Kentville loses a valued citizen, The Advertiser said on announcing his death in the summer of 1932. When he died at age 89, the newspaper further hailed George E. Calkin as the town’s most outstanding citizen.
And indeed he was. If a list is ever compiled of the men and women who contributed most to Kentville’s growth since its inception, George E. Calkin’s name would be at the top of the rolls. Yet, despite what were successful pioneering efforts to establish a board of trade and a hospital here, and a lengthy association with Kentville as a businessman and postmaster, George E. Calkin is practically forgotten today, only remembered perhaps by a few historical writers and museum people.
I hope to rectify this to some extent in this column. My interest in George E. Calkin was piqued when I recently found a story about him published in The Advertiser in the 1920s. Since then, I’ve scoured local history books and obituary files to see what I could find about Mr. Calkin. Arthur W. H. Eaton mentions him twice in his Kings County history. Quoting another historian, Eaton says that George E. was the “pioneer advocate of Boards of Trade in Kings County.” It was through Calkin’s “spirited and persistent efforts that the Kentville Board was founded in 1886.”
Eaton also says that Calkin was a “prominent member of the Calkin family in the county,” and that he was “for many years postmaster of the town, and long engaged in business there.”
George E. Calkin undoubtedly should best be remembered for the prominent role he played in establishing the Blanchard Fraser Memorial Hospital. In her Kentville history (The Devil’s Half Acre) Mabel G. Nichols writes that the hospital “had its beginning in 1921” when Calkin started a movement for “erection of such an institute” which resulted in a hospital commission. In 1928, about four years before he died, Calkin turned over his entire real estate holdings valued at some $40,000 to the commission, practically ensuring the hospital would be a go. Calkin’s role in this respect is confirmed by Louis Comeau in his book, Historic Kentville.
However, when the hospital was eventually built and officially opened in 1938, Calkins name wasn’t on it. That honor went to the wife of A. Milne Fraser who willed $30,000 to the hospital with the stipulation that it be named in memory of his spouse. Calkin’s pivotal role in the formation of the hospital apparently had been forgotten.
George E. Calkin was born in Steam Mill and as a young man worked in the firm of Benjamin Calkin (later T. P. Calkin Ltd.) before starting his own business. As Eaton points out, he was a prominent member of the Kings County Calkins and a Planter descendant. It’s said that he was no more than a distant cousin of the founder of the prominent Kentville firm of T. P. Calkin. However, in the existing photographs of Benjamin Calkin’s son, T. P. Calkin, and George E. Calkin, the two appear to be twins and there may have been a closer relationship. Is it possible he’s the same “A. E. Calkin” that Mabel Nichols mentions as working for his uncle, Benjamin Calkin, before starting his own business?
Calkin was the Kentville postmaster for a decade (1867-1876), a position he relinquished to open up a hardware business in the town. He eventually acquired what was known as the Scotia Block in Downtown Kentville.