While to me it was only a turn of the century photograph of Kentville and one of its first hotels, to the eye of the expert the picture said a lot about the town’s early days.
But I really shouldn’t have said it was “only” a photograph. Leon Barron, who collects railroad and marine memorabilia, cherishes the picture he discovered in Parrsboro because of what it reveals. The 1905 scene showing the three-storey Hotel Aberdeen and the railroad fleshes out some of the historical data he has collected on Kentville. “Look, that’s the remains of the big sandbank that blocked the northern edge of the town,” he said as we sat at his kitchen table looking at the photograph. “They started to remove the bank in the 1890s using horses and oxen and the sand they took out of it was used to make River Street. Those flatcars on the tracks have the D.A.R. logo on them – which helps date the photo since the D.A.R. was incorporated in 1895. That’s the freight shed on the left. The station would be to the left of the shed just out of the picture.”
Leon’s description of a picture that was taken by an unknown photographer captured what is in essence a miniature history lesson. Once Leon showed me what to look for, I was amazed by the tale told by the picture. Even more amazing was Leon’s detailed telling of that tale.
Prominent in the photograph is the Hotel Aberdeen. “That was built in 1892 by Daniel McLeod. It was one of the finest at the time and may have been the third or fourth hotel in town,” Leon said. “Almost 50 years after the railroad arrived in Kentville the D.A.R. bought the Aberdeen, fixed it up and renamed it the Cornwallis Inn. I believe the Aberdeen was torn down right after the current Cornwallis Inn was completed in 1930.”
If you stand in the center of Aberdeen Street today, facing north at the lights with the Royal Bank and the Macdonald-Chisholm building on your right and left, you would be looking directly at the site of the old Aberdeen (now occupied by Robinson Supplies and Clevelands). From that point in 1905 you could see a sign on the left facade proclaiming that the Union Bank of Halifax was quartered there. “The Union Bank joined the Royal Bank, probably not long after this picture was taken,” Leon said. “The Royal Bank building will be built right there in 1919,” he added, indicating a point in the photo near the Aberdeen close to the Royal’s current site.
The corner of the Lyons Hotel is visible on the left of the photo and Leon told me it was built around 1875 on the site of the present Macdonald-Chisholm building. “It was called the Webster House at one time,” Leon said, added that it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. James Lyons operated the hotel until 1887 when he sold it to Daniel McLeod, the man who later built the Hotel Aberdeen.
Horses hitched to two-wheeled wagons stand placidly near the front of the Hotel Aberdeen. Several unidentified people, the women in the long dark dresses that were fashionable at the time, stroll along a sidewalk near the hotel, giving the impression that life in 1905 Kentville was leisurely and less hectic than it is today.