ED COLEMAN HISTORY: Berwick, Kentville and Wolfville a century ago

Ed Coleman
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By Ed Coleman

About 100 years ago, give or take a year, a New Brunswick magazine asked newspaper editors and other luminaries to review the attributes of leading towns in Kings County.  The result was a special edition of the Busy East devoted to promoting the business and tourist potential of Wolfville, Kentville and Berwick, with the eastern end of Annapolis Valley reviewed for good measure.

With the headquarters of the railway and its major facilities established there, the leading county town a century ago was Kentville. Berwick and Wolfville had much to boast about and it’s interesting to see what newspaper editors and leading citizens selected as the main attributes of these towns. 

In most cases, the gentlemen praising Berwick, Kentville and Wolfville singled out the leading retail stores and industries of their respective towns as worth mentioning. 

P. F. Lawson, whom I believe was a printer, wrote Berwick’s contribution to the Busy East’s special edition.  As well as being the “leading town of two valleys,” wrote Lawson, Berwick was into apples in a big, big way 100 years ago. As well as being the headquarters of the sprawling United Fruit Companies of Nova Scotia (with over 40 subsidiary companies along the train tracks) Berwick was the home port of eastern Canada’s biggest apple grower. When it came to growing, packing and exporting apples, no one in eastern Canada came near Sam Chute. 

   At the time Berwick had one of the most modern flour and cereal mills in eastern Canada. The Woodworth Bros. Mill generated its own electricity. Using the railway, it shipped products all over the Maritimes. A “showplace,” the Berwick Nurseries, graced the town, along with a hotel and a combination automotive garage and foundry.

Wolfville, 100 years ago – according to B. O Davison, editor of The Acadian – was a favourite residential centre. “We have modern streets, an abundant supply of purest water, an up-to-date sewerage system (and) electric lighting,” boasted Davison; and, of course, Acadia University, one of the “school centres of Canada.”

In most cases, the gentlemen praising Berwick, Kentville and Wolfville singled out the leading retail stores and industries of their respective towns as worth mentioning.

There were fine hotels in Wolfville 100 years ago, among them Acadia Villa Hotel and Acadia Lodge, but no mention is made of retail stores or industries. The potential of Wolfville as a major seaport hadn’t been realised, writes Davison, who appeared more interested in promoting the town as a “desirable place to live in and move in.”

Reflecting perhaps the size and importance of the town 100 years ago, Kentville was given the biggest spread by the Busy East. “It is the gem of the Valley and the hub of Evangeline land,” writes one of its leading citizens, George E. Calkin.  It helped, of course, that the Dominion Atlantic Railway had its headquarters in the town, along with all the facilities and employees required to keep the trains running. 

Thanks to the railway and the nearby military camp, Kentville was thriving 100 years ago. A major hotel, the Aberdeen, was located downtown, and firms such as T. P Calkin were expanding from Kentville into other areas of the province. A major provincial automobile distributor was located in the town, and the Nova Scotia Power Company was about to set up its headquarters there.

Long since gone and hardly remembered anymore is the Neary Liniment Company. Owned by W. Wylie Rockwell, of Rockwell Ltd. fame, the firm was given its own write-up in the Big East review. At the time, R. L. Mcdonald was operating an “auto livery” in Kentville. Was this perhaps a misspelling of Macdonald and the start of the distinguished Valley firm of Ralph L. Macdonald & Co Ltd?

Looking at these reviews, I’m surprised by attempts to portray each town as a tourist destination. Nearby scenic areas were described in detail, the Look-Off, Cape Blomidon and Grand Pré, for example. Mention was often made of scenic apple orchards near each town, with Kentville described as being in the “centre of the far-famed garden of Nova Scotia.”

Organizations: New Brunswick magazine, United Fruit Companies of Nova Scotia, Woodworth Bros. The Acadian Acadia University Dominion Atlantic Railway Nova Scotia Power Company Neary Liniment Company Rockwell

Geographic location: Kentville, Wolfville, Canada Kings Annapolis Valley Nova Scotia

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  • Phil Vogler
    Phil Vogler
    October 21, 2013 - 09:02

    Hi Ed, P. F. Lawson (in this article) - was Peter Fern Lawson, a regular contributor (many years) to the Register. Mr. Lawson was the son of Thomas Lawson and at one time worked for John E. Woodworth (owner and editor of the Register). Pete is quoted as writing: "My best and greatest friend was John E. Woodworth".

  • Phil Vogler
    October 21, 2013 - 08:57

    P. F. Lawson (in this article) - was Peter Fern Lawson, a regular contributor (many years) to the Register. Mr. Lawson was the son of Thomas Lawson and at one time worked for John E. Woodworth (owner and editor of the Register). Pete is quoted as writing: "My best and greatest friend was John E. Woodworth".

  • Phil Vogler
    Phil Vogler
    October 21, 2013 - 08:44

    Hi Ed, P. F. Lawson (in this article) - was Peter Fern Lawson, a regular contributor (many years) to the Register. Mr. Lawson was the son of Thomas Lawson and at one time worked for John E. Woodworth (owner and editor of the Register). Pete is quoted as writing: "My best and greatest friend was John E. Woodworth".

  • Phil Vogler
    Phil Vogler
    October 20, 2013 - 19:02

    Hi Ed, P F Lawson was P. F. Lawson - was Peter Fern Lawson, a regular contributor (many years) to the Register. Mr. Lawson was the son of Thomas Lawson and at one time worked for John E. Woodworth (owner and editor of the Register). Pete is quoted as writing: "My best and greatest friend was John E. Woodworth". Phil Vogler