In 1908, Lennie D. Wade wrote a lovely and lengthy history about Bear River . Here is Part One.
This is the cover page:
Here are the contents: the photos have been added by The Bear River Tides, following the originals as closely as possible and with some additions. The numbers designate footnotes.
As much of the information herein published has been gathered from various sources, many of the statements may not be in accord with facts and the writer will be greatly indebted to anyone furnishing authentic corrections. Thanks are due chiefly to many of the older inhabitants, and to some of the younger ones who have been very kind in supplying much of the data recorded.
signed, Lennie D. Wade
Historic Glimpses of Picturesque Bear River
Bear River :"Jewel of the Province"looking south
To get our first glimpse of Bear River we must go back two hundred and ninety five years, to January 13th, 1613, when a small vessel, bringing supplies to the French colonies at the head of the Annapolis Basin, was forced to take shelter from a severe snowstorm in the lee of what is now called Bear Island.
When the storm had ceased, the captain, Simon Imbert discovered near them the mouth of a small river to which he returned after delivering his cargo. This river he explored as far as the meeting of its two branches, now known as “Head of the Tide”. The first sawmill erected there bore his name, and a road nearby is still called “Imbert’s Hill”.
view of Imbert's Hill in foreground
As his name was pronounced “Imbare” among the Acadians, the river may have been known first as ” Imbare” and later known as Bear River, this name being applied still later to the town which sprung up along its banks. On Champlain’s map of the this same river was known as “St. Antoine” while on Les Carbot’s map it was named in honor of one Louis Hebert, an apothecary in the expedition of De Monts. Hebert left Port Royal in 1613 but his descendants are numerous in different parts of Canada.
It may have been from the name of either of these men that our river was so called “Bear River” or it may have been from the following Indian legend.
Many years ago when the noble red men reigned supreme as the lords of the forest, three hardy braves, each with his squaw and papoose started down from the head of the river to it’s mouth to engage in catching the porpoise, then their chief means of livelihood.Arriving at a suitable spot for a camp, the braves went off to their work, leaving their squaws to pitch the tents and prepare a meal against their return.
The squaws were busily engaged stirring the food over the fire, when they saw coming toward them, three big brown bears. Of course, their first thought was for the papooses and they must have decided that the only way to save these babies was by giving their own lives.
In Those days every Indian woman wore a tall, cone shaped birch bark cap. So these three squaws each rushed at a big brown bear and as the big brown bears stood up on their hind legs, mouths wide open, made a grand dive, cap first, down the bear’s throats. Whether these three big brown bears were choked to death. or whether they died from a sudden sever spell of indigestion, we do not know, but when the Indian braves returned from their day’s work, they found only the bodies of the three big brown bears and those of the little papooses who had died either of fright or of hunger. The latter’s bodies were quietly buried but the braves each dragged a big bron bear’s body to the edge of the river and threw it in grunting as he did so “Ugh, mooin,sisboo”
Bear River First Nations traditional dress
The reader is at liberty to judge which derivation he pleases.
As the French made no settlement along this river, we must look elsewhere for the earliest settlers. Though a few ofthe Loyalists settled here, it is to the Rices, Clarkes, Harrisses, Millers and Chutes who came from Granville, Annapolis and Digby, that we must look as the pioneers, with the Bogarts, Croscups, Bensons, and Crouses of Loyalist stock as co-workers.
When these people first settled here, their homes were but log houses, and the only highway, the river. The cellar was not built under the house but was simply a hole dug in a bank or side of a hill in which vegetables etc. were stored. The first frame house was built by a Captain O’Sullivan Sutherland in 1785, near the house now occupied by Mr. O.H. Ford. The oldest standing house is that owned by Mr. George Tupper.(1)
Among the first to build homes on the west side of the river was Mr. Christopher Prince Harris, whose descendants still live on the old place, and about the same time, Mr. Thomas Chute, grandfather of the late Mr. H.H. Chute, commenced to clear land on the east side.(2)
It is said that portions of the Hessian and Waldeckian troops were picketed at different points outside of Port Royal. These men naturally longed for something from their homeland, so they sent back by one of the vessels for some Lombardy poplar trees. These trees were planted a few in each place where the troops were stationed and a group of them may be seen on the road leading past our Advent Tabernacle.(3)
Another old landmark is the poplar tree near the site of Bear River’s first sawmill, near the brook opposite the Academy. The grandfather of Mr. George C. Harris walked from Halifax here and used a stout stick as a cane. When he reached this place he stuck it in the ground and it has gron into the grand old tree now seen. A clause in the deed of the land on which it stands provides that it shall never be cut down.(4)
The first sawmill ; poplar tree in center of photo is one referred to in story.
Bear River has always been noted for its cherries, and perhaps it will be interesting to some to know that the first trees were brought here from England by a man named William Sutherland in the latter part of the 18th century. They were planted on the upper flat of Clarke’s Marsh, where is now the Y.M.S.C’s tennis court.(5)
the point of land in the center of photo is the upper area of Clarke's marsh, now the Millyard.
The oldest one was cut down about 70 years ago and had grown to an immense size. There is a story to this effect- a curse will be put upon the people and a blight upon the trees if a monument be not erected to the memory of him who first brought them here. There certainly seems to be a blight upon the trees. Notwithstanding this fact, there is generally held during the cherry season a festival throughout the country as “Bear River Cherry Carnival” On this eventful day, crowds gather from far and near to witness calithumpian parades, sports of all kinds and to enjoy a regular feast of cherries of which there is usually a good supply.
an early Cherry Carnival
Excursions run that day and all through the season, by steamers from Digby, Annapolis, Westport, Centerville, Margaretsville, and many people, both tourist and native, avail themselves to visit our village and to carry away quantities of the fruit and a report of a general good time. (6)
Formerly our town and vicinity was included in the township of Clements, all forming a part of Annapolis county. This township was granted to and created by Ge0rge Sutherland and two hundred and forty others, members of disbanded German troops, who came to Nova Scotia in 1783. These men were also known as the Hessians and the Waldeckians, and we have living in our town the descendants of several of them. Christopher Benson’s name was on the list of 1784, also those of Capt. Donwe Ditmars, John Morehouse, and Francis Ryerson. Stephen Ryerson, a son of the latter,was the prototype of the character of “Stephen Richardson” hunter, trapper and humorist whom Haliburton has so well described in one of his works (probably “Old Judge in a Colony).
Some of the first roads built leading out of Bear River were (1) from Bear river to Allain’s Creek in 1787. (2) from Bear River to Moose River in 1800. (3) from Bear River to Annapolis in 1801. The first bridge on the site of the one now crossing the river at the village was built in 1808, while the present one was commenced in May 1886, and finished in December of the same year at an approximate cost of $10,000.
An education was not very easily obtained in the early days of our town. At first a few women made it their business to travel through the country-teaching a few weeks in each place. But the first regular teacher was William Nicholl, an Englishman who came out from the old country about 1800. One of the “copy books” used in his school is in the possession of the writer of this history.
The first building in which he taught was a log house, standing between where is now the post office and G.I. Brook’s shop.(7) Since the time of that building, schools have been kept in different places, including the Temperance hall(8) and an old meeting house, until the law was passed in 1864, when schools were run by taxation, and the houses in both the Hillsburg and Bridgeport sections were built. The house in the latter section has been torn down but the Hillsburg one still stands and is used as a sail loft by Mr. Russel. In 1892 these two sections were united, and a new building built on the Annapolis side of the river.
The original Academy, built 1892
We now have one of the finest schools in the country, conducted by a very worthy principal, and having six departments, a library, manual training benches, and an excellent laboratory. Our Town Hall, where all concerts are given etc., is on the third floor.
It might be well to say here that the first Postmaster was the William Nicoll referred to previously and the “office” was a small box in his schoolhouse. Until 1845, or previous to this time, no regular system of mails had been established, occasionally the mail having been carried all the way from Halifax in some’one’s coat pocket. But now (1845) weekly mails were established between Halifax and Digby via Annapolis. A “courier” left Halifax every Monday afternoon about two o’clock, and weather permitting, reached Kentville the following Wednesday. Here he met the “courier” from Digby, mails were exchanged and each started on his homeward trip. As the journey was made on horseback, the mails were carried in the saddlebags.
When the mail had reached Digby, the Bear River Portion was entrusted to anyone who happened to be going that way. In a similar manner, the mails were taken to and from Yarmouth.
Annapolis became connected with Windsor by railroad in 1865 but it was not until September 29th, 1879 that the road was completed between Yarmouth and Digby. At this time a line of coaches connected Bear River with Digby (10 miles) and Annpolis (16 miles, the “Missing Link” as it was called, between Digby and Annapolis was completed in 1891, when the trains were enabled to nake a through trip from Halifax to Yarmouth, this completed line being now known as “the Dominion Atlantic Railway”
Train crossing Bear River bridge early 1900's.
We now only have a short drive of four or five miles from the town to Bear River station. There are so many beautiful bits of scenery on this winding road by the “Rhine of Nova Scotia” that when one is comfortable seated in one of F.W. Purdy’s up-to-date turnouts,one is apt to wish the drive much longer.(9)
The probabilities are, however, that before another ten years have passed, we will have a railroad of our own, connecting us with the other lines. Several surveys have been made and our esteemed citizen, Mr. J.V. Thomas, has been instrumental in promoting the work, thus far.(10)
In 1837, the counties of Digby and Annapolis were separated, our river forming part of the boundary line between them.
The river divides the two counties: Digby and Annapolis
The ten years between 1831 and 1841 seems to have been the ” busy day” in the growth of Bear River town. During that time, the first vessels were built and five churches were established. Where now stands the greater potion of the business part of the town on the east side of the river, was then marshes and mud flats, the river flowing right up to where Mr. Phinney’s harness shop and the custom office now are(11) In 1832 the first vessel, a schooner called the “Hornet” was built and launched on the present site of the Union Bank of Halifax.There were shipyards all along the river, from one down at the ‘Creek” at the foot of Chisholm’s hill up to the “Head of the Tide”. Since that year, there have been built about 115 vessels, with a tonnage of 20,932 net. The largest one ever built was the “Tamar E Marshall”, 1270 tons and the last one built was the “Castano”, in 1901.
examples of some Bear River ships
Up to 1895, shipbuilding was one of the leading industries of the place, but since then it has almost ceased. We have, however, a set of ships’ blocks, where a vessel may be repaired from almost any damage.(12)
(1) This would be the house on the corner of Tupper and Upper River Rd. recently owned by Hoppy Hopkins. That it is the oldest standing house would be disputed by many older residents.
(2) The Chute family owned much of the land in the area surrounding what is now the Chute Rd.
(3) This would be the area on River Rd. near the Head of the Tide. The former Advent Christian Church still stands on the right as you travel up the road from the firehall.
(4) This would be across the street from what is the United Church.
(5) The trees were cut down when the sawmills were built on this flat; now the Bear River Recreational Millyard. However, Bob Benson the current owner has discovered that there are new cherry trees growing from the roots of the trees that were cut down, and is protecting and nurturing them.
(6) See the page/post of Cherries and Cherry Carnival on this website for more details.
(7) The author is referring to the buildings that were destroyed by fire in the 1970’s that were next to the building housing Ali’s Meat Market on the Digby side of the river.
(8) the Temperance Hall was built just south of the Baptist Church where there is now a parking lot.
(9) There was also the Yorke Livery service which also ran between town and the railway station.
(10) Unfortunately this never happened. We wonder if it had any effect on the downturn in the Town’s fortunes. Mr. J.V Thomas was listed as having a business in lumber, shingles and lathe, in the business directory of Bear River 1892.
(11) According to old maps of the village, this would be where the Wharf St. begins, next to the Legion building.
(12) This was probably found in the Rice’s shipbuilding yard which was located where the Firehall now stands. It was the last remaining shipyard in the village at the time this account was written.
You must be logged in to post a comment.