REMEMBERING A KENTVILLE AUTO PIONEER (October 23/07)

He was one of the pioneers in the automotive business in Nova Scotia, and a major figure in a firm that in the early 1900s manufactured automobiles in Kentville; he was civic minded as well, serving four years as a town councilor, and in 1916, 1917, 1921, and 1924 to 1927 he served as Kentville’s Mayor. He died in office late in 1927 with only two weeks left in his final term as Mayor.

On the personal level he was an ardent sportsman, maintaining a racing stable for many years; he was one of the first Nova Scotians, perhaps one of the first Canadians to travel across Canada from Nova Scotia to the Prairies by automobile; he accomplished this feat in 1911 for the purpose of setting up a Canada-wide automobile dealership.

This was Kings County native A. L. Pelton, who was known to his friends and contemporaries as “Arch.” Born in Billtown in 1872 to Henry and Almira Pelton, Arch left home in his teens to work in Massachusetts. He was in his mid-30s when he returned to Kings County to sell farm machinery in Berwick; here he gained a reputation as a first rate mechanic who knew his way around the relatively new automobile engines.

Pelton’s obituary notes that in 1910, he “removed to Kentville and entered the automobile business with the McKay brothers, As a mechanic, Pelton was in on the birth of the McKay Motor Car, but earlier he was distributing automobiles in Nova Scotia and learning what made them tick by taking them apart. William H. McCurdy’s history of the McKay Car says Pelton joined the McKay brothers as head mechanic when they began to manufacture automobiles in Kentville in 1910 in the facilities of the Nova Scotia Carriage Company.

Apparently Pelton remained behind when the McKay moved their operation to Amherst in the winter of 1912-1913. While in Kentville, however, Pelton and Dan McKay drove 2600 miles across Canada to Regina in an attempt to set up dealerships. Until two years before his death in 1927, Pelton maintained an auto dealership in Kentville and Halifax where he was the distributor for Franklin, Gray Dort, Studebaker, Oldsmobile and several other makes of automobile.

Pelton is said to have sold some of the first automobiles in Nova Scotia, two Oldsmobiles which he purchased in New York in 1904; at the time, say William H. McCurdy in his McKay Motor Car history, there were fewer than 20 automobiles in Nova Scotia. For a time, Pelton maintained one of the largest automotive dealerships in the Maritimes; his activities in this field must qualify him as one of the early automotive pioneers.

On his death, The Advertiser ran a lengthy obituary that saluted his business accomplishments and civic record, stating that “much of the remarkable progress this town (Kentville) has made in the past two decades was due to his efforts.” While he had been suffering from ill health for three years, The Advertiser said, his death in his mid-50s came as a shock to the community.

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