Arthur Edward Cornwell (spelling later changed to Cornwall) was born 11 February 1868 at Griffin Brook near Sandy Cove, Digby County, Nova Scotia to Edmund Cornwell and Matilda Burns.1

The Cornwell family were Loyalists from Connecticut who came to New Edinburgh, Digby County in 1783.2

Arthur, age 3, is recorded with his parents and sister Elizabeth (Libby) age 7 in the 1871 Census for the Sandy Cove sub-district of Digby County.3 Another sister, Sarah age 6, appears in the Mortality Schedule having died in March of that year.

In the 1881 census4 the family is found in the Clementsport, Annapolis County district where they had established a farm near Deep Brook.

After the death of his father Edmund on 21 July 1890, Arthur, with some assistance from his mother Matilda and sister Libby, maintained the farm.

However, it appears that Arthur had interests other than farming. Legal documents dated 1901 and 1902 regarding the estate of his father refer to Arthur’s photography dark room. “15. We reserve to said Arthur Cornwell exclusively, the small dark room at head of stairs”.

Marriage and move to Hants Border

Arthur E. Cornwell and Esther Cordelia Currell were married on 3 November 18975 at Bridgetown, Annapolis County. They purchased a property in Hants Border6 in 1901 from Capt. Warren Lawrence and a second lot7 in 1930.

Esther Cordelia (Currell) Cornwall

In the 1901 legal document, Arthur is referred to as a “yeoman” living in Hantsport, Hants County, and in the 1902 document he is referred to as a “photographer” living in Horton, Kings County.

Arthur’s business card at the time in the Cornwell name says he is a “Photographer, Hantsport, Nova Scotia. Pictures of beautiful HANTSPORT/ Always for sale /Views of residences a specialty. Attention given to Outside Views.”

In McAlpine’s Nova Scotia Directory 1907-08, he is listed in the N.S. Business Directory under photographers as “Cornwell E A, Hantsport”’ and under the town of Hantsport, Hants County as “Cornwall A, photographer, Kings Co., P.O. Hantsport”.” It was sometime during this period that Arthur changed the spelling of his surname from “Cornwell” to “Cornwall”. Arthur had thought of changing his surname as a Baptist minister cousin had done. According to his daughter Anne’s story, an error in the printing of his business letterhead settled the matter, as he was new in Hantsport at the time.

Photography Studio

Arthur’s photography studio in Hants Border was located in the parlour of the family home. Many of the photos of his family including those of his three children; Freda (1899 -1908), Annie Ruth (1905-2002), and Arthur Basil (1912-1998) were taken in the parlour, although a difference in wallpaper, carpet and curtains in some photos of his children suggests that some were taken elsewhere such as the sitting or dining room.

Freda May Cornwall 1899-1908

This other room had two different wallpapers separated by a border or rail. Annie’s baby photo, seated on a plush chair with a wooden frame, is taken in this other room. A similar chair appears in the background of several other photos. The wallpaper and carpet match those seen near the mantle in the parlour, therefore, this photo likely taken in another part of the parlour.

Interior photography

The main photography area was in the parlour where a fake mantle was located which had wallpaper and carpet with large floral patterns. The mantle is often seen in the background on the right hand side of the photo. Self-portraits of Arthur as well as portraits of his wife Esther and daughters Freda and Annie were taken in this area. Photos were also taken of both Freda and Annie sitting in a child-sized rocking chair. It appears that Arthur recorded his children’s growth by sitting them in the rocking chair in the same place, most of the time, at intervals. This series is especially noted in those photos taken of Annie, which show her first in the rocking chair with her feet dangling above the floor through several photos in the rocking chair with the final photo when she was in Grade 8 and likely too big for the child’s rocking chair. All of the interior photos are good clear images and show that the photographer knew what he was doing.

Alberta Travels

Arthur and Esther Cornwall’s daughter Freda died of appendicitis on December 22nd, 1908. Grief over her death had a significant impact on the family. Arthur headed west to homestead in Alberta in the spring of 1911. His wife and daughter Annie did not join him but remained in Nova Scotia. Postcards indicate that he was in Calgary on May 9th, and Strathcona on May 11th, 1911.

He wrote to his wife Esther on May 17th, 1911 that he was “working in a Studio on Jasper Ave. Have my room here”. He purchased a lot from photographer Mortimer Burgess of Strathcona on May 26th, 1911. In his property transactions regarding the purchase and subsequent sale on December 18th, 1911, of Lots No. 4 & 5, Block No. 2, Irvine Estate, Plan 2239X, Strathcona, Alberta, he was described as a photographer. In the family collection, there is a photo of his house and scenes of the nearby town of Whitecourt, Alberta.

Return to Hantsport

Arthur returned to Nova Scotia and was home for Christmas 1911. His son Arthur Basil Cornwall was born October 28th, 19128. He resumed his photographic business in the Hantsport area, making a visit to Alberta in 1915, but ultimately was informed in 1920 that he had been unsuccessful in meeting the requirements of his Homestead Application. He remained in Hant Border until his later years when he and his wife moved to live with their daughter Annie and husband Rev. Hubert Doody in Centreville, Carleton Co., New Brunswick.

Arthur Cornwall with Bessie at his home in Hants Border

Arthur Cornwall died in New Brunswick on 6 March 19589 and is buried in Riverbank Cemetery, Hantsport. His widow Esther died in 1963 at Woodstock, Ontario and is buried there. The Hants Border property was sold by the two surviving children, administrators of his estate, in 1979 to Mike and Mary Zebian. The current (2024) civic address is 14069 Highway 1, Hants Border. The vacant and dilapidated house and barn were burned down as a training exercise by the Hantsport Fire Department.

Photo by Bernard Gregg, HHS Collection

Photographic format and output

Arthur Cornwall’s work is preserved in two formats in the family collection, as photographs and as photo postcards. The photographs come in a variety of sizes, from 2,1/2″ x 3,1/2′ to 4″ x 6″. Some are on very thin paper; others are mounted on various thickness of cardstock. Several have been made into postcards, some without border, and many with borders or frames around the image. Arthur used several frame patterns in his postcards, with the majority being a basic rectangle. Four other patterns are evident: Style A: a rectangle with the inside corners rounded; Style B: an oval; Style C: a rectangle with the inside corners with two bumps protruding; and Style D: an oval with straight short side with one bump protruding. It is evident that Arthur produced several images from the same negative as some of the images are only slightly different by the amount of background showing in the image such as photos of Annie and her snow house or Annie wearing her snake bracelet. In addition to postcard frame styles, Arthur used a variety of cardstock.

Unfortunately, much of Arthur’s work has been lost. The family has no negatives from this period and only some family images. Annie did try to salvage parts of her father’s photographic collection, but the house had neither heat nor electricity, so many photos were damaged by silverfish, etc., and were discarded. Prior to demolition of the house, the remaining contents were removed and locals did take materials including 8″ x 10″ glass plate negatives. According to Mr. St. Clair Patterson of Hantsport, N.S., some boys took a box of negatives from the house and left them in the woods. These were later recovered and donated to the Nova Scotia Archives in Halifax as part of the B.R. Alexander collection in 1984, including 70 glass plate negatives and 116 copy negatives with accompanying copy prints.

Mr. Patterson also salvaged some of the negatives from the house in the 1960s including a few photos taken in Western Canada. The Hantsport & Area Historical Society recently acquired several dozen A. E. Cornwall glass plate negatives and holds a number of prints, some framed and others digitized.

Since the house no longer exists, searching for AEC’s photos continues but must be done elsewhere. The family photo collection gives clues to Arthur’s photographic style with his interest in the informal, work-a-day life as shown in the photos at the fishing pond in the “Ancestors and Relatives” section and the photos of his children at play in the snow and with friends. This interest in the ordinary is also seen in his professional photos, which includes photos of industrial images with mechanical leanings such as railways, mining, and mills. His professional photos of a train wreck and a sawmill fire suggests a possible relationship to newspapers while his views of the areas might mean possible contracts with postcard manufacturers. He took a number of photos of the shipbuilding industry in Hantsport towards the end of its existence.

South Shore Breaker – 9 March 2022

A March 2022 article in a free publication10 serving Lunenburg and Queens Counties features photographer Stephen Ernst of Lunenburg who acquired a trove of glass plate negatives from a used bookstore in Halifax. Mr. Ernst did not know at the time he purchased them that the images were taken by A. E.Cornwall. One photo is a mate to a print in the Hantsport & Area Historical Society collection, a photo of Francis da Silva (standing behind the circular table) with examples of his wicker lawn furniture outside the Churchill House. His young son is standing behind a large chair to his right. The newly acquired photo shows da Silva (with arm outstretched directing attention to one of his lawn ornaments) and two of the men seated.

HHS Collection
Stephen Ernst Collection

The 2022 article is reproduced below.

Diamonds in the rough

Images of history a passion for local photographer

Stephen Ernst at his studio with a glass negative of an 1898 photograph.

Stephen Ernst paired two passions — local history and photography — to sustain his photography business in Lunenburg, N.S.

He looks for old photos, negatives, slides, daguerreotypes, plates and other images to research and refresh for his collection. The work is gratifying, according to Ernst, and can be surprising.


Stephen Ernst was always interested in history.

“Even from the time of childhood, I can remember collecting books about historical events. It’s something that just evolved as I went along.”

Ernst read his books, listened to family members regale their pasts and at some point, old photographs piqued his interest. He started to collect what is today a substantial collection of Lunenburg history in pictures.

Ernst studied photography at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) and, in 2011, was ready to open his studio, S.A. Ernst Photography, in Lunenburg. He planned to offer portraits, but demand for the art form was waning with the digital age.

He was looking to expand his services.

“It just dawned on me one day that these [historical] pictures, the collection, were very important and significant and just great photos that should be shared.”

Ernst turned his attention to cleaning them up, producing eye-catching images, offering reprints and publishing his first book of Lunenburg images. He continues to collect by scouring antique shops and purchasing collections, often not knowing what he’ll find. That said, he is rarely disappointed.

“There is always,” assured Ernst, “a diamond in the rough.”


Of the many surprises, a photo from 1898 Ernst recalled as particularly memorable and significant.

“I purchased an archive of about 150 photographic glass plate negatives from the late 19th and early 20th century. I didn’t even know who the photographer was. It took some digging and research to identify the photographer — it was Arthur Cornwall, of Hantsport.”

Cornwall was a studio photographer, and many of the plates were portraits.

“There were a lot of scenes, too,” said Ernst, “mostly of Hantsport and the Annapolis Valley area. But then there were maybe three or four taken in Halifax, as the soldiers were embarking for the Boer War [1898], marching through the streets with the brass band toward the dockyard where they were loaded on the ships and the sent overseas.

“The picture is from … quite a large glass negative, so the quality of the picture is just unbelievable. You can zoom in and see everything crystal clear.

“It was just a nice surprise to find because it’s a major historical event to document,” noted Ernst.

While the event is important to document, the building in the background also makes this photo special.

The parade went by the renowned North Street Train Station, which at the time, “boasted a wonderful glass roof,” Ernst added. “It was one of the significant buildings of the time, but as you can unfortunately imagine, the Halifax explosion completely shattered the station.”

While not a happy memory, for Ernst the preservation of the past in pictures is nevertheless essential.

“At the end of the day, these [images] are an extremely tangible part of our history and heritage. They are to be shared, to be seen and enjoyed.”

Visit or the SA Ernst studio, 129 Lincoln Street in Lunenburg.


  1. Manuscript “Photography of Arthur Edward Cornwall” prepared for his daughter Annie R. Doody, copy held by HHS
  2. Manuscripts “Digby County Branch of the Cornwell Family Tree” and “Documented Account of the Life of Annie Ruth Cornwall 1905-2002”, copies held by HHS
  3. 1871 Census of Canada; Sandy Cove, Digby, Nova Scotia, District 191, Subdistrict d, Family #179
  4. 1881 Census of Canada; Clementsport, Annapolis, Nova Scotia, District 16, Subdistrict h, Family #182
  5. Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics; Registration; Year: 1897 book: 1801 page: 271 number: 91
  6. Kings County Registry of Deeds, Book 77 p.27
  7. Kings County Registry of Deeds, Book 150 p. 244
  8. Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics; Male Birth Registration; Year: 1912 number: 55000916
  9. Province of New Brunswick – Registration of Death; 1958 No. 03-001712
  10. South Shore Breaker; 9 March 2022, p. 3 by Sheryl Dubois