Nova Scotia History

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A Visit to The New Heritage Museum

Published June 9, 2012 by oddacity designs

view of the tool exhibit

The grand opening of the NEW Bear River Heritage Museum took place June 9th.  The new premises at the Oakdene Center is much smaller than previous quarters,  but there sure is lots of light.

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The museum will open for regular hours in July and August. Look for workshops and demonstrations!

Loose Cannons

Published April 25, 2012 by oddacity designs

Bear River Nova Scotia is unusual in many ways.  A cannon barrel embedded in the pavement on a street corner is one of them

a little worse for wear

....but still standing.


One school of thought of why it is there is that it keeps anyone from taking the corner too quickly.  But here it is in the 1880’s, when it was only horse and buggy.

130 years ago

cannon on the corner, 1920's

We would love to know how that came about…. Did some one say: hey, Wilbur wants to get rid of that old cannon barrel he’s got lying around.  Let’s put it on the corner next to Clarke Brothers store. People can use it as an ash tray.

Was there a ceremony, or did it just appear there one day?

It’s not like you come across a cannon barrel too often.  Historically, Bear River was not a fortress town.  There were cannon in Digby and cannon in Annapolis Royal, but Bear River?  Was it a souvenir someone brought back on a sailing ship?

A lot of people live in town for a long time before they realize that there is a cannon on the corner.  Some people may not even know it is there at all.

It’s just another one of those important little things.

all content on this page copyright of Think For Yourself Publishing,  April 2012

Historic Glimpses of Picturesque Bear River: Lennie D. Wade: Part One

Published February 18, 2012 by oddacity designs

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.

Cherries and Cherry Carnival

Published February 4, 2012 by oddacity designs

For more than 100 years,since 1894 in fact,  the village of Bear River has celebrated a festivity known as Cherry Carnival on the third Saturday of July.   Cherries were once a mainstay of the agricultural component of  Bear River and the village was quite famous for the quality of these fruit.

cherry orchard 1910 photo by Ralph Harris

Families from outlying areas would arrive by the truckful during cherry picking season and buy the rights to pick a tree, or even two. Unfortunately, the cherry orchards were wiped out buy a blight in the 1940′s, but the lack of cherries never stopped the village from having the cherry carnival.


It is still a huge event for the town, sponsored by the volunteer fire department as a fundraiser, and known far and wide as having some of the best fireworks in the province.

Grand street parade, 1920. Grand Central Hotel in background

The grand street parade was a favorite subject for many photographers over the past century.  Here are just a few.

Grand street parade 1925
and this one from the 1930’s

The Grand street parade often gave residents a chance to show off their alter-egos…

even the lumberjacks got into the act

…of course prizes were always awarded!

Nowadays, the Cherries are brought in from Ontario or down the Valley, and the Hooplala isn’t quite as overwhelming as it once was. However, the volunteer firemen of the Bear River Firehall are to be commended in their efforts to keep this one village event alive and the hours of hard work put into the organization of Cherry Carnival  should be appreciated with generous donations on Carnival Day.

As for the fireworks…there are none better in the province and that includes Halifax.

And now for the real icing on the cake! Angela McMullen has discovered this link which is a film about a trip to Bear River on Cherry Carnival in 1928.  The part about Bear River starts at the 8 minute mark, and that really looks like it could be Harry Hill showing off, or maybe one of his brothers.


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all contents on this page are copyright to Think for Yourself Publishing and the Bear River Tides. 2012

Historic Sketches: Ina Rice, 1905

Published January 29, 2012 by oddacity designs

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 lumber 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)

A Look at Bear River in 1893

Published January 17, 2012 by oddacity designs

Historical Sketch of Bear River

compiled  in 1893


Nestled among the hills, along both sides of the beautiful stream which for some distance forms the boundary line 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 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 recently formed a union for educational purpose, and at their present rate of progress the community of interest existing between both , may draw them into a more complete union, of a municipal nature at no very distant day.

facing north

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 pronunciation of Imbert, a gentleman who formed one of a 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 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 other pay, for the services they has rendered in that unfortunate struggle.

The first framed 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 house-warming that was given on the occasion of its 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 roseate until the dawn of the next day. Among the guest were the Demoliters, the Hertrieks, Kyshes, Calceks, Vrooms, Ditmarses, Beehlers, Purdys, Joneses, and others whose names do not occur to our memory. Perhaps there has not been 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 proprieters, that much want and suffering was felt by their families for several years to come.

early farming

Towards the close of the century, there was a considerable movement from the townships of Granville and Annapolis to the hill country on the shores of Bear River. It 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 descendents of these men to-day constitute a large percentage of the population, both of the village and its immediate vicinity.

Still, up to the date under review, 1790-1810, there had been no village visible, but seen after saw-mills 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.

looking south

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 to vital existence.

Main Street, Digby Side

To-day the greater number of stores are on the Annapolis side, where Clarke Bros. have become the leaders in Bear River in business matters, although there are a number of new and well furnished ones on the west side of the river.

Hillsburgh Waterfront

The town 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.

Bear River have 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 parts of the United states, the West Indies, etc., and commanded by our skillful and intelligent native captains.

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 hearts 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 of the country, which serve as historical landmarks of that period.

a cherry orchard

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 mere direct communication with the principal avenues of travel.

railway bridge at mouth of river

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 $7,000 schoolhouse and other evidences of prosperity and wealth mark the town as one of the most progressive in the western part of the province.

the first Oakdene school
a History of Bear River , written in 1893, author unknown