In 1932 newspaperman Leslie Eugene Dennison was asked to reminisce about the early days in his hometown of Kentville. The result was a detailed article about life in this area in the late 19th century that was serialised in The Advertiser. In an earlier column, I took readers on the street tour that Dennison made of Kentville as he remembered it in the 1870s. In this column, we travel with Dennison as he describes a quaint Kentville in a time when apparently there were oxen, family cows and farms in what is now the downtown business core.
“Kentville sixty years ago was a small county village. Its inhabitants were chiefly the descendants if the first settlers, with a few families of railroad officials and workers from the Old Country.” (Comment: Many of Kentville’s early leading families were connected with the railroad and in a sense, the railroad made the town.)
“Ox teams were common in the streets, with cordwood in the winter, or hay and produce in the fall. A ‘speculator’ would load a car of potatoes for market, or a schooner or brig would load at Port Williams or Canning. Many Kentville families kept a cow, pastured in the summer in nearby meadows. They would get hay from the farmers for the winter. Families in the fall laid in the winter’s supply of cordwood and vegetables.
“If I remember aright, John Quierole (Johnny Queerall to us boys) had the first meat market in town. It was on Main Street, opposite Robert Masters’ drug store across the street from the former Advertiser office.” (Comment: The “nearby meadows” mentioned above were probably located along the Cornwallis River. “Cordwood” was probably the main source of winter fuel in the period before Cape Breton coal was available.)
“Some of the older men, including my great uncle, William Forsythe of Coldbrook, still wore their trousers buttoned across the front, as man-of-wars do now. High collars and cravats were in vogue. Some of the older ladies wore shawls and poke bonnets. Prince Alberts and tall hats were the Sunday attire of the older men. I remember well the furore created when John P. Chipman wore a ‘pepper-and-salt’ business suit to church.”
Mr. Dennison continues his account with a description of clothing worn by boys and girls in the 1870s. Can a reader tell us more about the unusual garments he mentions – “cow’s breakfast”, “clouds,” etc.
“Boys wore ‘cow’s breakfasts’ in summer, generally made at home if living on farms. The girls wore sunbonnets tied under their chins. In winter young women and girls wore bright-colored ‘clouds’ and ‘fascinators.’
“In winter boys generally wore ‘reefers’ and a woolen scarf around their necks, woolen mittens, and ‘long boots’ in some cases made by Kentville shoemakers. Angus Johnson and later Dennis McCarthy were makers of comfortable footwear. Boots and shoes were ‘pegged’ and sewn by ‘waxed ends’ with a pig’s bristle split and end of thread passed through a needle. Stitching by machine came later. Glengarry caps in fall and winter were worn by the boys. The ones with red pompoms were much sought after. Barry Calkin and Fred Terry had caps that were the envy of us smaller boys.”
As he continues his narrative, Dennison describes the winter activities of boys and girls in the 1870s. This will be the topic of a future column.