1896 – THE TIME OF TEMPERANCE (November 14/97)

In the spring of 1896 Sheriff Stephen Belcher issued a legal notice wrapping up the affairs of a deceased Kings County resident. Belcher ran an advertisement in a unidentified County paper advising the public of a property sale. On another page a merchant offered nickle alarm clocks for $1. in an advertisement with the quaint heading, “What Think Ye Of This?”

Without Sheriff Belcher’s dated legal notice I couldn’t have determined the age of the tattered pieces of yellowing newspaper I found recently. While housecleaning I came across the scraps of newspaper in a filing cabinet that has been in a corner of my basement for decades. The partial pages had no dates or identification but the advertisements indicated it was a Kings County newspaper. Which one I don’t know. One hundred years ago the County was served by at least four and possibly up to six newspapers. Wolfville, Berwick, Canning and Kentville each published a paper at the time and the latter two may have had more than one.

Amateur historian/collector Louis Comeau tells me that researching local history requires much detective work and a lot of luck. Comeau says it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with seemingly unconnected pieces of information. Get enough pieces (i.e. facts) and they should tell you something about a particular period in the past.

Old newspapers usually provide plenty of clues about life in bygone days, even when they’re tattered, incomplete and unidentifiable. The fragments of my old newspaper ooze complacency and a total lack of urgency. The quaint ads invite you to visit this or that store but there’s no rush; come in when you have the time. Even the medicinal advertisements with their preposterous claims for a host of ills and chills are mellow.

Even if I hadn’t been able to date this newspaper, there were plenty of clues that it was printed in the horse and buggy days. Chas. McDonald, Wheelwright, tells us that 100 years ago he was prepared to do an outstanding job of repairing or painting one’s carriage. Jas. Handley was offering “ox rigs” and the finest of harness and reins, “handmade by Nova Scotia leather workers of long experience.”

Around the time my old paper was printed the Nova Scotia Prohibition Convention was held. In the paper was a notice from Rev. E. J. Grant urging Kings County residents to vote only for candidates who supported a prohibitionist platform. Rev. Grant spoke of muzzling the rum trade and the “sad fact (that) dastardly demon rum was much a part of politics and business.”

When Rev. Grant wrote his missive to the electors of Kings County, various parts of the province were “dry.” The Canadian Temperance Act (Scott Act), had been in force for almost 20 years. Under the Act any city or county could, with the support of only one-fourth of its electors, opt to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks. This explains the campaign by Rev. Grant; he wanted Kings County to go dry, which it apparently did for a time.

My old paper refers to an upcoming national plebiscite on prohibition; this was held two years after my old newspaper came off the press. The “wets” won, by the way. I looked it up after the old paper titillated my interest and learned that only a small percentage of Canadians voted for national prohibition in 1898.

Rev. Grant and his supporters must have been flabbergasted since in 1896 Kings County was deeply into the temperance movement. It says so in my old newspaper.


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