WILLIAM H. CHASE – A PIONEER WORTH REMEMBERING (October 24/06)

In my October 3 column, I told the story of how William Henry Chase of Port Williams became a major apple exporter. I based my column on an article Chase wrote for The Advertiser’s 1933 apple blossom magazine. In the article, Chase wrote about his role in building the apple industry, downplaying that he was a major mover and shaker who became a leading figure in Canada’s commercial world.

But despite being a commercial pioneer on the scale of R. A. Jodrey, little is heard today of William Henry Chase. Literally speaking, he is practically unrecognized, even in the little Kings County port where he was born. There are few if any monuments to the man and his accomplishments. In preparing the October 3 column, for example, all I found were brief mentions of Chase in two locally published history books.

Perhaps this is the way Chase wanted it. It was not known for many years, for example, that Chase made a great contribution to the people of Nova Scotia by erecting the Nova Scotia Archives building. Chase was the mysterious “anonymous Archives benefactor,” and he agreed to finance the building only if his role was not disclosed.

On his death in 1933 the Halifax Herald published a lengthy obituary describing Chase’s career and his accomplishments. I’ve been fortunate to obtain a copy. And frankly, after reading it I’m dumbfounded that he accomplished so much and is so little celebrated. Take Chase’s business career, for example, as described in the obituary:

“In 1870 (Chase) undertook to develop the potato trade by an experimental schooner shipment to the West Indies. It proved successful and encouraged him to extend his operations. Five years later he was shipping apples to the United Kingdom, and having bought up all the apples within the district he found it necessary to store them. He accordingly built the first apple warehouse in Nova Scotia. Ten years later (Chase) entered into a contract with a New York dealer to supply all the apples grown in Kings County, sending forward 30,000 barrels. Shipments to the United Kingdom grew until by 1911 he was exporting 500,000 barrels per annum. In later years his operations as an exporter were extended far beyond this figure. One of the highlights of his career was his creation of the port of Port Williams.

“Extending his business after becoming established in fruit, Chase became interested in hydro-power and some 19 years ago, with R. A. Joudrey (sic) and the late C. A. Wright of Wolfville organized the Gaspereau Light, Heat and Power Co. … Out of all this development came the Avon River Power Company … the Gaspereau Co. and the Windsor Electric Co.

“Mr. Chase continued to extend his operations to a wider field,” the obituary noted. “In addition … to being president of the Avon River Power Company, he was a director of the Eastern Trust Company, of the Mersey Power Co., which he helped to form, the Trinidad Electric Co. and the Puerto Rico Railway Co., and more than a (score) of other business organizations. He was one of the prime movers in a scheme that resulted in the Eastern Kings Memorial Hospital.”

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