While the Cornwallis River had a minor role in a relatively small region of Canada, it was of major importance to the first settlers and the people that followed them. Kentville owes its location to the fording place on the Cornwallis River. The Mi’kmaq name for the Cornwallis River was “Chijekwtook”, meaning a deep, narrow river. When Champlain explored the Minas Basin, he named the river the “St. Antoine”. The Acadians later named the river the “Grand Habitant”.
Handley Chipman built a brig of two hundred tons on the Cornwallis River, near the bridge. In 1846 James Edward DeWolfe built the Kent , a barque at the same place. Many years afterwards the chips from the broad axes and adzes of these shipwrights could be plainly seen on the riverbank just under Chapel Hill.
When the railroad came to Kings County shortly after Confederation, the Cornwallis River played a huge role in the establishment of Kentville as a major commercial centre. The railroad would have crossed the river near Port Williams if not for the treacherous tides there, and proceeded up the Valley in a more northerly route, bypassing Kentville.
Visitors to this region are amazed to watch the Cornwallis River (at Port Williams), not much more than a trickle at low tide, rise to become capable of floating cargo ships on the high tide. Tides at the mouth of the Cornwallis at Port Williams and the Minas Basin into which it empties are believed to be among the highest in the world.
Coleman, Ed. “A history begging to be written.” The Advertiser. August 1, 1997: pg. 6.
Coleman, Ed. “The Cornwallis – a book of its own.” The Advertiser. August 8, 1997: pg. 6.
Eaton, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton. The History of Kings County. Belleville, Ontario: Mika Studio, 1972.
Nichols, Mabel G. The Devil’s Half Acre – A Look at Kentville’s Past. Kentville: Kentville Centennial Committee, 1986.