Former businessman recalls growing up, working in Hantsport

Ashley Thompson
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The grocery store John Harvie’s father opened in Hantsport in 1920 is now a sign of the times.

Once a staple in the community, the building that housed Harvie’s Store for 57 years sits vacant, the interior gutted. Exposed wooden studs serve as evidence of stalled renovations.

If buildings could talk, Harvie knows this one would have a few tales to tell.


Dirt roads and five-cent cones

Harvie was born three years after his father,Leland, opened the store formerly located at 34 William Street.

Growing up in Hantsport in the 1920s and 1930s, Harvie remembers the town as a quiet retirement village in the process of rebuilding following the collapse of the shipbuilding industry.

“History is sort of repeating itself,” the 91-year-old said, alluding to the loss of Fundy Gypsum in 2011 and the 2012 closure of the Minas Basin Pulp and Power Company’s mill in Hantsport.

Residents mainly travelled the dirt roads of Hantsport by foot or horse and buggy to get where they were going when Harvie was a boy.

Summerville’s steam-powered Rotundus ferry carried passengers from Hantsport across the Minas Basin to Windsor and Newport Landing if they had to leave town. But they seldom left.

For the most part, everything one could possibly need was found within town limits. Most of the bare necessities could be purchased at Harvie’s Store.

“People would come in with a little list of groceries and you would wait on them.”

Local farmers supplied the store with the fresh veggies and meat, and staff would hand deliver orders to the homes of customers unable to come to them.

“People would call up on the telephone, give an order, and within an hour or so their groceries would arrive at their back door. That was the way to shop in those days.”

The staples of the day included bulk orders of sugar, rolled oats, split peas, dates, raisins and salt cod.

“The paydays were twice a month so the employees would run a bill, then on paydays they would come in and cash their cheque and they'd pay their bills — hopefully.”

Money was scarce, yet life seemed simpler. 

“We were all poor, but we didn't know it because everybody was the same. So we were perfectly happy being poor,” he said.

Five cents, Harvie added, was enough to buy an ice cream at the Yeaton’s Candy Factory on Station Street.

“It was a great place to grow up. As long as we came for meals, we could go anywhere and do anything,” he said.

“Other than if we fell out of a tree or something, we weren’t in any danger and our parents never worried about us — they should have. We did things that we never told our parents.”


The glory days

Harvie, a trained teletype operator, joined the Army in 1943. He accepted communications roles in England, Belgium and Holland during the Second World War.

He returned home in the late 1940s to help his father with the store, and eventually took over the family business.

“After the war things started changing and have been changing ever since,” he said.

Horses were replaced with trucks, the dirt roads were covered in pavement and people were coming and going more often.

Harvie added an extension to the store to make room for grocery carts and refrigerators when it came time to modernize.

It was there; in the store his father built into a successful business during the height of The Great Depression, where Harvie realized that the most important element of a community is its people.

“The thing was, in those days I knew everybody in town,” he said.

He traces his glory days in Hantsport back to the 1940s to 1960s, the years he married Evelyn Hart and started a family. 

“We were busy and people had money to spend and places to go,” he said.

Harvie closed the store in 1977, feeling it was too challenging to compete with supermarket chains offering a larger selection of goods at reduced prices.

He no longer knows everybody. Some of his closest neighbours are complete strangers.

But he remains in Hantsport. Why?

“It was just a good place to live and I had no desire to go on to something else. So, habit you might say. I liked it here — still do.”

The tiny town is still peaceful and the people, while less familiar, are still friendly. He doesn’t foresee this changing if the Town of Hantsport is dissolved and he becomes a resident of a neighbouring municipality.

“People make a community,” he said.




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