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Living in Paradise - New historical society formed to preserve community’s rich past

Group holds show-and-tell at community hall

PARADISE, NS - Paradise in Annapolis County is that quaint and quiet village with the nice houses that you drive through on your way to Bridgetown.

Or that’s what you might think. It is quaint and it is quiet, but there’s a lot more to it.

If you pulled off Highway 1 for just a few minutes you might hear voices from the past that speak of a rich history of industry, the hustle and bustle of a busy community with dozens of families, social gatherings, marriages, births, deaths -- names you still hear today.

There were Durlands, Phinneys, Balcombs, Bishops, Bents, Messengers, Saunders, Leonards, Morses, Daniels, Starretts – and the list goes on.

Boys went off to war.

Dig a few inches into the rich history and you’ll find there were tanneries, a cheese factory, a shingle mill, a cooperage, stores, farms – and a lot more. Later on the railway went right through the village.

“There used to be quite a few manufacturing operations, from carriages to beaver hats, in Paradise, and most people don’t know where that was,” said David Hankinson outside the Paradise Community Hall. “There were mills and all sorts of things.”

It was show-and-tell day May 26 in the small community that’s tucked into the Valley floor beside the Annapolis River between Bridgetown and Lawrencetown.

The event was the first major venture by the recently formed Paradise Historical Society. Hankinson is the group’s first president and was encouraging locals to sign up as members.

Keepers of History

“We decided a while ago that the keepers of all the history here were all passing away, and we have a lot of new people coming in – and this is an area that’s just rich in culture and heritage,” said Hankinson. “We needed to preserve that, so we started the Paradise Historical Society, we’re a registered Joint Stock company, and we’re hoping to eventually get a place where we can display this stuff.”

He’s talking about the written history of all sorts and the artifacts that inhabit basements and attics and barns. Tables were set up inside the hall with mountains of historical information, newspaper clippings, photos, maps. Local writer and historian Dave Whitman had a display of his books. There was a display of the Gillis family history. Old books.

The new historical society has been eyeing the historic Paradise School as a place to set up shop.

“That’s one of the buildings that needs to be preserved because of the history, and the Women’s Institute is thinking of divesting of that,” said Hankinson. “So we’re hoping that we can move in there, tie in with COGS (Centre of Geographic Sciences in Lawrencetown) and do the MapAnnapolis thing for all the industry that used to be here.”

MapAnnapolis incorporates maps with historic data in a digital online platform that allows people to quickly access information.

“History is not much good if you just lock it away,” said Hankinson. “What we hope to do is make this an ‘alive’ situation, because people have information. Once we get our MapAnnapolis done we hope to have a computer site so you can go in and if you happen to know that your grandfather worked at this cooperage or something, you can put that kind of information in and we can have the history continually updated from what people know. You can’t really change history but you can update what people know.”

Heritage of Houses

“We’ve been doing a good job in recording the heritage of the houses,” said Hankinson. “There’s a good display in the hall here on that. But there’s a lot of other things that people have had in their basements and attics. We’re trying to record it and put it together.”

One of the more intriguing Paradise stories involves Adolf Hitler’s arch enemy Otto Strasser who tried to halt the dictator’s rise to power and continued to oppose him even in exile in Switzerland and later – you guessed it – in Paradise. He moved to Clarence in 1942 and then lived in Paradise for more than 10 years in an apartment upstairs in the general store.

Strasser was expelled from the Natzi party by Hitler and was considered the Nazi’s ‘public enemy number one.’

Hankinson said the historical information the society gathers should be helpful for people who move into the area and don’t have the sense of history and culture that people who have lived there for a long time do.

Head of the Tide

Paradise, traditionally, was considered the head of the tide of the Annapolis River and there were land grants -- and the community was at one time part of the Township of Wilmot, said Hankinson.

His own house, Ellenhurst, was started in 1886 and finished in 1889. He had the original guestbook on display at the hall.

But Hankinson notes the history of Paradise goes back beyond European settlers. “We know there was a stopping place here for the Mi’kmaq and we have some information on the relationship with that community and the folks who were here.”

One of the more recent bits of trivia about Paradise involves Canadian storyteller Stuart McLean a few years before he died visiting Annapolis Royal – but not before stopping in Paradise to have his picture taken with the Paradise sign.

Hankinson wants people to know what Paradise was like and what it has become.

“It’s still a pretty nice place,” said Hankinson.

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