Historical Sketches 1905

Historical Sketches of Bear River 1905

We have the wonderful description of Bear River from 1893 by the anonymous author, and then we have this lovely essay from 1905 by Ina Rice.  The Rice family was fruitful and multiplied and while some remained in Bear River, the sons and daughters of the original Rices of Bear River are widely scattered.  We would love to know who exactly Ina Rice was….anyone?

The text is reprinted exactly as the original version.


as documented by Ina Rice


I am now about to start the history of one of the most beautiful places in Nova Scotia situated among the hills on the border of Digby and Annapolis Counties and of which the most people know little about.

It has been said by some writers that its present name is a shortened form of La Riviere d’Hebert in honor of Louis Hebert who sought to cultivate the line along its banks. Another authority derives its name from Simon Imbert a favorite captain under Poutencourt who was blown over to the mouth of the river when on his way to the Granville colonies with supplies. Whichever is correct the fact remains that the place is replete with interest and its historical associations afford ample scope for investigation along this line.

A boy was once asked in class how Bear River got its present name and he replied “there were more bears than school masters.”

The first settlers were Indians of a very savage condition who got their living from the forest and dressed in skins of animals and lived in wigwams but now they are highly civilized and have a church and school-house of their own and live in houses and dress like the white people.

Bear River First Nations

No settlement was made here by the French and it was not until after the close of the French American Revolutionary War that any permanent settlement was attempted by the English.

The first settlers were preloyalists that came from Yorkshire and settled on the out-skirts of the village of Bear River called by the Hessian and Waldec Line which still hold their names.

The village was founded in the year 1808 and the names of the founders can be traced to the present inhabitants as the Rice’s Harris’ Benson’s Chutes and to which can be added the Crescups and Bogarts. It can be seen that the place has greatly developed since that time for now there is said to be 200.inhabitants according to the last census.

The first frame house was built by Captain O’Sullivan Sutherland in the year 1785 on the road leading to the Hessian Line an the other houses which before that were built of logs have long since given place to the fine homes and beautiful dwellings of the present day.

The Yorke Family in front of their home circa 1900

One of the first settlers was the late Christopher Harris who resided on the west side nearly opposite but much nearer the village. Mr. Thomas Chute commenced the work of erecting the new house at an early date and the result was the first store on the eastern side.

looking east on main St.

The first saw mill built at the head of the tide was called “Imberts Mill” and it is said the saw mill went up one day and came down the next. If this is true there has been a marked improvement in the mills of the present day.

early shingle mill

The hill quite near the mill still bears the name of Imberts hill. It is probable that the name was first given to the hill having been preserved traditionally by hunters and afterwards transferred to the hill.

The first mill on the east branch called the “Hickory Mill” was built about sixty years ago by an American by the name of Cleveland he sold it to Mr. Silas Rice who in turn sold it to Mr. Welsh and it was burned twice.

The first mill on the west branch was built about eighty years ago above the falls. And the first grist mill was below the falls. It was built by my great great grandfather, Mr. Thomas Rice who mortered the frames in the stump of a hemlock tree and when the tree began to grow it pushed the mill out of place. My great Grandfather built a saw mill in front of his house this was burned down and he then built a grist mill in which his daughters worked to grind the grain with the old fashioned flail.

The mills standing at the present time are the most of them quite old. The grist mill just spoken of can be seen and is similar to the one on the cover but this one on the cover was torn down last year and a carding and cider mill has been built in its place.

The old mill on the east branch of the river was torn down three years ago and the one below it was bought by Mr. T. Rice for a tombstone Factory and also the former cider mill.

On the west branch there are three mills first the Electric Light Mill that has water power enough to run the lights in the town of Digby. Established in 1893.

The next is a threshing mill, planning mill and grist mill all combined which is run by water power and last year a new iron wheel was put in, in place of the large wooden one. They used to have and it does not take as much water to run the mill now as it did before.

And a little further down at the entrance of the dam there is a saw mill, grist mill and shingle mill all combined owned by Mr. W. H. Rice & Son.

In the spring of 1902 the freshet broke away the road and bridges at the head of the tide and Mr. Rices’ Tombstone mill, situated at the foot of the dam was washed out and a number of the nice stones he has polished for sale were swept down the river as well as the buildings, road and bridges. This caused a new road to be built that connect the two bridges, across the two branches that come from the dam.

spring freshet near head of the tide

About fifty years ago, only a log bridge crossed the river at the village but now it is an iron draw bridge that will permit vessels to pass through laden for the ports of trade and commerce.

the “new” iron drawbridge 1905

Many and marked are the improvements since I can remember. There have been a number of stone bridges built near the town only in late years such as the one near Clarke Bros. store, which leads to the Cemetery and the one on Iron Avenue which leads to the Lakes, where the great lumbering trade is carried on, on a large scale. Also the one on the road leading to Milford Corner.

The town about fifty years ago was very small there only being four stores , but since that time they have been gradually increasing  until in 1888 Jan 25th a fire broke out and destroyed a large part of it but this did not stop the growth. The town has increased greatly in size and now there are about twelve stores of which the principal ones are Clarke Bros., O. Rice, C. Rice, A.B. Marshall, Post Office and Drug Store which has only been in use about two years under the help of Dr. L. Lovett.

The Digby side of “Main St.” circa 1900

The Union Bank of Halifax was only opened to the public about five years ago.

There was a new road opened to traffic in or about the same time and people heard of the gold find in Klondyke and this road was named after it.

Shipbuilding used to be a great industry but it has since died out, the last launched was called, “Castans,” which went out to sea and was not heard of afterwards. There used to be a yard for shipbuilding on the present school grounds from which the schooner “Josephine” was launched and sails between Boston and Bear River. The other yards have been bought by people and one man has built a wharf at one and piles cordwood on it to be shipped to Boston by the “Valdare.”

the Valdare takes another load of wood to Boston

There are about four vessels that carry lumber piling and cordwood to different ports as Havana Boston, Bermuda and South America, and one schooner The Citizen makes a trip a week between St. John and Bear River bringing supplies for the merchants and taking in return things such as apples, butter, eggs, etc, that will bring a better price than they can get at home.

bringing home the goods!

A new drop pier was built at the bridge near the mouth of Bear River in 1902 and the old one repaired.

The railway and the one lane bridge/mouth of river 1905

There used to be a steamer route between Digby and Annapolis until the missing link of the railroad was built. This caused the building of a new road from the village to the station a distance of four and one half miles. But part of this road had been built.  But to avoid some of the hills, the new one was put into construction and completed about fifteen years ago.

Now there is a great stir about having the cars run through the town of Bear River from Caledonia Corner to Digby or whichever place would be the most convenient for the Railway Company.

They also propose building a lighthouse on the point just outside the bridge but time will tell whether they will get it or not.

Yes, they did build one!

There has also been a marked improvement in the religious line as well as in the industrial line. The Old Baptist church torn down about five years ago. The Baptist and Methodist churches now standing were built about fifty years ago but since that they have been repaired inside and new bells put in the steeples. The other churches are the Advent Episcopal and the Catholic on the Indian Reserve.

the Baptist Church
The Anglican Church circa 1905
The Methodist Church circa 1905

The Academy was built in 1895 which united the schools of the two counties, Digby and Annapolis. There have been six school houses built within fifty years and the Academy is the last one. The last school house I went to before going to the academy has been torn down but the one on the Digby side is still standing and is used for making of sails for vessels.

The first Oakdene Academy

The principle industries of the people are lumbering and farming. Clarke Bros., W. Miller, and S. Davis are the principal ones that have anything to do with lumbering but Clarke Bros. are the principal ones connected with it.

They have within the last year or two improved the mill at Lake Jolly so it now works, all the year around where as before when they had it at Lake Tom Wallace it only worked in the winters this now is controlled by Mr. S. Davis who only works there winters. This scene was taken out near Lake Jolly where they get their logs for lumber. They cut the tree down clean the limbs off and haul them, to the Lake where they are drawn into the mill and sawn into lumber for the market.

working with the raw materials

Farming is carried on in a most successful way. The farmers have formed an Agricultural Society which meets once a quarter for the transaction of any business that may come before it. Professor Sears from the Agricultural College Truro was in town on the 12 pruning the model orchard started about three years ago. The hills are covered with trees and spots of ploughed land as you can see in the photo of Bear River taken from the Hotel cupola.

Cherries were the famous Bear River crop.

Many are the improvements in the articles used in farming as for mowing they now have mowing machines where they used to mow with the scythe, but in some places they use the scythe yet. The disc harrow is also a new invention that is just being used. The seed planters are also a new invention where in place of using the hands for sewing the seed they have a new machine.

The separator, a new machine for separating the cream from milk, and if they want to, they can make butter in a short time.

Mr. Cox started a creamery in the summer of 1904 but by bad management it did not result in anything of any consequence.

The Exhibition building is now used for a rink in the winter time.

The wharves along the river where the vessels leave for the American ports are often very bare, and when the tide turns, and rushes around them it puts new looks of beauty to all things about it and the vessels that were once stranded like whales are now afloat.

a boat afloat

The Hotel was repaired and another story built on it and it gives a splendid view of the town as seen in the picture on a page before.

The Bear River Hotel is the big building on the hill

The town is supplied on both sides of the river by splendid water and everybody can have the water in their house by just paying a few cents.

I am about to close my history but in closing I wish to say don’t forget the cherries they are coming and so is June.

another successful cherry crop

Ina May Rice was born circa 1880 at Nova Scotia. She was the daughter of James Herman Rice and Irene Rice. Ina May Rice was born in 1884. She married (?) Digwell. Ina May Rice and Frank B. Dunn married 2nd, son of William Dunn and Anna Sophia Crousse. Ina May Rice died in 1943. She was buried at Bear River, NS.

(From Marion McCormack’s geneology of the Rice Family of Bear River)

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