TWO DISTINGUISHED SONS OF KENTVILLE (November 11/13)

(In a recent column I looked at E. Wylie Rockwell, the man who established a business operating in downtown Kentville for over a century.  This week the little known but no less distinguished brother of a Kentville historian is profiled.)

“To the memory of my brother Frank Herbert Eaton, M.A., D.C.L. this book is affectionately inscribed,” writes Arthur W. H. Eaton in the History of Kings County.

Most readers who delve into the county history likely only glance at and quickly pass over the page with Eaton’s dedication to his brother; with no thought of whom Frank Herbert Eaton might be or why the history is dedicated to him.  Faithful to reproducing exactly as it originally was published, the online edition of the history also contains the dedication.

So, who was Frank Herbert Eaton, you may ask.  First of all, typical of many of the Planter Eatons who settled in Kings County after the Acadian expulsion, Frank Herbert Eaton was a distinguished scholar, much in the same vein as his even more notable brother.  Both were Kentville natives, a fact often overlooked when the town’s distinguished past residents are being recognised and saluted.

Generally, little is known of the Kentville Eatons, other than one of them, Arthur, is famous as the compiler of the county history.  Beginning with Arthur’s and Frank’s father William, all were involved in the town’s civil affairs.  William served for many years as inspector of schools for Kings County and when Kentville was incorporated in 1886 he served on its first council, later accepting the double office of town clerk and treasurer.

To some extent Frank Herbert Eaton followed in his father’s footsteps.  Born in Kentville in 1851 he was educated in Kentville’s grammar school and Horton Academy.  In the biographical section of his Kings County history, Arthur Eaton notes that Frank entered Acadia in 1869 and after graduating in 1873 with a B.A. went to Harvard.  Then follows a brief sketch of his career as a teacher in Nova Scotia and the United States, with more than a few omissions.

Surprisingly, no note is made in Frank Herbert Eaton’s biographical sketch of his time in Kentville as a town officer and newspaper publisher.  Arthur Eaton failed to mention his brother served as town clerk in Kentville for several years.  No mention is made of Frank’s tenure as publisher of The Advertiser either.  Here’s what his obituary had to say about that:

“Mr. Eaton will be known to all our readers as the former editor and publisher of The Advertiser.  He purchased this paper in 1893, then called the New Star from the late James Stewart and conducted it until 1897 when failing health compelled him to seek another climate.”

There’s a 20 year period between Eaton’s graduation from Acadia in 1873 and taking over the helm of The Advertiser.  In that period Eaton served in Kentville, studied for two terms at Harvard, taught at Amherst Academy, was professor of mathematics in the Normal School in Truro and taught in the Boston Latin School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  When and why he returned to Kentville isn’t definitely known but it had to be no later than 1893 when he purchased the newspaper.

Ill health forced Eaton to sell The Advertiser in 1897.  On the advice of his doctor Eaton moved to British Columbia.  He was tubercular and it was believed at the time the climate in British Columbia would be beneficial.  Around this time Kentville was being looked at seriously as an area well suited to treat tubercular patients, so Franks move there for his health was puzzling.  That two of his brothers were living in Victoria at the time may have been a factor in his move.

In Victoria Frank Herbert Eaton once again entered the field of education.  In 1897 Eaton assumed control of public education in the city of Victoria, a position he maintained until his death in 1908 from tuberculosis.  He was 57 at the time of his death and writes Arthur, he died in the prime of his life and “had earned himself an enduring place among Canada’s leading men.”

A fitting tribute.  Let’s hope when the roll is being compiled of leading, prestigious Kentville sons, Frank Herbert Eaton’s name will be on it.

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