Louis Comeau dubs himself as an “amateur collector of Kentville memorabilia” in his email messages, but I can tell you he’s much more than that. As the author of a splendid book of historical Kentville photographs and as a decades long collector of documents, artefacts and such, all pertaining to Kentville, Comeau rightly could call himself the town’s unofficial historian.
In other words, an “amateur collector” he definitely is not. No one, and I emphasize absolutely no one, has amassed as much historical material on Kentville as Louis Comeau has. About a decade ago, for example, I interviewed Comeau for a newspaper column and he said then his database listed about 5,000 historical artefacts he had collected, all of them relating to Kentville. When I talked to him several years later the database had grown to include over 7,500 artefacts. Comeau is still adding to the database and his most recent estimate has it at just over 9,000 and counting.
Comeau began collecting historical artefacts and documents on Kentville after he and his brother inherited their father’s estate. Dr. Lin Comeau, a dentist who practiced in Kentville from 1949 to 1975, was a well-known collector of Kings County artefacts and antiques. “He had a wide range of interests when he collected,” Louis Comeau said in effect, “but he seemed to concentrate on the historical stuff.”
In 1955, Dr. Comeau purchased the A. A. Thompson house on Wickwire Hill. “This is when my father began collecting in earnest,” Comeau said. Dr. Comeau decided to “fill the house with appropriate furnishings to suit the age of the house (circa 1900). Well, this really got out of hand when the entire house (a two and a half storey Queen Ann revival) and two adjacent two-storey carriage houses became filled with antiques.
“It became quite an eclectic collection indeed; everything from hatpin holders to a horse drawn surrey (a carriage with a fringe on top) to a complete 1920s general store. Also included were thousands of old papers and photographs from Kentville and its various businesses. My father collected enough items set up an old-time country store, a dental office and a cooperage on his property, all depicting life as it was in Kentville in the 19th century. I eventually organised all these items into a museum in the carriage house.”
Comeau said he carried on the work his father started, deciding to specialize in artefacts, records and anything historical that pertained solely to Kentville. After his father died in 1975, “I continued on collecting anything of interest and importance from the town and also started to catalogue the entire collection.”
The result of Comeau’s specializing on Kentville, of carrying on his father’s legacy, is unbelievable. Walk into the basement of his home in north end Kentville and you enter a magnificent museum in miniature, all devoted to the history of the town. In a way it’s like stepping back in time. Comeau’s collection provides an extensive overview of the town’s history going back over 100 years. The photographs alone are a provincial treasure but there’s much more than pictures in his collection. On a previous tour of his museum, for example, Comeau showed me a studio camera used by famed Valley photographer A. L. Hardy, who was based in Kentville from 1892 until 1935 and was the official photographer for the Dominion Atlantic Railway.
Many of Hardy’s prized Kentville photographs are in Comeau’s collection. In addition to the Hardy prints, Comeau also has about 600 old photographs dating from 1878. His collection also includes some 100 books and pamphlets, old calendars, mementoes from long gone Kentville stores and industries, old Kentville newspapers, and a mind boggling collection of Kentville oriented calendars, pins, badges, ledgers, signs, maps, posters, medals, watches and postcards.
Comeau concedes that despite the current size of his collection his work isn’t done; he’s still digging into Kentville’s history, attempting currently for example to pinpoint the location of houses, churches and stores that once stood in the town and have disappeared. It’s an obsession in a way. If a little piece of Kentville history is missing from his collection, Comeau says he won’t rest until he finds it and adds it to his database.
Surprisingly, he’s still uncovering historic tidbits on Kentville and adding them to his database. “This work takes all of my free time,” he says. “You have to be a detective to date some of the artefacts I’ve found and sometimes I feel like Sherlock Holmes.”