The road leads into the resource-rich Cornwallis Valley around Kentville and running north winds up at the Bay of Fundy. We call the road Cornwallis Street today. It first was a Mi’kmaq trail, and then a road used by the Acadians. Eventually it became the main thoroughfare connecting Kentville with all the villages, communities, ports, fishing grounds and farmland to the north of its boundaries.
Cornwallis Street likely came into existence naturally, meaning its terrain offered an easy course to Mi’kmaq fishing and hunting grounds in and around Kentville. Writing in county newspapers in the 1890s, Edmond J. Cogswell noted that the Kentville brook and the bird sanctuary immediately west of the town once were prime Mi’kmaq fishing and hunting grounds. Over the centuries the Mi’kmaq used the trail that became Cornwallis Street to reach these grounds.
Named after the now much-maligned Edward Cornwallis, this is a street of many colors – historic in one sense because of its Mi’kmaq and Acadian connections, and historic because any history written about Kentville would have to mention that its early name is connected to a town landmark, Gallows Hill.
The day before the virus scare closed walking trails, a friend and I went to the most desolate, windswept cemetery in the Annapolis Valley.
The Horton township poor farm cemetery is on a knoll by the Cornwallis River, less than a kilometre north of Highway 1 in Greenwich. I may be exaggerating about it being windswept and desolate, but that afternoon, at high tide, a cold north wind buffeted the old graveyard, and a low cloud cover added to the cemetery’s gloom.
We were at the graveyard so the friend could see where a distant cousin might have been buried, “sometime around1891, but I’m not sure” he said. “I’m not even sure she’s buried here, but the records that exist sort of point to this place.”
Childless and the last of her immediate line, Esmorilda, the friend’s cousin, had no choice but to move into the poor farm after her husband died in a farm accident. Her situation was typical for many people in a period when social assistance as we know it today didn’t exist. Poor farms usually were a last desperate resort when there were no family members you could turn to.
In 1886 Kentville incorporated as a town. This incorporation and the eventual designation of Kentville as the shiretown apparently didn’t sit well at the time with more than a few county residents. Perhaps the town’s adoption of a crest with a Latin motto was considered as too pretentious. The motto the town adopted reads Magna e parva, which translated literally means great things from a small town.
But there was more to it than the town’s supposedly immodest motto. Apparently, there were “issues” with Kentville assuming the role of the county’s leading town. Which, looking back, is obvious from a letter published three years after the incorporation. The letter dominated the front page of an 1889 June issue of the Wolfville newspaper, The Acadian; the writer of the letter, mixing wit and sly sarcasm, argued that Wolfville was more deserving of the honors bestowed on Kentville.
Reading the letter, I found that the county courthouse, apparently located early on in Wolfville, was to be sold and a new built in Kentville. This may have prompted the letter which began: “At the last meeting of the grand inquest of the county, the jurors presented to the court that it is in their view desirable that the present Court House be sold and a new one erected on some more desirable locality. Now where a more desirable locality could be found in Kentville your correspondent cannot imagine.
As stated in our national anthem, my father and his khaki-clad compatriots stood on guard for Canada in World War 1 and in World War 2. In WW1, the first major conflict for Canada, some 620,000 farm boys and girls and city kids answered the call to arms; and as happened again in WW2, many of them found a final resting place in foreign soil.
It is these soldiers, the men and women who answered the call, that we remember and salute on Remembrance Day. Many of these Canadians answered the call in both wars, and my father was one of them. In WW1 he suffered gunshot wounds early on while in the trenches. Later, as a volunteer with the Lord Strathcona Horse, he was wounded again when his mount was shot out from under him. However, he came home, apparently sound of limb and mind, and served his country again in WW2. As an overage soldier in WW2, he spent the wars in an Engineers Regiment at Camp Aldershot.
Since he came home after surviving trench warfare and the cavalry charges of WW1, my father can be considered one of the lucky ones. But was he? Gunshot wounds and bomb blast concussions kept him out of the field for short periods, but a mysterious malady finally put him down for the count and out of action. The Spanish flu, as it was eventually called, left him with a weak heart and he was on a blood thinner the remainder of his days.
No less an authority than a former head archivist notes that some of the people buried in Windsor’s old graveyard “are those prominent in the history of the province.”
So said W. C. Milner who in the 1920s (and perhaps earlier) was the head archivist for the Nova Scotia branch of the Public Archives of Canada. Milne paid this tribute to Windsor in an article called The Wonders of Windsor. This was one of about 70 historical essays Milne wrote and published as a paperback book after he retired to Wolfville in the late 1920s. The collection was first printed as a series in the Wolfville weekly paper, The Acadian.
That some of the most prominent historical figures in the province are buried there makes “Windsor distinguished amongst the towns in the Maritimes,” Milner said in his article. Also, “Windsor early became a social centre – partly as an overflow from Halifax and partly the inducements offered educationally by the location there of King’s College and Academy.”
“It’s a hazard and an eyesore,” a local businessman observed recently about the old Port Williams wharf.
Perhaps so, but the wharf also is historic and at one time it was the lifeblood of the local farming community. In the 1880s potatoes were being shipped out of the wharf to New Brunswick, Boston, and New York. There are records of even earlier shipments of potatoes to New Brunswick, but we don’t know how much earlier since the date when the wharf was first built isn’t known.
Over the decades the wharf was repaired and rebuilt several times. In 1930 the government replaced the old wharf with a 230-foot-long structure, and a 310-foot steamer berth. There came a time, however, when shipments of produce such as potatoes and apples declined due to loss of markets, and apparently the wharf was allowed to deteriorate.
One of my neighbors decided he wanted six post holes dug and I was offered the magnificent sum of 50 cents an hour to dig them. I say “magnificent” since I was 15 at the time and the $1.50 I earned went a long ways. With this money I took in an afternoon movie, bought a box of popcorn, a chocolate bar and a large Pepsi – and I still had change left over.
This was in the 1940s and a dollar went a lot farther in those days. I don’t know much about inflation but today’s dollar has less buying power than a 1940s dollar. This is blatantly obvious when, for example, you can compare restaurant fare prices in the 1940s to restaurant prices today.
I had the opportunity recently to do this, to see what meal prices were in 1940s restaurants, thanks to a friend who found a yellowed, partly deteriorated bill of fare dated 1941-42. This was for a restaurant on the Kings, Hants County border that also sold groceries. While the name of the restaurant was obliterated, the date and address on it were visible.
(In a column published last August, the authorship of Eaton’s history was discussed briefly. This follow-up is based on material I’ve discovered since.)
In a letter published in the Berwick Register in 1903, J. Calder Gordon wrote that in a Boston library he had discovered a “valuable manuscript” that was a history of Kings County, Nova Scotia. “Considerable work has been done (on this manuscript) by the late William Pitt Breckin… He had intended publishing it with the aid promised him by the leading people of the county.”
Expanding on what Breckin had accomplished, Gordon noted that the history contained “details of the founding and founders families of the county.” Gordon then advised the public that he was “gathering additional material to complete this valuable work” and would like the co-operation of those “interested in this banner county of Nova Scotia.” The completion of Breckin’s history could only be done from Boston, Gordon said, “as all the colonial records of the founding of the county are here.”
Occasionally Larry Keddy looks back on the time in his life when he seriously considered becoming a professional drummer.
This was in 1950 and he was about to graduate from Acadia University with a Bachelor of Science degree. While there he had drummed with the University’s renowned dance band, the Acadia Gentlemen of Swing. “This was well into the swing and dance band era. Since high school, I’d been playing with bands and I was leaning towards taking it up full time.”
Instead, Keddy had second thoughts and opted to continue his education by studying towards an engineering degree at the University of New Brunswick; there he continued to drum with local dance bands until graduating in 1957. His degree in civil engineering took Keddy to the Ford Motor Company in Ontario and there he continued to drum in dance bands.
“In the Pine Woods and at other spots near Kentville, for many years there were… small, picturesque Micmac encampments,” Eaton writes condescendingly in the History of Kings County.
This quote is found in the section Eaton devoted to the town of Kentville – and it is absolutely incorrect in its inference. Going from boundary to boundary, Eaton reflects on Kentville’s history in this chapter, describing in detail buildings, churches, streets, stores, people and so on. He neglects mentioning that the area now occupied by the town, the swamps, wet areas, its springs, meadows, the Cornwallis River and its smelt brook, were for centuries a Mi’kmaq harvesting grounds.
Turn to the historical writing of Edmond Cogswell, however, and you’ll learn how vital that harvesting ground once was. Cogswell pressed home this point in a series of historical articles published in various Kings County newspapers in the 1880s and 1890s. I’ve quoted Cogswell here before, noting he found many Mi’kmaq and Acadian connections in Kentville. He speculates, for example, that the Acadians may have had a footbridge at the Kentville ford, and it was by a ford used for centuries by the Mi’kmaq. Below the ford, which is about where the Kentville bridge is today, Cogswell said that even in his time, evidence could be found indicating it was an ancient Mi’kmaq summer camp.