Kingsport, Nova Scotia
Kingsport is located just northeast of the mouth of the Habitant River, on the west side of Minas Basin, a few miles east of Canning at the eastern end of Route 221. It is bordered by a tidal marsh to the west and sandy beaches to the south and east. Red sedimentary cliffs carved by continuous erosion rise from the beaches to the east. The dramatic 12 metre tides produce very large sand and mud flats at low tide. The village is surrounded by large expanses of fertile farmland.
An earlier name was Indian Point, later changed to Oak Point due to the number of oak trees that grew along the bank of the south side of the lower road, leading to the wharf. The name was finally changed to Kingsport in the 1870s, as it became the major port in Kings County.
As indicated by the name Indian Point, Kingsport is believed to have once been a summer settlement of the Mi'kmaq. It was also part of the Acadian farming community which stretched along the Habitant River. After the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, Kingsport was settled by New England Planters One source indicates that Indian Point is mentioned as Lot 16, second division, Cornwallis township granted to Benjamin Newcomb in 1761. Another source says that Kingsport was founded in 1761 or 1762 by Isaac Bigelow who came from Connecticut and was given a grant of land called Oak Point, now Kingsport. Bigelow is the most favoured and Isaac’s son, Ebenezer, born in 1776, is thought to have built the first house in Kingsport.
Shipbuilding emerged as a major industry in Kingsport beginning in 1833 with the launch of schooner Emerald. "Some of the largest and finest ships ever built in Canada were designed and built by Ebenezer Cox of Kingsport," according to shipping historian Frederick William Wallace. Starting with the schooner Diadem in 1864, Cox became the master shipbuilder for a series of partnerships which built over 30 vessels of increasing size. Most had names beginning with the letter "K" and began known as the "K Ships". The shipyard included a large mill and blacksmith and used tuboats to brings rafts of timber from the Cape Blomidon area. The Kingsport yards reached their peak in 1890 with the launch of the four masted barque Kings County followed by the ship Canada in 1891, two of the largest wooden ships ever built in Canada. Launch days for these vessels were the biggest events in the history of Kingsport, some of them attracting up to 3000 people from across the Annapolis Valley. The collapse of the wooden shipbuilding industry in Atlantic Canada in the late 19th century led to a decline in the yard with the last major launch being the barquentine Skoda in 1893. The final Kingsport built vessel was the schooner FBG built in 1929, the last coastal schooner built in all of Nova Scotia. The Kingsport yard refocused for a number of years on ship repair, using the massive Minas Basin tides as a natural drydock into the 1920s repairing such vessels as the American Bradford C. French, the largest three masted schooner ever built.
As wooden ships declined, shipbuilding investors in the Kingsport area re-invested in railways. The Cornwallis Valley Railway was built in 1890 connecting Kingsport to Kentville and the mainline of the Dominion Atlantic Railway. Kingsport was the terminus for the eastern end of the line. A wye and engine shed were built to turn and service locomotives under the care for many years of Ephraim Hiltz. Trains ran eight times a day at the peak of the line. The railway rapidly developed the surrounding apple industry and two large apple warehouses were soon constructed in the village. The line also exploited the large wharf at Kingsport as a regional shipping point for schooners and ocean steamers. It was steadily extended to over 400 feet by 1911 and received a lighthouse in 1889. Apples and potatoes were exported with coal and fertilizer being imported as well as various freight including on one occasion, horses from Sable Island.
The railway also connected at the wharf with the "Parrsboro packets", a series of coastal steamships carrying passengers, vehicles and freight to the Minas Basin ports of Wolfville and Parrsboro, the last of which was the MV Kipawo. Kingsport also became a local holiday resort. People came during the summer months to spend time at their cottages along the bank and at the "bluff". First a hotel, and in later years an ice cream parlour and a dance hall were operated near the wharf area during the summer months. Population peaked by 1910 at 708 people.
A two-room elementary school was built in 1889. High school students commuted to the Kings County Academy in Kentville by school trains specially time to meet class times. The Dominion Atlantic Railway tried replacing passenger service with buses in 1947 but reverted to rail passenger service in 1949.
Kingsport's social life included skating and hockey on Webb's pond and baseball during the spring and summer. Concerts, motion picture shows, pie socials, annual strawberry festivals, harvest suppers, card parties and Whist Club were among social functions. A drive-in operated in the 1930s and 1940s. An Congregational (later United) and Anglican church served Kingsport along with two story school which also served as a community hall.
|“||The new generation in Kingsport today cannot recall the scream of flanges as a railway engine was turned on the Wye, the daily arrivals at the government wharf, the whistle of the Kipawo and of the train approaching, or the ringing of the school bell summoning the children to the morning and afternoon sessions at the country schoolhouse.
The people of the community can, and do, still hear the ringing of its church bells summoning them to worship, and they have their two churches, a part of the life of a community, which is not now as busy as it once was. The beautiful and picturesque Minas Basin which Kingsport overlooks can still be seen and enjoyed in this little community which is still a pretty spot beside the sea.
|— Cora Atkinson, Kingsport historian 1980|
The Minas Basin ferry service ended during World War II when Kipawo was called away to war service. The apple industry surrounding Kingsport faced a dramatic downturn with the loss of the British market after the war. This led to a steady decline in traffic on the Cornwallis Valley Railway which ended service to Kingsport in 1961. The growth of highways also bled local shoppers to bigger stores elsewhere. The school was closed in 1963. Both of Kingsport's general stores and its gas station closed. The massive wharf steadily fell into ruins and the village lost more than half its population in a few decades, declining from 500 to 225 by the 1950s.
However Kingsport remained a popular local holiday location for cottagers and in the 1970s emerged as a bedroom community for the growing towns of Eastern Kings County. In 1977, the Kingsport Community Association was organized to improve life in Kingsport. Social events such as pie socials and card parties were held to help bring the residents together and to raise funds to build a playground, clean up the beach and provide steps and picnic tables. In 2003, the Kingsport Community Association began reconstruction of the ruins of the wharf. The outer portions were demolished and the inner portion was rebuilt into a boardwalk, boat ramp, and floats to encourage recreational boating. The association rebuilt a former general store in 2004 as a community centre and public access point for internet use.
L.M. Montgomery used the name Kingsport in her novel Anne of the Island as a moniker for the fictional Nova Scotia town where Anne Shirley attends university after she leaves Avonlea. The fictional Kingsport is a larger town combining elements inspired by Halifax and Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
The famous Canadian poet Bliss Carman wrote a classic poem of courage about a Kingsport schooner named Scud and her fearless twelve-year-old master. Entitled "Arnold, Master of the Scud", it featured in many Canadian poetry textbooks.
- "Place Names of Nova Scotia", Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management
- Hantsport Shipbuilding: 1849-1893, St. Clair Patterson, Hantsport: Tug Boat Publishing, 2008, p. II
- Historic Calendar 2008 Canning Library and Heritage Centre, Canning, Nova Scotia.
- In the Wake of the Windships, Frederick William Wallace, (London, 1927), p. 223.
- Ivan Smith, History of Nova Scotia with special attention given to Communications and Transportation, "The K Ships" webpage
- "F.B.G." Nova Scotia Museum Marine History Database
- Lary Keddy, "Kingsport History Notes", Kings County Vignettes Vol. 9, (Kings County Museum: 1998), p. 9
- "Kingsport", Dominion Atlantic Railway Digital Preservation Institute
- Parker Donham, "Kentville townies v. Medford farm girls" The Contrarian July 10, 2016 and Ed Coleman, "Gone and Almost Forgotten the CVR Bus", Kings County Advertiser Register, 17 April 2013
- "Glorious Kingsport Captured in Book" Nova News Now
- Wharf Reconstruction ACOA Funding Announcement for Kings County Wharf Reconstruction
- ACOA Funding Announcement for Kingsport Community Centre
- L.M. Montgomery, "Chapter IV April's Lady" Anne of the Island, 1915.
- "Arnold, Master of the Scud", Canadian Poetry Archives website Library and Archives Canada
- Esther Clark Wright, Blomidon Rose Toronto: Ryerson Press August (1957)
- Village of Kingsport, Nova Scotia
- "Kingsport", Dominion Atlantic Railway Digital Preservation Institute, railway history of the village