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Preserving the past: Kentville heritage centre could soon be established in former train station building

Kentville Historical Society board member and historian Louis Comeau and board chairman Erik Deal outside of the former Kentville train station building, which could soon be repurposed as a heritage centre for the town.
Kentville Historical Society board member and historian Louis Comeau and board chairman Erik Deal outside of the former Kentville train station building, which could soon be repurposed as a heritage centre for the town. - Kirk Starratt

KENTVILLE, NS - With the establishment of a society focused on promoting the town’s history, a well-known Kentville landmark could soon be repurposed as a heritage centre.

Kentville town council recently approved granting the Kentville Historical Society a lease for the former train (and bus) station property on Station Lane to be used as a heritage centre. Society board chairman Erik Deal said the tentative lease will be presented to town council for consideration at the November council advisory committee session.

The vision for the seasonally-operated centre is a well-rounded, dedicated facility concentrating solely on any and all aspects of the town’s rich history, including the railway, athletics and much more.

Deal said there is a lot of talk these days about building “complete communities” and he sees the establishment of a heritage centre for Kentville as a component of this. He believes it could help foster a greater sense of community spirit.

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Kentville Historical Society board member and historian Louis Comeau and board chairman Erik Deal with a photo of the old Kentville train station building that was demolished many years ago. The existing former train station building could soon be revitalized as a heritage centre.
Kentville Historical Society board member and historian Louis Comeau and board chairman Erik Deal with a photo of the old Kentville train station building that was demolished many years ago. The existing former train station building could soon be revitalized as a heritage centre.

He said that, over the past decade, many counties, towns, villages and smaller communities have established historical societies. Kentville, being a town of over 6,000 people, was one of the few in the province without its own dedicated society or heritage centre.

“Kentville’s history has been neglected and it’s been demolished,” Deal said, pointing to the many examples of architecturally significant built heritage that have been lost over the years.

He said that as members of the older generation pass on and artifacts sit closed away in basements and attics, the town’s history is being lost to time. With projects such as the resurgence of the Cornwallis Inn, for example, there seems to be a burgeoning atmosphere in the town of wanting to celebrate its past.

He said it’s possible that the first official donation made to the society will be the old Via Rail train station sign.

“I found that sign at the Halifax & Southwestern Railroad Museum in Lunenburg,” Deal said.

Historian and board member Louis Comeau has lived in Kentville all his life and has

witnessed first-hand a lot of the development and evolution. However, he recognizes that isn’t the case for many current residents as a lot of people living in Kentville are unaware of the town’s history. Establishing a historical society is a way to help educate residents, many who have come from away, about the town’s past.

“We’ve got to teach people who don’t know, who aren’t old, what happened here,” he said.

Comeau said that if you were to suddenly wake up tomorrow and didn’t remember who you were, you would be quite interested to learn. People should know where they came from so they can better understand where they are going.

Society member Lynn Pulsifer said the society began in April 2017. There was a group of people interested in promoting Kentville’s heritage and this was the genesis of the society. When it comes to saving the town’s past, she believes that it’s “now or never.”

“We were a core group of volunteers and, basically, we’re passionate about the history of Kentville and our objective was to collect, preserve and display this rich history,” she said.

For example, Pulsifer appreciates the town’s railway history, having worked in the office of the old Kentville train station building for a decade before it closed and was torn down. She said the heritage centre could serve as a great educational resource for students attending KCA School and for others.

The Kentville society currently has approximately 40 members but they’re looking for more. The annual general meeting is taking place upstairs at the Kentville Rec Centre on Main Street on Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend, especially those interested in volunteering to serve as board directors or in other capacities or simply becoming a member.

Other projects in the works

The existing former train station building is in close proximity to the White Family Funeral Home’s murals featuring historic images of the town and there is a vision to establish a green space or heritage park adjacent to the former train station. This would create another heritage-themed destination or attraction.

With the support of Acadia University’s Dr. David Duke and his students, the Kentville society has an ongoing project where senior residents of the Kentville area are being interviewed to record and help preserve the oral history of the town.

Another project involves erecting a series of historic story boards or interpretive panels in various locations. This could evolve into a heritage walking tour for Kentville.

The Kentville Historical Society representatives said they are looking forward to working in partnership with the Kings Historical Society on various initiatives, creating a synergy to the benefit of each organization.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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