Hantsport: From the Bustling Shipbuilding Town of the 1800’s
to the Town of Industry that it is Today
The town of Hantsport celebrated the 100th anniversary of its incorporation in 1995. From that there has been an increased interest of the history of the town. Hantsport started in 1790 when a British soldier wanted to expand what he had out of Falmouth. The land that he acquired was in what Hantsport is today. (Robertson, 9) From there, the town became “fifth among the world’s shipbuilding centers.” (Chittick, 10) Today, “the Town of Hantsport encompasses approximately one square mile of the area of Hants County.” (Mister Webpage)
Ezra Churchill started the shipbuilding industry during the time of the Napoleonic Wars when colonial timber and colonial vessels were in demand. Ezra Churchill was a farmer in Hantsport at this time, but he had the sea in his blood and he began building ships. He built his first ship in 1840 with the help of his wife’s brother Guerdon Davison. (Snell, 104-107) In total 98 ships were built at the Churchill yards and today this is the site of the Minas Basin Pulp and Power Company. Between 1840 and 1890 shipbuilding was very successful. There was another shipbuilding yard on the Avon River belonging to J.B. North where 54 ships were built. Hantsport was a very good place for shipyards to be located because there are only two natural dry docks in the world and one of them is in Hantsport. This was advantageous because this allowed for six to eight hours where the hulls of ships were out of the water and repairs could be easily done. (Chittick, 10)
During the height of shipbuilding in Hantsport between 1840 and 1880, the community was prosperous and many people worked together in the industry. The community grew quickly during this time and many of the people in the town were involved in some way with the shipbuilding industry. There were blacksmiths, carpenters, caulkers, ship chandlers, commission merchants and insurance agents. In 1883, it was reported that Hantsport had “nineteen stores, two brickyards, one carding and one grist mill, two tanneries,” (Robertson, 65) and successful shipbuilding. At this time the population of the community was 870. It was written in a Boston publication that Hantsport was a very successful village; it had inns for visitors to the area. Hantsport did have a very successful shipping industry, but the agriculture around the area was also very important. Timber, livestock and produce were shipped out of the community on Churchill’s vessels. When the industry was very successful, “Hantsport had been a town full of music, theatre, carnivals, and picnics where children marched, two and two, with posies in their hair and roses round their necks.” (Bruce, 141) It was a very prosperous and happy town.
By 1890, the success of the shipbuilding industry was dwindling, but the residents had hopes for other industries that were rising. It was said that this was the end of the first golden era in Hantsport, but another would soon bring good fortune to the town. Around 1888 the citizens of Hantsport wanted to make it a town. They had meetings and referendums during the year, but it would take until 1895 for Hantsport to be recognized as a town and it was the smallest incorporated town in Canada. (WebCraft)
Even though the J.B. North, Churchill or other smaller shipyards were not making ships anymore, the Norths and Churchills expanded their businesses to include banking, quarrying and construction. E. Churchill and Sons began to be affected by financial losses and these were increased after they were threatened by a lawsuit from the owners of a ship built by the Churchills. Both the Norths and Churchills were plagued by disasters involving their ships in the latter part of the 1800’s. The new technology in shipbuilding like ships built of iron and steam ships made it too costly for these two families to keep up the shipbuilding industry in Hantsport. This was a difficult time for the residents. Many people moved away to find work elsewhere. Because of this, manufacturing became more important in Hantsport. Anyone who came into the town ready to set up some type of manufacturing business had little trouble finding people to work for them.
By the 1890’s Hantsport had a population of about 900 and there were still many successful businesses in the town. During this time Joseph A. Mumford had invented a machine that would make shingles quickly. The machine gained popularity quickly throughout Canada and the United States. He had been working in Hantsport for many years on his inventions. He was successful enough with his shingle production that he could spend more time on other inventions like barrel makers and steam boilers. Mumford set up the Hantsport Foundry, but it was mostly forgotten after it went bankrupt. (Robertson, 83-89)
During the end of the 1800’s and the beginning of the 1900’s, Hantsport had a fairly uneventful history. There were several successful businesses such as George H. Yeaton & Sons Ltd. who made confections and shipped them all over Canada and as far away as the West Indies. C.S. Chesley also had a small business of manufacturing artificial limbs. During World War I and after the Halifax explosion his medical services were needed and he had a rehabilitation center where people could learn to walk and have their prosthesis fit on site with Chesley. There were also several successful hotels and the Hantsport Graving Blocks Co. Ltd. Because of the shipbuilding industry that had been in the town, there was still timber available that used to be used to build ships. D.W. Murray used this wood for the Hantsport Fruit Basket Factory. (Robertson, 95-97)
By 1920, Hantsport needed some new industry. Most of the residents did not move away in search of work during this time so it was easy to find willing people to work. Hantsport was easy to get into and out of because it had a railway through town and the Avon River at the edge of town. This was when Roy A. Jodrey came to Hantsport and brought the town back to life. Jodrey wanted to build a pulp mill in Hantsport because this was the booming business at the time. The mayor and councilors were wary of this proposal from him, but they gave him a chance. By 1928 he had begun building the Minas Basin Pulp and Paper Mills Company. By 1929 it was running and producing thirty tons of pulp very 24 hours. In 1933 R.A. Jodrey was building Canadian Keyes Fibre Company “to make pie plates from wood pulp fibres left over in the paper pulp process.” (Robertson, 108) “Once more, the sound of jobs and profit was drifting uptown from the riverbank.” (Bruce, 144) Hantsport was once again a flourishing town with many jobs. This was Hantsport’s second golden age.
Many people have said that Hantsport is a boring town and there is nothing interesting or important in the town. From this paper it can be shown that Hantsport has had a long, interesting and triumphant past. On the streets of the town, there are many remnants of the past. The Churchill House at the Hantsport Memorial Community Center is an excellent reminder of the important shipbuilding that started the success of the town. Ezra Churchill has been referred to as the man who started the industry and from this a town was created. “Ezra and his wife Ann had 11 children, two of which were sons who both worked for their father in the ship building industry”(Hantsport & Area Historical Society). The Churchill House, which was built in 1860 by Ezra Churchill, is a symbol of the first golden age of Hantsport. The house that R.A. Jodrey built and lived in by C. K. F. is the symbol of the second golden age of Hantsport, because he brought a struggling town back to life. Today Minas Basin and C. K. F. employs about 300 people and is very important to the town of Hantsport. Products like paper products are leaving in trucks, but gypsum from the Fundy Gypsum Company is still leaving on the trains and ships on the Avon River. Thanks to the shipbuilding industry there is a small town in the Annapolis Valley that is a great place to live contrary to what some people may say. They just do not know the rich history of the town.
Bruce, Harry. The Story of R.A. Jodrey: Entrepreneur. Toronto, 1981
Chittick, Hattie. Hantsport on Avon. Hantsport, 1968
Hantsport and Area Historical Society “Churchill House and the Marine Memorial Room”
Robertson, Allen. Tide and Timber. Hantsport, 1996
Snell, Elizabeth. The Churchills: Pioneers and Politicians. Devon, 1994