WIDE AWAKE MERCHANTS – KENTVILLE STORES IN 1898 (September 19/11)

“The commodious dry goods establishment known as Whitehall is one of the oldest in Kentville, Mr. Ryan having been in business sine 1868 …. Mr. Ryan is an ex-mayor of the town and still finds time for public as well as business duties.”

It’s a few years after Kentville incorporated and the town is thriving. Kentville is doing so well by 1898 that The Herald, a Halifax daily, devoted an entire page in its June 8 edition to the town’s merchants. The above, one of over 30 businesses profiled on the page, refers to J. W. Ryan, one of Kentville’s prominent citizens through the latter part of the 19th century. Ryan served as the town’s mayor in 1894-1895 and in 1913-1914.

I came across a copy of The Herald page in the archives of the Kings County Museum recently and what caught my eye was a bold five column heading – “Kentville’s Wide Awake Merchants” – followed by a sub heading, “the “enterprising firms who make a reputation for Kings County.”

Reading on, I found a series of profiles, much of it historical, on various Kentville retail and manufacturing businesses. Except for one or two business that survived until recent times, most of the firms profiled in The Herald page are long gone and forgotten. One of the exceptions is the firm of T. P Calkin, which was established in 1847 and in 1898 had been in business for over a half century.

The historical information in the profiles should be of interest locally since Kentville has an incorporation anniversary this year. Some of the retail firms profiled were established in Kentville many years before incorporation and as the Herald indicated, contributed to the town becoming the business and shopping center of Kings County. One of the firms, the N.S. Carriage Co., became a pioneer in the automotive field when it built the McKay car in Kentville. T. P. Calkin, became a province wide leader in the hardware business. One of its original partners, W. Wylie Rockwell, later left the firm and established Rockwell Limited which still bears his name.

Another of the firms that remained in business until recent times and is mentioned by the Herald is Ross’ Bookstore. I’m not sure when this store closed but it was in business on Webster Street late in the 1950s. When it was profiled in The Herald the store had been operating for 20 years.

Also profiled by The Herald, and like T. P. Calkin, Rockwell Limited and Ross’ Bookstore, in business late in the 20th century, was the grocery firm of DeWolfe and Demont. This store, in business for decades when the Herald profiled it, will be remembered by senior citizens today as the Red Store.

Some of the “long gone and forgotten” stores in business in 1895 were a few I never heard of before discovering the Herald page. Among them were Leo Grindon & Co., The Boston Millinery Store, A. C. Moore, W. I. Grono, Dodge & Sealy and Dodge & Dennison Co. Ltd.

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