossoms’, Michele Landry wrote earlier this fall. “This was penned under the pseudonym Amethyst Agate, my great aunt whose surname was Ogilvie.”
Landry was hoping I could shed some light on the article, perhaps determine which newspaper Annapolis Blossoms was published in, so more of the columns the great aunt wrote could be unearthed. “The writing is delightful,” said Landry “and I would like to read more (of them).”
I assumed the article was a feature celebrating the Apple Blossom Festival and it likely appeared in The Advertiser, the Hants Journal or the Berwick paper, The Register; or possibly it was a supplement which was published as a feature in The Advertiser right from the start of the Apple Blossom Festival. I suggested this in replying to Landry and asked if I could see a copy of the column – which I’m glad I did since the lady who wrote Annapolis Blossoms observed what it was like travelling on the ferry which once plied the waters of Minas Basin and to take in an early blossom festival.
“Near the end of a steep curve on the Hall’s Harbour hill is a large, impressive house which once served as a hotel,” writes the late Hazel Roscoe in an undated document. The document, from a collection put together by John Sutton, tells the story of a hotel that once was famous Valley-wide for its salmon suppers.
As the document indicates, the hotel (or what was once a hotel) is on a tricky curve as you go down the hill to the harbour and it has stood there for well over a century. The building originally on the site was a house owned and possibly built by Thomas Parker. The house was purchased by James Watson who came here from Scotland in 1855. Watson was the lighthouse keeper at the harbour; he purchased the Parker house apparently with the aim of building a hotel on the site. Besides the Parker house, other nearby buildings were included in the purchase, one of which Watson used as a general store and a feed store. The right for Watson to operate a weir nearby along the shore was included in the purchase of the property.
In 1708 the Parliament of Great Britain passed what was called the Commission of Sewers Act. This was legislation dealing with land drainage and the protection of areas around marshes, rivers and low-lying areas near the sea. The Act was an updated version known as the Great Statute of Sewers, introduced a couple of centuries earlier, in 1535.
In effect, this legislation created Commissioners of Sewers whose main role was to ensure the protection of any low-lying areas in England. With the backing of Parliament, the Commissioners had the power to impress into service “as many carts, horses, oxen …. and also as many workers and labourers deemed necessary” to ensure that this protection was adequate. The legislation also gave the Commissioners the authority to force landowners under the law to not only provide labourers but to pay as well for any costs involved.
Centuries ago the word sewer referred generally to streams and watercourses and had a much broader meaning than it does today. You may ask at this point what any of this has to do with the usual topics of this column, the history of the eastern Valley. Keep in mind that when British colonists arrived in the New England states they brought with them many of the practices and customs they were familiar with in Great Britain. Some of the offspring of the colonists – the Planters – settled in Hants and Kings County after the Acadians were removed and with them came the laws and general regulations that governed everyday life. They would have been familiar, in other words, with Commissioners of Sewers and the authority they had.
Just over 100 years ago, when he was still in his teens, Alexander Robert Stirling (1900-1996) took over the family farm in Greenwich and eventually devoting much of his life to growing fruit. Within a few years of taking over the farm, Sterling was operating a dairy – the Willow Hollow Dairy in Greenwich. On the same site he constructed a warehouse with an apple grader and this was his start in growing and marketing apples. Stirling soon was shipping apples to Maritime ports and as far away as England, all apparently within a decade or two of his taking over the family farm.
Looking back today, one has to be astounded by what Stirling accomplished in his lifetime. This is an amazing story, one only partly covered by the Stirling Fruit Farms website which notes that he opened his first roadside market in the 1940s. According to a historical sketch on Greenwich and environs in files at the Kings County Museum, the first market was located just inside Wolfville’s town limits, on the Greenwich side. The sketch, actually just a few notes, is credited to “Mrs. Burpee Bishop.” Edith Quinn’s book on the history of Greenwich (published in 1968) also contains detailed information on Stirling, which along with Mrs. Bishop’s sketch and interviews I conducted is the main source for this column.
While reading early deeds on property in Kings County, historian Gary Young discovered that road names sometimes originated with the prominent people who lived on them.
Take Oakdene Avenue in north Kentville, for example. In his research, Young learned that the avenue once was referred to as Barnaby Road simply because only Barnabys lived on it. Young found that some deeds he looked at also called the avenue Westcott Road, due to a blacksmith named Westcott having a shop at its far end.
I’ll have more later on the prodigious amount of research Young has done on the origin of roads and the history of areas such as Pine Woods and Aldershot. For now I’d like to concentrate on a hill and a road in Kentville’s north side that deserves recognition. Actually, this is a challenge to the Kentville Historical Society and Kings Historical Society. Is it not possible for these societies to recognize that according to old deeds, historical documents and newspapers, Kentville’s infamous Gallows Hill and Cornwallis Street were once known as Joe Bell Hill and Joe Bell Road?
When I asked historian Ivan Smith about early electric power companies in the Annapolis Valley, he said they had a “tangled history.”
Smith’s website, Nova Scotia History Index, contains some of this history. But to get an overview you’d have to read the community histories that have been published in Hants and Kings County. Once you did, you’d find what Smith said was an understatement.
Let’s look at some of the early power companies for an explanation: We have one major source today of electricity; but there was a time when villages and communities in the Annapolis Valley obtained electric power by forming their own company. In the early 20th century a group of small independent power companies sprang up in Kings County communities such as Canard and Centreville, but I couldn’t find a similar scenario in Hants County. While these companies were independent, most were linked to a power source common to all. What they did have in common was that few generated their own electric power.
“An American exercise in ethnic cleansing” and the “tragic history of mass expulsion and dispersion of a people from their homeland.” Reviewers had this to say and much more in the same vein about John Mack Faragher’s A Great and Noble Scheme, a book about the events leading up to the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians and its aftermath.
Faragher’s book, which was published in 2005, is available in bookstores as well as the local library. I recommend it to anyone interested in a detailed, well-researched narrative on the Acadian expulsion. You won’t find a better history of the expulsion and the intricate machinations behind it, and you will find the Acadian story shocking and saddening. The book is well documented and the purpose of this column is to bring it to your attention. If you want to understand the Acadian story, this book is a must read.
With this said, rather than a detailed review of the book I’d like to point out a few interesting asides Faragher mentions in telling the Acadian story. On the infamous Cornwallis scalping proclamation, for example, Faragher notes that a precedent had been set in 1688 when Governor-General Frontenac of New France established the first bounty on scalps. Then, in 1696, the Massachusetts General Court offered a bounty of 50 pounds on the scalps of “native enemies” which included the Mi’kmaq. In 1704, following a “raid by Abenaki fighters and Canadian militia” on the New England town of Deerfield (in which the town was destroyed and more than half of its 291 residents killed or captured) the Governor of Massachusetts, Joseph Dudley, raised the bounty on native scalps to 100 pounds. Again, the Mi’kmaq were included in the bounty offer.
In the 1880s, over two decades before publishing the History of Kings County, Arthur W. H. Eaton was writing about the Acadians and Planters for local newspapers.
The theme of the newspaper articles was simple and to the point: We aren’t doing enough to preserve our history, Eaton said. “There ought to be a general ransacking of the garrets of this County for objects of interests… old books, manuscripts, letters, seals, household furniture, farming implements, all should be gathered in,” was how he put in one Western Chronicle article.
Thanks to Eaton, moves were taken early on to preserve Acadian and Planter artifacts and records, his county history undoubtedly being one of the biggest steps of all.
The old rail bed is a walking trail and on it here and there you’ll find trestle bridges and the odd signal post the railway forgot to remove. Except for a handful of historical books and collections of old photographs taken by the likes of A. L. Hardy and his contemporaries, little else remains of the railway.
Of course, a few of the old railway hands are still here; and many people who rode the trains remember the railway’s heyday when the Valley thundered to the shunting of steam locomotives.
Then there’s what is remembered by those railway crews who still dwell among us. One is George Acker who was born in Granville Ferry in 1931 and now resides in Kentville. Acker’s father was a railwayman in Annapolis. “He was what was called an engine watchman,” Acker says. “One of his jobs was shovelling coal by hand into the tenders of the locomotives.”