Over a fireplace in an older Upper Canard home is a striking view of Hall’s Harbour half a century ago. On a wall in a Windsor residence are several stark views of this town after the devastating fire of 1897. In the rec room of a Kentville home the team photograph of the 1920 Kings County hockey champions stands beside several time worn trophies. And down the Valley in a farmhouse near Middleton, four photographs in a maplewood frame depict apple harvesting in the days when horses were still used.
Other than showing Valley scenes of an earlier era and past generations of Valley people at work and play, these unsigned photographs have no apparent theme and, to the untrained eye, no obvious connection.
There is a connection, however. The photographs are the work of a man who spent most of his life recording similar Valley scenes and events. For over four decades Amos Lawson Hardy worked out of his studio in Kentville and everything was grist for the eye of his camera. From 1892 until 1935, A.L. Hardy photographed the comings and goings of Valley people and their surroundings. Landscapes, seascapes, village and town streets, apple harvesting, calamities of nature, festivals, church groups, prominent Valley families, dyke building, young men and women in party attire, children, cyclists, athletes, hunters, anglers – these and countless other subjects were the photographic legacy that Hardy left.
At the time of his death in 1935, newspapers said that Hardy was one of the outstanding photographers in Nova Scotia. His work was recognised in 1900 when he was one of three photographers chosen Canada-wide to contribute to a magazine series advertised as “Canada’s scenic splendours.” During his career hundreds of his photographs were published in tourist books, magazines and newspapers. And, at one time, literally hundreds of his portraits and still life’s graced the living rooms of Valley homes.
A.L. Hardy photographed life in a bygone era, and without his work we wouldn’t have these records. But despite leaving an important and lasting legacy of his 40 some years in Kings County, Hardy’s work is virtually unknown today. Even more tragic is the estimate that of the countless photographs made of Nova Scotia, only a few hundred survive.
Writing on Hardy’s work in a 1985 Dalhousie University publication, Graeme Wynn noted that the Public Archives of Canada hold about 50 Hardy prints and the Public Archives of Nova Scotia identifies only four or five Hardy originals in its collection. Acadia University has about two dozen Hardy prints and the Court House Museum in Kentville has approximately 20. Wynn estimates that around 100 Hardy photographs are held privately, but there may be more than that since Hardy once ranged from Halifax to Yarmouth with his camera on the old Dominion Atlantic Railway.
Hardy’s legacy of photographs from the late 19th and early 20th century is little appreciated today, but the importance of his work cannot be stressed enough. The work of a man contemporaries described as unrivalled for scope, quality and genius deserves more prominence. As Graeme Wynn put it, “Both Amos Lawson Hardy and his work warrant rescue from… obscurity.”