Kennetcook Corner: A Place Close at Hand
Holly Hanes, a resident of Upper Kennetcook, is currently studying a Masters in History at Dalhousie University. This work is a paper modified from a class taken by Dr. Ruth Bleasdale at Dalhousie University in 2018.
While many people will pick a street corner that is a bustling hub of activity in a city landscape, Kennetcook Corner personifies that small-town atmosphere. While researching in the Nova Scotia Archives at the age of twelve or thirteen, I was scrolling through microfilm, looking for information on a local railway for a project. I stopped suddenly when an article on the first page of the June 7th, 1899 issue of the Truro Daily News caught my eye. It read “Upper Kennetcook,” my hometown. My small little hometown had made the front page! The article went on to describe the work being completed on the railway, as well as a store being built on “Kennetcook Corner.” This was my epiphany moment, where I realized the scope of history in my small community and started my obsession with history. It was this article that continued a passion of researching railway history over the last decade. A corner can be both a place of epiphany and routine. This piece explores the geographic location of Kennetcook Corner, my experience at the corner in present day, as well as what the corner resembled one hundred years ago.
Kennetcook Corner is currently known as the village of Kennetcook, the name derived from the Mi’kmaq word “Kunnetkook,” which means a place close at hand. The corner is where highway 236 meets highway 354 and forms a focal point for the neighbouring communities it connects. The corner is nestled in the low-lying area between two hills with a river running through. The corner is a commercial hub and contains a credit union, store, garage, ice cream store, coffee shop, pizza place, a Home Hardware, a gift shop, fire hall, a farm museum, restaurant, and a pharmacy. The old hotel contains a hair dresser, lawyer’s office and small playschool. Neighbouring this stretch of road is a church, doctor’s office as well as the local school. This area is a meeting place for many, especially for coffee or at the gas station early on a Saturday morning. The show “Corner Gas” has truly come to life in the gas station in the mornings, where the men congregate for the local gossip.
Canada geese still gather by the nearby river. The river is spanned by a road bridge where Duck Races for fire department fundraisers are held. The local pub and grill is named “Snappers” after the river’s snapping turtle. The green space on the sides of the river have the odd tall tree providing some shade. For this small tight knit community, the corner is an important location where everyone goes to socialize.
For me the corner provides a place of routine, as I stop nearly daily at the coffee shop as I pass through the area. I have had many unique memories in the village, from bake sales with sports teams, to camping with the 84th Regiment of Foot re-enactors, to watching fireworks for Canada day, and seeing numerous Douglas Township celebrations and parades.
After locating that newspaper article, one unique motivation occurred. I started inquiring about the store in the article on Kennetcook Corner, and to my surprise learned that is was still standing. In the true sense of days of old, I traded a copy of the article for a photograph of that very store from the current owner. From that point on, I gained a new appreciation for that corner that I passed by daily. Learning about the trials and struggles of the 84th regiment settling the area in 1783 and their descendants growing, and prospering has also changed my opinion of the people in the village. While sitting and watching parades at the old hotel and fireworks on Canada day, I realized the true sense of community and the social importance of this corner.
The landscape of Kennetcook defined the growth of the small community. The river was an early transportation route for the Mi’kmaq people. The early settlers of the 84th Regiment followed the river, to have adequate food supplies and to provide power through the means of grist mills. Once the covered bridge was built in 1873, it became a viable transportation route. The transportation was initially by horse and wagon on dirt roads. The importance of the transportation route only increased when the railway came through the corner in 1900. This connected the small community to Truro and Windsor. With the abundance of trees in the area, lumber yards grew and prospered as the railway allowed for easier shipping. In the 1907 McAlpine directory for Hants County, many of the Kennetcook residents are listed as farmers, but there are also labourers, a lumberman, sawmill owner, store owner, section boss, and two hotel and livery owners. Many people depended on the land. The remnants of the family farms are still evident near the corner, where we see vacant barns and the farm equipment museum. Once these transportation improvements were made, it spurred commercial development in Kennetcook. Commercial development in 1919 included the bank established in the local hotel and the “Barron” store which included the post office, and an ice cream parlour. The local church built in 1890 overlooks the corner and provided a social gathering point in the community.
Kennetcook’s landscape played a significant role in the development of Kennetcook and in what it has become today. The landscape itself has not changed much. The major change the Kennetcook Corner saw was the development of transportation, spinning a need and a desire –to develop commercially. Kennetcook has gone from being the center of the municipality of East Hants, to a rural community struggling for survival, like many others across the province. Kennetcook is now experiencing the mass exodus of its young people. The area that once was a booming commercial area and an economic hub is struggling to develop a new identity. Kennetcook corner is an example that portrays the true rural Canadian identity, both past and present.