“Wolfville is likely to have a new industry,” a Maritime trade magazine (The Critic) announced in its November issue in1891. Quoting a piece in Wolfville’s newspaper, The Acadian, the magazine reported that a “laboratory is to be built at once for the preparation of a class of German-American remedies, approved by the best science of the day.
“The Skoda Discovery Company is the name of the corporation. It is composed of a number of American gentlemen, who are putting the same line of remedies on the market in the United States, and under a Dominion patent are about to start a Canadian branch of their business in this village.”
The success of the enterprise may reasonably be expected, the notice in the newspaper concluded. George W. Borden, a prominent Wolfville resident and businessman, whom the Wolfville history, Mud Creek, identifies as a Skoda stockholder, was named as the superintendent of the factory’s construction. Borden was a town councilor for at least seven terms, a position he may have used to ease Skoda’s move to Wolfville.
As reported in the Federal Sessional Papers, dated March 25, 1886, the Kerr Vegetable Evaporating Company of Canning displayed its products at the Canadian exhibit in the International Exhibition, Antwerp, Belgium. In the papers, a letter from Charles Tupper to the Hon. Secretary of State, Ottawa, presented the results of Canada’s participation in the exhibition, noting that the Kerr Company received honorable mention.
In the February 6, 1891, issue of the Canadian Manufacturer Magazine reported that according to the Kentville NS Star, the Kerr Vegetable Evaporating Company “have received an order from the British admiralty office for the supply of nearly 10,000 pounds of evaporated vegetables for the British navy.” Kerr, said the magazine also are “receiving large orders from the United States and Upper Canada.”
That same year, the Kerr Company, again showing its evaporated vegetable line, represented Canada at the 1891 International Exhibition in Kingston, Jamaica. As reported in the Federal Sessional Papers, Kerr, now located in Kentville, received a gold medal for its products.
In the History of Kings County, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton mentions a little-known historian, Dr. William Pitt Brechin, and his genealogical research. Included in the county history is Brechin’s brief account on the origin of Kings County roads.
However, as Doug Vogler pointed out in a post I received recently, “many do not know that the bulk of the research for the history… was done by Brechin,” which was something Eaton downplayed.
In his ongoing search of earlier newspapers and other publications, Vogler often comes up with little-known historical nuggets like this about Kings County. In a January 1904 issue of the Berwick Register, for example, Vogler found evidence that someone other than Eaton contemplated writing a history of Kings County. The evidence is in a letter J. Calder Gordon wrote to the Register, indicating he was planning a county history based on the “considerable work” done by Brechin. Gordon wrote that he was “gathering additional material to complete (Brechin’s) valuable work.”
In the book Sods, Soil, and Spades, marine biologist J. Sherman Bleakney writes that it is doubtful few if any of the dyking tools the Acadians used in the 18th century can be found intact today. Bleakney had in mind the spade the Acadians used to build dykes, a tool with a centuries-old history.
However, given its long history, Bleakney said he could easily imagine dyking spades becoming worthy of study. He referred to the spade as “a collectible item of historical significance.”
Bleakney offers just enough history on the Acadian spade to intrigue potential researchers. Take the spade’s origin, for example: While perfected as a dyke building tool by the Acadians, its forerunner was found in the coastal areas of France long before French settlers brought it here in the 1600s. In the book A Great and Noble Scheme, John Mack Faragher notes that “the Acadian spade… bears a strong resemblance to the French saltmakers’ fraye, used for maintaining the earthen wall surrounding salt pans.”
Within a year of his death in 1859, Charles R. Prescott’s estate in Starr’s Point was on the market.
On September 8, 1860, the Halifax issue of The British Colonist carried an advertisement notifying the public the Prescott property would be sold at a public auction. The property was described as “one of the most desirable situations (in Nova Scotia) for a gentleman who may wish a country residence.” Following a detailed description of the house and outbuildings, the advertisement noted that the 100-acre property contained orchards with a great variety of “the choicest fruits in the province.”
If we fast forward about 70 years, we find that after passing through a succession of owners, the Prescott house is in ruins. The house had been abandoned for several years when around 1930 Charles Prescott’s great-granddaughter purchased it. Mary Allison Prescott restored the house and took up residence there (circa 1940) with her two sisters. When Mary Allison Prescott died in 1969, as per a previous agreement with her, the house was taken over by the Nova Scotia Museum.
Capt. Ray C. Riley of Hantsport is on a crusade.
For decades, Riley has been striving to have Hantsport recognized as the original home of the apple blossom festival; and he may have a point. “The bottom line is that when it comes to the festival, Hantsport was first in holding an apple blossom celebration in the Valley,” Riley said when I talked with him recently. “Kentville was a latecomer and it only took over the festival after it became too big for Hantsport.”
To substantiate this claim, Riley has researched and written a history of Hantsport’s festival celebrations, which began in 1927. The history follows below, but first we should note that no one questions Riley’s statement about Hantsport holding several celebrations with apple blossom themes at least six years before Kentville. Hantsport had its apple blossom queens and its apple blossom balls in the 1920s, just as Kentville did when it started what became a Valley-wide festival in 1933.
The late Bill Chase must have been driving taxi around town when he realized Kentville had changed drastically since he was a boy; for one thing, many of the stores and houses he remembered had disappeared.
Chase was born in Kentville in 1926 and went to school at Kings County Academy. He operated Star Taxi in Kentville in the 1950s and likely noticed firsthand how the town had changed since his school days. He decided to record those changes and a detailed street map, which he left to a niece, was the result.
Why Chase decided to make a map of Kentville’s retail section as it existed in 1938 is immaterial. But historians such as Kentville’s Louis Comeau are grateful that he did. “The town has changed since the map was created,” Comeau said, “and many memorable buildings aren’t there anymore. Chase puts names on those buildings, pinpoints where they were located, making it a valuable record and a great research tool.”
Few people today recall that Burns, Palmeter, and Baker are names that once were synonymous with the Apple Blossom Festival. At one time or another, Frank J. Burns, Bob Palmeter and Clifford Baker have been credited with pioneering the festival; all three Kentville men were prominent as organizers during its formative years and all contributed to its early success.
While we don’t know for sure who came up with the idea, we know that in 1933 the Apple Blossom Festival was held in Kentville for the first time and various Valley towns participated. We also know that the format used in summer carnivals hosted in Kentville (1926 and 1928) was adopted by the festival fathers. But the identity of the individual – if it was an individual – who first promoted the blossom festival has been lost.
That said, there are clues to whom this far-sighted person might be. One of the best candidates is Frank J. Burns. He often spoke of the festival as if it was his idea and he said on more than one occasion he started it. Burns played a prominent role on the committee organizing the first festival and was definitely a founding father.
To most people, Church Street is just that, a street a few miles north of Kentville that was named after a church built there in earlier times.
However, Church Street is a community and is recognized as such in Place Names and Places of Nova Scotia. This book, compiled by Charles Bruce Fergusson and published in 1967, says that Church Street “was so named from Church and Glebe lands on which St. John’s Anglican Church was built.” As early as 1855, Church Street had a postal way station and a school by 1836, all of which established it as a community and not just another county street.
Fergusson ignores the possibility that it was the Acadians who first built a church on the road that eventually became Church Street. This is the accepted folklore.
When Elmer Skaling purchased a small piece of land on the northwest corner of Exhibition and Cornwallis Street in 1921, he probably didn’t think that the diner he eventually built there would still be serving food decades after he was gone.
Skaling choose the site wisely and with foresight. It’s no coincidence that the place he picked for his diner was on the main route between the military camp at Aldershot and the town of Kentville. The location guaranteed a constant flow of potential customers going by his door and the restaurant flourished in the late 30s to the mid-1950s, the period Camp Aldershot held thousands of soldiers training to go to war.
Today only a few seniors remember Elmer’s but for decades it was one of the most popular lunch counters in Kings County. Skaling opened his doors in 1939 and the diner has the distinction of having serving food on the site for 80 years; few stores, lunch counters, diners or restaurants in Kings County can make this claim; and while it wasn’t unique, Elmers was a step above most dining places in the county. The popularity of the diner, according to stories handed down from people who patronized the store, had a lot to do with his wife Jennie’s home cooking and the specialty of the house, Elmer’s famous chickenburger.