The Place is Loaded with Rustic Charm

A couple of recent posts had images of Halifax businesses 30 or 40 years ago. I also got out of town a bit and photographed similar subjects around the province. I’ve never looked at my urban and rural images at the same time. Generally I think you can tell the difference.

This tidy little shop was somewhere on the Eastern Shore (I’m sorry that I forget where). It felt archaic in the 70s. Such a rich visual: the gas tanks and light, the shed roof addition, the sign that just gives the owner’s name (in small caps), all the little advertising signs.


Here is a shop in Lakeville in the Annapolis Valley in 1977. I love that the sign painter has started out boldly and then realizes that he is going to run out of space and the letters get lighter and more condensed. The small sign in the window says “Marriage Licences”.


This is an end view of the same building a few years earlier. “Love” was a common tag in the late 60s. A series of gables  has always appealed to me.


Here is another cascade of gables on the Royal Theatre in Industrial Cape Breton (Dominion I believe). The utility poles are wonderfully sculptural on the barren shore.


In the 60s and 70s, Marble Mountain beside the Bras d’Or had a delicious ghost town vibe.  It still feels special but not so remote.


The Masonic Hall in Sheet Harbour has not changed much since these photos were taken in the 70s, but I think the cladding has been updated.


These photos have been focusing on the vernacular, but in the larger towns there are higher style commercial buildings.  A beautiful example was the Acadian Bus Terminal in Amherst.  Today I would have taken a selfie with the Terminal Lunch sign.


I had my hair cut in this Bridgetown shop in the 60s. All barbershops were pretty much the same in those days; lots of old copies of Field and Stream magazine. The building was early 19th-century and the story is the bricks were made from clay dug out for the basement and fired on the spot.  The wooden barber pole was very desirable.


This is not a great photo but you’ll get the idea, in the countryside it is really dark.  I worked in Louisbourg for a couple of summers around 1970. Driving back from Sydney at night, this shop and gas pumps always glowed like a beacon in the summer blackness. It felt like an Edward Hopper painting. Eventually I stopped and took a  picture. Glad I did or I would never have remembered that time.


Post script

I had just joined Twitter and was trying to figure it out one Sunday afternoon a few years ago. I noticed Gordon Stevens from the Uncommon Group tweeted, asking people to identify traditional businesses around the province. There had recently been a story in the newspaper about Gordon that said he had grown up in Louisbourg and had his early retail experience in his family’s general store.

It so happened that I had photographed that store in 1971.  I shopped there and admired the order of the ads in the window.  So I tweeted the picture and asked if this was the sort of place he had in mind. He went ape shit (as they used to say). Turns out that building had been torn down and replaced without anyone taking a good photo.

a steves - Copy

A couple of things: the wonder of the internet putting people and content together; a useful reminder that the same content can have different meanings for different  people; the Stevens have been in business for 100 years.

About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.