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Oak Grove Cemetery tour touches on tales from Kentville’s past

Participants at a recent Oak Grove Cemetery walk huddled together to keep warm as winds swept through the cemetery.
Participants at a recent Oak Grove Cemetery walk huddled together to keep warm as winds swept through the cemetery. - Theo Giesen
KENTVILLE, N.S. —

Despite chilling winds and scattered showers, there was an impressive turnout at the guided walk in the Oak Grove Cemetery May 18.

The hour-long event lead by Laura Churchill Duke was organized by the Kentville Historical Society and the Board of Community Funds.

Walks like these are also known as Jane’s Walks, named after writer Jane Jacobs. Churchill Duke explained that Jacobs was a strong advocate for community development and believed that the more one knows about where they live, the more invested they become in the community. Jane’s Walks aim to educate citizens by walking them through familiar areas and telling untold historical stories. These walks started in Toronto and are now led all over the world, says Churchill Duke.

Laura Churchill Duke tells the tale of a police chief who lived in Kentville who will receive a marked grave in the near future.
Laura Churchill Duke tells the tale of a police chief who lived in Kentville who will receive a marked grave in the near future.

Jane’s Walks are typically done on the first weekend in May, but the Kentville Historical Society decided to move it to align with the opening of the of its heritage centre. The centre opened at 2 p.m. later that afternoon, in the former VIA Rail train station.

The guided walk began with a poem by Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton in 1908 recited by Jeremy Novak. Churchill Duke and Novak worked together on the scripts for the Valley Ghost Walks, which are meant to be both educational and entertaining. The walks are guided by Novak’s alias, Jerome the Gravekeeper.

As the walk went on, participants learned how much history can be packed into one plot of land. The tales of names etched in stone touched on the lives of shady businessmen, princesses, privateers, gravestone carvers, photographers who made trades with Queen Victoria, and the first mayor of Kentville, John King.

Churchill Duke made a stop at the oldest gravestone in the yard, a faded stone for Hannah Peck, who died at the age of six in 1774. Her family is largely responsible for the creation of the Oak Grove Cemetery.

Another interesting stop was at the graves of the Foster family, who had three generations of soldiers buried around one large stone.

There were also unmarked graves protruding from the side of a rolling hill. The guides explained that people who could not afford proper burials were buried in the slanted ground without markings, and now research is being done to identify these individuals. One of the discovered bodies was a former police chief in Kentville, who was murdered during a hit-and-run.

The amount of fascinating tales the guides prepared made the walk entertaining throughout and their enthusiasm transformed a dreary day into one to remember.

Valley Ghost Walks begin every Thursday after Apple Blossom and continue until Halloween.

The gravestone of Hannah Peck is the oldest in the cemetery, dating back to 1774.
The gravestone of Hannah Peck is the oldest in the cemetery, dating back to 1774.

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