“I’ve been told he would climb a tree, get on a roof or wherever he could to get an angle he wanted,” Virginia Atkinson wrote when reminiscing about photographer Amos Lawson Hardy. Atkinson remembered that Hardy was meticulous about details, almost to the point of fussiness, and would go to extremes to get the photograph he wanted.
A. L. Hardy (1860-1935) may not be the greatest or best-known photographer to come out of the Annapolis Valley, but thanks to his striving for good pictures, we have a wonderful and unique photographic heritage.
Hardy was in a singular position. He worked with his camera in a period when the age of sail was winding down, the railway was relatively new, and the first automobiles appeared on roads where horse and oxen were still king. This was a time of major social and economic changes, due mainly to the railway and the automobile; and we are fortunate that Hardy was there to photograph a time vanishing almost as fast as he could capture it on film.
I remember the first time I saw a Hardy photograph. It was a Dominion Atlantic Railway scene, a train station built when Hardy was a boy of nine. Several years after I fist saw this photograph the station was torn down. Thankfully, Hardy captured an image of the old station. But for his photograph, no record of the building would exist today.
This is one reason why Hardy’s work is invaluable and should be cherished. Imagine that Hardy had never existed to capture the images of his time. What if he had never walked dusty village streets, roamed the countryside, or travelled up and down the Valley on the railway and looked at everything with a photographer’s eye?
We have only to look at Hardy’s work to see what we would have lost: Images of Valley towns in the 1890s and early 1900s with horses and carriages, people in quaint clothing and stores where our great grandparents might have shopped. Images of the countryside, the dykes, harbours, orchards and other scenery that has vanished or been changed by wind, tides and man’s meddling. Images of the railway line, men, buildings and rolling stock that are now long gone.
A. L. Hardy’s headquarters was in Kentville. His former home still stands on Webster Court but the buildings housing his studios, three in all, have disappeared. Hardy worked out of Kentville from about 1892 to 1935 and was for a time employed as the official photographer for the Dominion Atlantic Railway. At least one tourist booklet featuring Hardy photographs was published by the railway. And Hardy himself published an album of his favourite photographs.
Hardy must have looked upon the Kentville of his time as worthy of recording. Extant are numerous Kentville scenes, early hotels such as the Kentville, Lyons, McLeods and the Aberdeen, later renamed the Cornwallis Inn. There are Hardy street scenes, Aberdeen and Main, with old stores, early churches, halls and the houses of prominent 19th-century citizens.
Many of these historic photographs are in the files of the Kings County Museum, and many more are in private collections. Virginia Atkinson’s recollections of Hardy are also on file in the museum.