Cycling in the Shire
A Tree and a River
My earliest memory of Kentville is sitting on the low stone wall in front of the steep stone edifice of the MT&T building, waiting for the Apple Blossom Festival parade to go past. It was hot and sunny, and I was small and wriggly and annoying my mother. No doubt we all got sunburns, like Nova Scotians do in May, ignoring the yellow caution sign of Forsythia declaring summer is coming and the sun has power to harm. A people whose men are routinely swallowed by a remorseless sea and whose lovingly tended crops can be decimated by a fey wind tend not to trust nature, petulantly defying her by not wearing sunscreen before July and donning shorts in March. When it’s snowing.
Kentville is not a place I ever intended to live, but it’s where my bicycles (and I) are now. I’ve heard it referred to as the Shire Town of Kings, “K-town”, and by one disgruntled denizen,“an armpit” (in direct contradiction to the town slogan, “A Breath of Fresh Air”).
Kentville is old, settled by New England Planters in 1760 and incorporated as a town in 1886. You could say Kentville exists because of a tree and a river: the apple tree, and the Cornwallis River (known to the Mi’kmaq as Jijuktu’kwejk). The Mi’kmaq called Kentville “Obsitquetchk”, a place where the river could be easily forded. The settlers chose it for the same reason, and traveled the river in their ships and wherries as the Mi’kmaq did in their river- and ocean-going canoes. The apple tree was brought to Kentville by settlers, producing the crispy and sweet fruit that drove the local economy for a couple of centuries, and which in May graces the surrounding farmlands with the blossoms for which the region’s oldest and most famous event, the Apple Blossom Festival, is known. The name was officially changed to Kentville around 1826, in honour of the Duke of Kent, who stopped there once in 1794. Not exactly “Shakespeare slept here”, but there you go.
Kentville, despite a designated “bike route” on Chester Avenue and a section of the Harvest Moon Trailway passing directly through the town, is not cyclist-friendly. The bike route on Chester Avenue is a pick-up-truck-width – I know it’s pick-up-truck-width because I find them parked on it all the time – section of sidewalk about half a kilometre long. It ends abruptly another half a kilometre from Main St. and segues into a narrow concrete sidewalk on a street too narrow for two heavy trucks to meet and pass easily, with a high curb on one side and a guardrail perched on the very edge of a steep ravine on the other. Don’t cycle into Kentville this way: use the Harvest Moon Trail.
Be cautious when you do get here: streets in the downtown are narrow, lined with parked cars most of the time, and have no bike lanes. Most of the streets are one-way, which makes for some circuitous route-finding. The section of the trail through town is poorly marked and doesn’t go past anything cycling-useful, like the local bike shop or a cafe or a public bathroom. You might want to get off your bike and walk it for a bit. I suggest getting into Market Square and using that as your base of operations.
Kentville has many attractions worth finding one of those fancy bike racks (you’ll recognize them: they say “Kentville”) to park your bike at. The downtown boasts a number of lovely cafes and pubs, a Museum in the beautiful historic courthouse, a bike shop where you can also buy supplies for your woodstove, a used book store, a stationary store selling local books and toys, a couple of small art galleries, and the home of the best smelling handmade soy candles in the world. In the slightly incongruous, towering, and also historic Main Street Inn there is a pub with a craft cidery. Or maybe that’s a craft cidery with a pub. If you happen to be riding a mountain bike, or want to go for a hike or even a challenging gravel ride, check out The Gorge. This woodland park was first developed in 1930, and is host to the Kentville Canada Cup mountain bike race. Either way, brush up on your CAN-BIKE traffic skills and follow the Jijuktu’kwejk to Kentville. A river is why you came here, but a tree is why you’ll stay.
The Gorge https://mtbatlantic.com/trail/the-gorge/
Kings County Museum http://www.kingscountymuseum.ca/
Valley Stove and Cycle https://www.valleystoveandcycle.com/
New Scotland Candle Company https://www.newscotlandcandles.ca/
Shelf Life Used Books https://www.facebook.com/Shelfiesbooks/
Maritime Express Cider https://www.maritimeexpress.ca/
Half Acre Cafe http://www.halfacrecafe.com/
R.D. Chisholm Stationary and Books https://www.rdchisholm.ca/
Tides Contemporary Gallery https://www.tidescontemporaryartgallery.com/