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 1958-59 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.