BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF KENTVILLE IN 1879 (January 27/06)

Until recently, I never heard of American artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler (1842-1922) or the Kentville connection with him and his work.

Fowler was a “panoramic artist,” and he is noted for sketching and publishing hundreds of detailed maps of towns and village across North America. During his lifetime he visited Canada, eventually arriving in Nova Scotia where he drew panoramic views of various areas. A collection of Fowler’s Nova Scotia sketches can be found in the Nova Scotia Museum.

In 1879 Fowler found his way to Kentville and while there produced a sketch of the town. His sketch, which he called a “Bird’s eye View of Kentville,” looks down upon the town from the site of the Valley Regional Hospital. Fowler issued color prints of the sketch, and at least two are still in existence. Kentville historian Louis Comeau had one in his maps pertaining to the town but it is now part of the Nova Scotia Museum collection. Another copy has been in the Dennison family for several generations and is now the property of Fred and Kay (Dennison) Ward of Kentville.

Thanks to Mr. Ward (and the Town of Kentville) I have a copy of this print. I must say that it looks more like a photograph than a map; or to put it another way, it looks like a sketch of the town made from an aerial photograph. Fowler shows streets, commercial buildings, churches and the school, for example, and it isn’t difficult to pretty well see what Kentville looked like in 1879.

In his sketch/map or whatever you want to call it, Fowler numbered some of the prominent buildings in Kentville, school, post office, courthouse and railway facilities, for example, and these are listed underneath. According to the map, Kentville in 1879 had five churches, the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist and Catholic. The sketch shows that four hotels operated in the town in 1879, the Lorne Villa, Riviera House, Kentville Hotel and Webster House, but there may have been one or two more.

Up on a hill above Kentville and immediately east of the Valley Regional Hospital, Fowler has sketched a magnificent building which must have been the pride of citizens. This was the three-storey Kentville Exhibition Building, which obviously was built at least as early as 1879; according to Kentville historian Louis Comeau, this building was destroyed in a fire in September of 1900. I believe this was one of the earliest agricultural exhibits around Kentville, but I have to admit difficulty in digging out facts about this structure.

I’m indebted to Louis Comeau for enlightening me on one of the most prominent Kentville buildings in 1879. Fowler showed Scotia Hall, which was located on the north-west corner where Webster Street joins Cornwallis Street, as one of the largest buildings in downtown Kentville. I checked four historical sources and couldn’t find Scotia Hall mentioned, but Mr. Comeau knew all about it.

Scotia Hall apparently was an early attempt to build and operate a combination mini mall, business and social centre. In it at street level were various small stores, while the upper building housed business offices and a hall that was used as a clubroom by the fire department. Mr. Comeau told me the building burned down in 1896 while it was still unfinished and the damage was assessed at $21,000.

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