Re­mem­ber­ing Kentville’s black­smith days

Valley Journal Advertiser - - NEWS - Ed Cole­man

Peo­ple to­day find it dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that even when au­to­mo­biles were run­ning up and down Kentville’s streets, there were at least two, and pos­si­bly three, black­smiths still op­er­at­ing in­side the town lim­its.

This isn’t an­cient his­tory, by the way. Peo­ple liv­ing to­day re­mem­ber well the black­smith shop op­er­ated by Buck Ben­nett at the cor­ner of Main Street and Ch­ester Av­enue. One of my friends, who is 95, tells me Ben­nett was renowned in the county for shoe­ing horses that were too “trou­ble­some” for other smiths. Dur­ing the 1930s, when lo­cal hockey teams were com­pet­ing in Bos­ton, Ben­nett was also renowned as a player for the Kentville Wild­cats. On Dec. 28, 1943, Ben­nett was killed in a bomb­ing raid near Or­tona in Italy dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. At the time, he was serv­ing as a trades­man with the Cana­dian Army Ord­nance Corp. Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal lore, Ben­nett went over­seas as an over­age sol­dier be­cause crafts­men were sorely need for the war ef­fort. That same lore says he served at a re­ally young age in the First World War.

Ac­cord­ing to Mosher’s Direc­tory, in the mid 1950s there were three ma­jor car deal­er­ships op­er­at­ing in Kentville and two just out­side the town lim­its, in Cold­brook and New Mi­nas. Mosher’s Direc­tory also listed 15 ser­vice sta­tions in and im­me­di­ately out­side Kentville; plus, if you’ll par­don the 1960s slang, a whole slew of re­tail stores of­fer­ing au­to­mo­tive sup­plies.

This would in­di­cate that au­to­mo­biles were well es­tab­lished in and around Kentville by the 1950s and black­smiths were an­cient his­tory. Well, not quite. While Mosher’s Direc­tory fails to list any black­smiths when the 195859 edi­tion was pub­lished, one was still go­ing strong in Kentville at the time.

In fact, when this Direc­tory came out, John Fitch had been op­er­at­ing his own black­smith shop in Kentville since 1915 and had worked as a smith in the town sev­eral years be­fore that. His shop was lo­cated by the Corn­wal­lis River (at the time 119 Corn­wal­lis Street) where the re­cently de­mol­ished li­brary stood, and about where the new bridge, now in the plan­ning stage, will be built. John Fitch op­er­ated a black­smith shop in Kentville un­til 1965.

Fitch has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the last old-time black­smith in Kentville. He ap­pren­ticed with an­other town black­smith, Thomas W. Cox, whose shop (opened in 1879) was lo­cated at the foot of Gal­lows Hill. Fitch ap­pren­ticed with Cox from ei­ther 1903 or 1904 un­til 1915, at which time he pur­chased the busi­ness.

In The Devil’s Half Acre, Ma­bel G. Nichols lists three black­smiths op­er­at­ing in Kentville in 1907 and 1908. Th­ese were the afore­men­tioned Thomas W. Cox, along with W. O. Forsythe and Fred­er­ick Haystead. An­other source, Hutchin­son’s pro­vin­cial direc­tory for 1864, lists three black­smiths op­er­at­ing in Kentville.

None of this is sur­pris­ing, of course, since in the age of oxen and horses, black­smiths were a given. What is sur­pris­ing is that af­ter trac­tors re­placed oxen and horses, John Fitch and Buck Ben­nett con­tin­ued to run black­smith shops in Kentville well into the 20ths cen­tury. A third black­smith also had a shop in Kentville at the same time as Ben­nett and Fitch. This was Lewis John Lyons, who, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by Louis Comeau, op­er­ated a smithy shop from 1914 to 1930. Comeau has com­piled a list of Kentville black­smiths and from 1864 un­til John Fitch re­tired, some 50 ei­ther had shops in the town or worked for the rail­way and the Nova Sco­tia Car­riage Fac­tory.

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