Larry Keddy’s expertise, among other things, lies in the field of what he calls ‘historic photo identification.”
To give an example of how he works, Keddy identifies the photograph of Evangeline Beach accompanying this column as likely taken in the early 1920s. “I’m basing this on the kind of cars shown, the style of the license plate, which is unreadable, but looks like those issued in 1922,” Keddy says.
“Finally, the ‘boater’ style straw hat worn by one of the gentlemen standing near the edge of the bank was popular at summer events of all kinds during that period. My guess is the photo may have been taken by (Wolfville photographer) Edson Graham (1869-1956) who was very active at the time and it looks like his style.”
The photograph tells an interesting story so let’s take a closer look at it: The ladies and men appear to be dressed in Sunday going-to-church clothes rather than for a sojourn at the seashore. There are sunbathers on the beach, people wading in the surf; in the background on the bank are a couple of buildings that could be summer cottages; in the background also is a beach house on what appears to be either a jut in the bank or a man-made extension of the shoreline. A picnic is about to take place. Near the vehicles, picnic tables are set up and a couple of ladies are busy preparing lunch.
There’s much more to be read in the old photograph, which by the way was featured on a postcard. At the time the photograph was taken, Evangeline Beach was one of the most popular summer resorts in western Nova Scotia. Its life as a resort started when Nathaniel Eagles began selling portions of his Long Island land along the shore for private cottages. He also sold land along the Beach Road to one Percy Porter, whose aim was to build a tourist resort.
As the late Douglas Eagles tells it in his Eagles genealogy (published in 1982) around the time Porter was building cottages, a “Mr. Black and later a Mr. Manning bought lands to the east of the Beach Road and developed a thriving tourist trade, with cottages, a dance hall and a hotel. The cottage area became known as Millionaire’s Row and the resort as Evangeline Beach.”
Another source, an essay written by the late Eileen Bishop in a privately published booklet in 1996 has a different version of how Evangeline Beach became a popular summertime destination. Bishop writes that in 1896, Long Island resident Charles A. Patriquin formed a partnership with Franklin P. Rockwell to start a picnic and playground area for the general public near the beach. “The beach grew in popularity and by the time the hotel was built in 1900, a brisk tourist trade had developed.”
Bishop writes that the hotel was situated on the beach front and was three storeys high, contained a store, ice house and storerooms. Later, Bishop says, an Island resident, Alex Fullerton, “built a spacious farmhouse on the Front Island Road and opened the commodious building to summer visitors.” By 1909, Rockwell was no longer in the picture and the beach property was owned by W. Marshall Black of Wolfville. A few years later the tourist area was expanded by Black to contain 20 cottages, a stable for 40 horses, a picnic area and tennis courts. At one time, according to Bishop, there was a small postal outlet and a service station.
Looking at Evangeline Beach today, you wonder why it originally attracted so many people in earlier times. Perhaps it was the vista and possibly this was one of the few areas in Kings County where a natural clearing overlooked an inviting piece of seashore. A 1909 tourist brochure mentions a bandstand, picnic grounds, rental cottages and a large building – “The Casino” – that was available for concerts, dances, private parties. The Casino eventually became the Starlight Room, a dance hall that reached its peak in popularity during the swing band era of the 1940s and 1950s.
The Starlight Room is still there and a few dances are held in it today – two or three every summer. The hotel was torn down decades ago but there’s a motel near the beach, a popular 223-site campground with a swimming pool, canteen and a mini golf course. On the bank overlooking the beach is a viewing station which is popular during the annual migration of sandpipers.
The once attractive beach has changed over time, however. According to residents, much of the sand cover on the beach has been ravaged and swept away by changes in tidal currents after the Windsor causeway was built.