GEORGE E. GRAHAM LEFT MARK ON AREA (November 2/01)

In my opinion, no finer history of the Dominion Atlantic Railway than Marguerite Woodworth’s 1937 work has ever been written.

It is to Woodworth’s excellent book that we turn this week to look at a man who left his mark on the D.A.R. and the Annapolis Valley. This was George E. Graham who became general manager of the D.A.R., three years after it was acquired by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Graham arrived in Kentville in November 1915 and proceeded to take over a railway system that had become obsolete and was badly in need of modernising.

One of the first things Woodworth mentions about Graham is that prior to becoming general manager of the D.A.R. he had never east of Montreal. Graham, Woodworth said, “was quite unfamiliar with the topography of the country, its people, and of local conditions.”

Realising these factors were important in the operation of the railway, Graham immediately set out remedy his shortcomings. “Graham left no stone unturned to remedy this omission,” Woodworth says. “In a remarkably short time he had gained a knowledge of Nova Scotia and Scotians that is seldom met with among the people themselves.” Graham steeped himself in the history of the province and its famous landmarks and says Woodworth, “even wrote a short history of Nova Scotia.” A history, by the way, that “lies forgotten in the railway archives.”

As general manager of the D.A.R., Graham left his mark on the Annapolis Valley. Before Graham’s time, an act passed by the Nova Scotia legislature had set aside Grand Pre as historical grounds and a memorial to the Acadians. Long a Mecca of Acadians and American tourists the area offered visitors no more than “rolling dykelands and a row of old French willows” until Graham convinced the D.A.R. to purchase the site and establish a memorial park. Graham undoubtedly realised the park would attract visitors and the D.A.R. would benefit from increased tourism traffic. This proved to be, and while he may have had commercial motives, we can still thank Graham for the lasting Acadian memorial that resulted from his efforts.

When Graham became general manager of the D.A.R. there was no major hotel at Digby, a popular destination with American tourists. Graham convinced the D.A.R. to purchase and remodel the Pines hotel which had been closed for some time. The Pines was “renovated and newly equipped, new cottages were built around it and in 1918 it opened its doors to visitors.” The hotel was immediately successful and Graham turned his attention to Kentville, which had long been lacking major tourist accommodations and “stood badly in need of a good hotel.”

To remedy this situation the D.A.R. at Graham’s prompting purchased the old Aberdeen Hotel in 1919. “The old structure was repaired… new equipment installed, the grounds were landscaped and the hotel rechristened the Cornwallis Inn,” Woodworth writes.

Graham later was instrumental in building a new Pines Hotel in Digby. Soon he was pushing for the building of a larger and more modern hotel in Kentville; the result was the 100-room Cornwallis Inn which opened in 1930 offering “service and comfort equal to the best hotels on the continent.”

Woodworth praises Graham for his involvement in community affairs as well. His “personal contribution to the development of the community… is no less noteworthy,” she writes, saluting him for leadership and farsightedness.

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