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Nestled among the hills, along both sides of the stream which for some distance forms the boundary lines between the counties of Annapolis and Digby, stands the bustling, enterprising community, which, collectively, is known as Bear River. The parts on each side of the river belong to different municipalities, and in some respects, diverse interests. A few years ago an attempt was made to complete the diverse between the two sections of the town by giving to each a distinct name, that part on the Annapolis side being called Bridgeport, and that on the Digby side, Hillsburg. But this attempt to diverse what nature had joined together proved abortive, and these names are now seldom heard, while the general name used to designate both communities as one town remains fixed, doubtless, permanently. If we mistake not, the sections on each side have formed a union for educational purposes, and at their present rate of progress, the community of interest existing between both, may draw them into more complete union, of a municipal nature, at no very distant day.
The stream divides the two sides; foreground, Bridgeport, background, Hillsburg
Several explanations have been advanced as to the derivation of the name of this town. A recent writer claims its origin as derived from the French pronounciation of Imbert, a gentleman who formed one of the party visiting this spot as early as 1611.
From the date of the French occupation of the country, 1604, to the date of their expulsion in 1755, it is believed that no settlement was made as no remains have been found on which to ground an opposite assertion, and the town is, doubtless, of exclusive English origin. With the invasion of the United Empire Loyalists, the settlement of the district commenced, and in 1784, the township of Clements, including both sides of the stream, was granted to certain English, Hessians, and Waldeckians who had served during the old revolutionary war, and who, at its close, received grants of land, in lieu of pay for the services they had rendered in that unfortunate struggle.
The first frame house was erected by one Capt. O’Sullivan Sutherland, and stood nearly midway up the slope of the eastern hill, and adjacent to the present residence of Captain J.Harris. The housewarming, given on the occasion of the completion was a merry-making of no ordinary description. Everybody who was entitled to be somebody was invited and music, dancing and drinking made the hours reseate until the dawn of the next day. Among the guests were the Demoliters, the Hertricks, Kyshes, Callecks, Vreens, Ditmarses, Boehlers, Purdys, Joneses and others whose names do not now occur to our memory. Perhaps there has been not so jolly a party in the place from that day to this.
Before the completion of this first framed dwelling, a number of log huts had been built and occupied by both German and English settlers, and the work of clearing the soil for cultivation had commenced, but with so little success owing to the ignorance of the proprietors, that much want and suffering was felt by their families for several years to come.
Towards the close of the century, there was considerable movement from the townships of Granville and Annapolis, to the hill country on the shores of Bear River. At was at this period that the Clarkes, the Millers,the Troops, Dodges, the Rices, the Chutes and the Harrises bought lands and settled in the district, a course they were induced to take in the belief that wheat and other cereals could be produced in larger quantities and of finer quality there than could be raised on the same sized areas elsewhere in the county, and the descendants of these men today constitute a large percentage of the population, both of the village and its immediate vicinity.
- early farming in Bear River
Still, up to the date under review, 1790 to 1810, there had been no village visible, but soon after sawmills began the work of transforming the timber up the streams into lumber, necessitating the inception of shipbuilding, which was almost contemporaneously begun, stores were erected, and a thriving town was the final result. No less than seven or eight public highways converge upon the present town from different directions, and not an hour passes without the arrival of vehicles laden with freights for export or passengers on business or pleasure. Substantial and comfortable dwellings line the hilly streets in all directions, which at every point new aspects in landscape scenery. Neat fruit and vegetable gardens and lawns are attached to nearly every domicile in the town and thrift and comfort everywhere give evidence of vital existence.
- freight arriving in Bear River?
Today, the greater number of stores are on the Annapolis side, where Clarke Bros. have become the leader in Bear River in business matters, although there are a number of new and well furnished ones on the west side of the river.
- The jewel of the Clarke Brothers commercial empire
The town also has fine places of worship, the Baptists being the leading denomination. Within the past year, they have remodeled their church, making it one of the handsomest in the town. The Methodists and adherents to the English church have each neat pretty religious edifices on the north side of the river, and the Adventists have also a house of worship.
- left to right: Anglican Church, Oakdene School, Methodist Church
Bear River has sent from its shipyards many vessels, some of large tonnage, constructed by such efficient master builders as Mr. Thomas Rice, Captain John Benson, the Lents, and others which carried away freights of lumber , cordwood, pulpwood, and other products of the forests, for which it is noted , to ports in the United States, the West Indies, etc., and commanded by our skillful and intelligent native captains.
- loading the ships with Bear River lumber
This delightful resort among the hills has also gained a deal of notoriety owing to its mammoth yield and great variety of cherries, and is visited, during the season, by excursionists from distant parts of the counties of Annapolis, Digby, and elsewhere, to enjoy to their heart’s content, a feast of the luscious fruits. Besides the hundreds of others, here and there may be seen a majestic cherry tree planted by the French during their occupancy in the country, which serve as historical landmarks to that period.
The construction of the so-called missing link of railway from Annapolis to Digby, and the building of a new highway from the town to the depot, located some four miles distant, proved a great boom to the commercial interests of the entire locality, affording as it does more direct communication with the principle avenues of travel.
Within the past year, electric light has been introduced, driven by one of the best water powers to be found in the country, while the many other improvements in the way of new dwellings, a $7000. schoolhouse and other evidences of prosperity and wealth mark the town as one of the most progressive in the western part of the province.