Thanks mainly to the railroad, Kentville late in the 19th century was firmly established as the leading retail and business centre in Kings County. The W & A Railway had solidified its position in the Valley by merging with the Western Counties Railway and incorporating by an Act of Parliament in 1885 as the Dominion Atlantic Railway. With its headquarters remaining in Kentville, this incorporation would solidify Kentville’s claim as the dominant town in the Annapolis Valley.
In 1885, Kentville boasted five or six small hotels (the number depending on which source you accessed), an assortment of retail stores, a few industries and a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia. Yet to come a few years later was the magnificent Aberdeen Hotel, which was destined to be the finest hotel of the time in the Annapolis Valley.
Late in the 19th century, iconic photographer A.L. Hardy arrived in Kentville and quickly set about preserving images of the town. One of the images Hardy captured was of Aberdeen Street looking south from the future site of the Aberdeen Hotel. It is the scene in this photograph that Centreville artist Ed Hollett used as a model to create a painting of Kentville as it appeared in 1885. Hollett used a photograph from Louis Comeau’s A. L. Hardy collection. The painting was commissioned several years ago by the Kentville Development Corporation Ltd. and is currently being raffled by the Kentville Historical Society. This is a fundraiser for the Society and tickets are available at $5 each.
The person lucky enough to win the Hollett painting will have what is described as an “original mixed media” work measuring 26 x 32. Its value is estimated at between $3,500 to $4,000
In the painting, Hollett accurately captures what Hardy preserved with his camera – an unpaved Aberdeen Street with the long-gone St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church dominating the scene (the Royal Bank of Canada now occupies this site). On the left, just before the church, is the T. L. Dodge hardware store (now the site of the White Family Funeral Home chapel). Opposite the church on the corner of Aberdeen and Webster Street, and still standing today, is what once was McLeod’s hotel. This building now holds an assortment of business offices.
Partially hidden by trees, a locomotive of the Dominion Atlantic Railway huffs and puffs as it prepares for its daily run into Halifax. In his painting, Hollett eliminated some of the tree cover that was in Hardy’s photograph and the locomotive and hotel just beyond it are more visible. A horse and buggy trots up the street, which Hardy caught with his camera and Hollett faithfully reproduced.
All in all, the painting is a magnificent recapturing of an iconic Hardy photograph showing Kentville as it was over 150 years ago.