OLD PAPER DEPICTS VALLEY LIFE (March 14/97)

When the Acadian Orchardist published its mid-November issue in 1903, the steamship Brunswick was running out of Canning on the Monday morning tide on its weekly trip to Wolfville, Bass River and Saint John. An advertisement for the Brunswick by the Minas Basin Steamship Company also announced “fortnightly trips” to Maitland, with calls at Parrsboro and Spencer’s Island.

On an inside page was a notice for a special train run from Kentville to Windsor, with stops in-between, so the public could attend a “grand opera.”

In the eight-page issue, 21 advertisements flogged a variety of patent medicines. Wm. Regan, a Wolfville merchant, offered “horse goods of every description”; the Thompson Bicycle Manufacturing Company announced its line of new bikes and repair service; stove coal from Cape Breton was touted; and three railroads – the Midland, the Canadian Pacific and the Dominion Atlantic – published schedules of their daily runs, the latter two including steamship connections with Europe and the States.

Steamships, trains, bicycles, stove coal, horse goods and patent medicines. These advertisements for goods and services tell us much about life in the Annapolis Valley at the turn of the century.

Besides the obvious inference that people in the early days of the 20th century seemed obsessed with minor ailments, we can draw other conclusions about that period from the Orchardist. Horses, railways, boats, bicycles and shank’s mare were the means of transportation. There were few automobiles around when this issue was printed and even fewer roads an automobile could navigate. The roads in 1903 were “fit only for foot travel and horseback and barely fit for horse and wagon outside the towns.”

For long runs, the trips to the distant major centres of 1903, people took the train or a steamship. The trains and steamers also offered short run trips. The advertisements tell us a citizen could jump on a steamer at Canning and sail to Wolfville and other points on the Minas Basin, or catch a train and travel east or west along the Valley floor.

Winter was setting in when this issue of the Orchardist reached the public. Understandably, there were advertisements for Cape Breton coal, wool-filled blankets at only $2.75 each, Stanfield’s Unshrinkable Underwear, winter coats and jackets and, of course, the inevitable cold and croup remedies.

While the issue wasn’t heavy on advertisements – the ad content was about 40 per cent and most ads were tiny – there is something revealing about them. Of the 68 advertisements in the issue, only three contained telephone numbers! Since the paper covered an area from Hants Border west to Berwick and took in the then major towns of Canning, Wolfville and Kentville, this is surprising.

But on the other hand, there were few residential telephones at the time. Some homes in the area covered by the Orchardist wouldn’t receive telephone service until a quarter century later. This was the era of small, private telephone companies and they were located in various out-of-the-way places in the Valley.

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