Perhaps it is appropriate that one of the Valley’s greatest photographers once lived a few doors from where his pictorial treasures are housed.
The Old Kings Courthouse Museum in Kentville hold between 60 and 70 of Amos Lawson Hardy prints. Deemed the largest private collection of Hardy’s work, the photographs are stored in the same vault as several rare tourist publications from early in the century; these publications, which contain over 100 of Hardy’s best-known landscape photographs, were once circulated across North America.
At one time A. L. Hardy (1860-1935) was one of Canada’s best-known photographers. As the “house photographer” for the Dominion Atlantic Railway, Hardy’s work graced a number of publications that touted the beauty spots of Nova Scotia and the Annapolis Valley in particular.
In a previous column on A. L. Hardy in 1996 I mentioned that the Kentville photographer had privately published at least one book with his landscape photographs. The Evangeline Land was published in the early 1900s and a copy is in the archives of the Courthouse Museum. There is no publication date shown in the album but it contains a photograph of the Harold Borden monument in Canning, which was erected in 1903.
In the archives as well are two tourist publications, Vacation Days in Nova Scotia, Souvenir of the Land of Evangeline, and a tiny volume called The Beautiful Land of Evangeline. All three publications have Hardy photographs, the last named book being circulated across Canada-wide as one of a series called “Dominion-wide view books.”
The Evangeline Land is all Hardy photographs and even contains a portrait of the photographer himself looking dapper and trim with a moustache and what appear to be pince-nez glasses. The photographs in Vacation Days are likely all Hardys as well since the book was commissioned by the Dominion Atlantic Railway and he was their official photographer.
With the exception of The Evangeline Land and the view book, the publications named above were circulated with one aim – to attract tourists. Nova Scotia was being touted as a vacation land at the turn of the century with a “marine and Acadian landscape unequaled in eastern Canada,” and the photographs of A. L. Hardy were used to convince Americans and other Canadians to visit.
The photographs used in the tourist publications undoubtedly had great appeal to outsiders in the early 1900s; but like Hardy’s self-published album, The Evangeline Land, they are also historical records. In his album, Hardy, for the most part, concentrates on land and seascapes. In so doing he records a period in Valley history that exists now only in memories.
The tourist publications perform a similar function. Sheep washing on a spring hillside, schooners at rest at low tide in Kingsport, ox teams at work on a fledgeling railway: These are Hardy images of another time we would have no record of but for his camera.
It is said that in his late years Hardy spared no effort to photograph Valley scenes. Perhaps he realized that his would be the only pictorial records we would ever have.