Valley Journal Advertiser
Recognition for Kentville’s auto pioneer long overdue
“Though it has been well known that Kentville was the site of the first automobile industry in Nova Scotia, and one of the earliest in Canada, public awareness stops there.”
Brent Fox, the late editor of The Advertiser, wrote these words more than a decade ago in a story on the McKay car.
In the article, Fox noted that Nova Scotia “entered the automobile age” in 1908 largely through the efforts of the McKay brothers, Jack and Dan. Fox followed this up with a short profile on Arch Pelton, saluting him as the
production “genius behind the actual of the McKay car.”
Aside from being profiled in William H. McCurdy’s book on the McKay car, which was published in 1967, little else has been written about Pelton’s role in getting the vehicle manufactured and on the road.
It’s my opinion that has never been properly recognized or saluted for this role. There are no plaques that I’m aware of, and except perhaps for a few lines on the internet, and the odd scrapbook obituary no one ever sees, there is little recognition for the man Fox rightly called an automotive genius.
So, who was Arch Pelton? Why is he overlooked?
I tried to answer these questions in an earlier column. What I wrote then about Pelton is worth repeating now — if only to remind readers why I suggest recognition is long overdue for Pelton’s role as an automotive pioneer and civic leader. Here are excerpts from the column:
“Prior to his first election as mayor of the town, Mr.
Pelton served four years as councillor, these, added to his six years as mayor constitutes a record which has not been equalled in the town council of Kentville.”
This was one of the many tributes paid to Archibald Leander Pelton when The Advertiser announced his untimely death in 1928.
“During these years,” the paper continued, “his restless energy and progressive views have been largely responsible for the favourable position in which the town finds itself today.”
This was fine praise indeed and looking back at the life of Pelton from this vantage point, it was well earned. As well as noting his years of service to the town, The Advertiser hailed Pelton as a pioneer in the automobile business, as a business leader and as a leading politician.
There’s little doubt Pelton was an automotive pioneer. In the history of the McKay Motor Car, which was first manufactured in Kentville, McCurdy notes that the McKay brothers, Jack and Dan, depended on Pelton to
knowledge provide “production as well as a general knowledge of the automobile.”
Pelton was indeed familiar with the “one lunger” engines that drove the early automobiles; he acquired this knowledge through an apprenticeship with an American company that made farm machinery with one-cylinder gasoline engines.
Pelton’s role in the manufacturing of the McKay car has undoubtedly been understated. Without Pelton’s expertise, it’s unlikely manufacturing of automobiles in Kentville, beginning about 1910, would have happened. Pelton also opened the first automobile dealership in the province and can be considered a pioneer in this field as well.
Between 1904 and 1925, Pelton was the distributor for at least seven makes of automobile, among them the Studebaker, Oldsmobile, Franklin and Gray Dort. It’s noted in his obituary that he sold some of the first automobiles in Nova Scotia; for a long time, he maintained one of the largest automotive dealerships in Nova Scotia and possibly in the Maritimes.
“His firms, A. L. Pelton and Company, of Kentville and Halifax,” reads his obituary, “was known throughout the Maritime provinces as one of the most important in the auto business in the East.”
As also noted in the obituary, Pelton took a keen interest in what was happening in Kentville.
“During the many years he served as mayor and councillor, he devoted large portions of his time in looking after civic affairs,” reads his obituary. “The remarkable progress (Kentville) has made in the past two decades was due to his efforts.”
Pelton was one of the first to travel across most of Canada by automobile. In 1911, Pelton and Dan McKay drove one of the McKay cars, a 1911 model, from Kentville to Regina, a distance of 2,600 miles. The object of the drive was to set up a Canada-wide chain of distributors for the McKay car. As far as is known this never happened, writes McCurdy in his history of the car. However, several models were sold by a dealer in Saskatoon.
I’ll close this salute to Pelton, noting again that he never has been suitably recognized for his role as an automotive pioneer, or for his civic contributions while at the helm in Kentville, a role that made the town a leader in Nova Scotia.
rectified Let‘s hope this will be one day. The challenge is out there.