125 YEARS OF SERVICE – THE CALKIN STORY (June 12/98)

The story of T. P. Calkin Ltd. begins with a New England Planter who was granted one share of land in Cornwallis, Garth Calkin said when he addressed the Kings Historical Society recently.

The Planter was Ezekial Calkin and it was his grandson, Benjamin, who founded T. P. Calkin, a firm that operated in the Annapolis Valley for 125 years. Garth Calkin was the firm’s last president before it was purchased by Sumners. A former Kentville Mayor and sixth generation Planter, Mr. Calkin spent his entire career with his family’s firm. In his address to the Historical Society he spoke about that career which began when he graduated from high school; but long before his graduation, as he pointed in his address, Calkins was already a household name and the firm had been catering to Valley people for several generations.

Benjamin Calkin opened the family’s first store on Main Street in 1847. “I wish I could tell you more about (this) business,” Mr. Calkin said, “but I was never told and apparently didn’t have enough interest to find out.” By 1867, however, the firm had moved to permanent quarters at the corner of Webster and Cornwallis Street and their inventory reflected the times. “For the blacksmith we stocked iron bars, horseshoe nails and shoes, even borax for the forge; for the wheelwright (we stocked) wooden rims, hubs, spokes, whiffletrees, shafts and all metal parts for carriages.”

Mr. Calkin joined the firm in 1924 and Calkin’s inventory and business methods at the time reflected the changes in society. Gone were deliveries by horse and wagon. The firm had several trucks on the road when Mr. Calkin took his place behind the counter of the family’s retail store as a 17-year-old clerk. By this time the blacksmith was on his way out and Calkin’s inventory was heavy on tools for farm and forest workers.

In 1926 Calkins set up separate retail and wholesale divisions and Kentville Hardware Store Limited was opened. Over the next two decades, Calkins opened hardware stores in Middleton and Bridgetown. In the meantime, the wholesale division had expanded across the province. When Calkins celebrated their 100th anniversary in 1947, the firm was operating a plumbing and heating supply outlet in Halifax and a year later in Dartmouth and Bridgewater. By this time the firm had close to 200 employees.

When Garth Calkin reached retirement age in 1972, the firm had, in his words, “become more of a distributor of plumbing and heating supplies and less of a hardware and building supplies business.” At this time Ontario manufacturers were opening factory outlets and selling directly to plumbing and heating tradesmen. To be competitive, Calkins were forced to either amalgamate with a larger firm or sell.

The sale of the firm to Sumners concluded the Calkin family’s association with a business that had endured since the day Benjamin decided he didn’t like clerking for someone else. The firm began in the days of the horse and ox, adapted to the advent of the automobile, flourished through two world wars, eventually succumbing when broad changes in business practice made some provincial firms obsolete.

Today Calkins – or “Corkins” as old-timers used to call it – is no longer the household name it once was but it is still remembered.

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