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The Acadian origins of New Minas

Ed Coleman History
Ed Coleman History

In my files, I have copies of several historical articles written for Kings County newspapers in the 1880s and 1890s by Edmond J. Cogswell. I’ve borrowed from this invaluable source many times, which is in the public domain (and I believe Mr. Cogswell wouldn’t have minded anyway). Thanks to Cogswell, some of the early history of Kentville and New Minas has been preserved – and thanks to Cogswell I’ve been able to present some of his historical research in this column.

Take New Minas as an example of what Cogswell has found in his research. One of Cogswell’s most interesting articles is about the village as he observed it in 1896. First of all, Cogswell discovered that the New Minas the Acadians knew wasn’t located where the main part of the village is today. Cogswell wrote that “it might be amusing if they (the residents) should discover that New Minas was not New Minas at all, but another place – and that the real New Minas is in fact at the present time little more than an airy nothing.”

This was Cogswell’s way of explaining that when they arrived in this region, the Acadians called this general area Minas. “The name Minas was … given to the village built on the south shore of Minas Bay or Basin. Minas, with its dykes, consisted of the village along the banks of the upland, with the Grand Pré or great meadows lying in front and with Long Island and Boot Island bounding it on the north.”

When the Acadians explored the upper reaches of Cornwallis River, Cogswell further wrote, they found a large piece of marsh resembling Grand Pré “only much smaller with Oak Island lying outside. In fact, it was almost a picture on a small scale of old Minas. They put in the short dykes at each end of Oak Island, reclaimed the dykes and called it New Minas.

“This was the place that so long has been known as the famous Foster farm, and here New Minas was built around what is now the solitary Griffin house and along the old French road close to the dyke. The old cellars are numerous, for this was an important place to the French.”

Cogswell said that an Acadian “burying ground is (believed) to be on the little knoll near the railroad track” (a plaque marks this site today). There was a chapel “south and east of the Griffin house” and a mill and another burying ground nearby.

“After the removal of the French Acadians, says Cogswell, “the English built their village further south upon the military road (Highway #1), but although they left the old village site, they retained the old name of New Minas. But I understand that New Minas was really and originally nothing but the old French village around the Griffin house and along the old French road by the dyke.”

Apparently, there was enough convincing folklore about the original site of the Acadian village that people in Cogswell’s time were seen searching it for treasure.  “It is amusing to see the amount of labour that has been expended in digging holes on the old Foster farm,” wrote Cogswell. 

Cogswell must have observed people using mineral (dowsing) rods to search for Acadian coins, which were rumoured to be buried around New Minas. 

Cogswell was skeptical about this – “I could not see where (the Acadians) could have got much money to bury.” However, in another article he writes about buried Acadian gold in New Minas and Kentville; he names the gold’s source, the search for the gold, and the evidence that suggest several treasure finds might have been made. 

The search for Acadian gold, quoting Cogswell, will be the topic in this column in the coming weeks. The evidence is skimpy but perhaps they did find Acadian gold in Kentville and/or in New Minas. I’ll present Cogswell’s evidence later and let you, the reader, decide.

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