A small collection of Tony Saulnier

Tony Saulnier, a memorable character for my generation, died recently. He was a respected collector and dealer of art and antiques and his passing made me recollect some slight encounters I had with him over decades.

At a fashion show in about 1970 I noticed people gathered around a man with long hair who was perhaps wearing a cape. He clutched in his arms three, maybe four, tiny dogs that had been dyed pastel colours, pink for sure. During the show, models carried compliant little dog bundles down the runway.

At some point I learned this remarkable person was Tony and that he operated a dog grooming service called the Poodle Parlour in Fergusons Cove. Although he moved into the city about 50 years ago, memory of him lingers and old timers in the cove still use his former establishment as a landmark, as in “turn left at the Poodle Parlour.” Very annoying to newcomers.

My next awareness of Tony was as a dealer in fine antiques and art when he had a booth at the prestigious antique shows at the Lord Nelson Hotel. Also in the 70s, he purchased and renovated the much beloved Bollard house, located between the north ends of Dresden Row and Queen Street.

Halifax Municipal Archives, Pam Collins Collection, CR 30K-1-10.7

A visit to his house, in early December around 1982, created a lasting memory. Stepping off the dreary street it felt like entering another era or country. The interior exuded a dream of early 19th century coziness, with a fire in an open fireplace and the rooms filled with carefully selected furnishings and art.

On this visit I mentioned my interest in William Johns, who operated a long running iron foundry in 19th century Halifax. Oh, he said, do you want one of his fireplace surrounds? I have one in the basement I’ll give you. It was a beautiful object (I had to remove many layers of white paint) and an example of his generous spirit that was often concealed behind a screen of salacious trash talking.

My visit to the Bollard House was really to purchase a 1928 watercolour painting by Edith Smith, a Christmas present for Sheila. Tony was a champion and keen collector of works by women artists. A few years ago we ran into Tony at an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and he pointed out paintings that he had once owned. It was most of the many works in that gallery.

Edith Smith painted this woodland path in Rockingham, just off the Halifax peninsula, on May 8, 1928. Every year we try to remember to compare it to the present state of spring.on that date.

Another object purchased from Tony is a tablecloth, made perhaps at the end of the 1800s, that we use every Christmas in our festive decorating schemes.

By the 1980s, Tony had moved to another iconic building, the massive, sandstone Mary Queen of Scots house on Queen Street. His restoration converted it into the Queen’s Inn, with Tony as inn keeper and the rooms decorated with fine furnishings,

Photos the Mary Queen of Scots House, Queen’s Inn from the early 1970s, before Tony’s time.

Tony stripped the paint that concealed the exterior sandstone. I recall seeing him up a ladder removing paint with care by hand. My clear memory is of him regularly sitting on the little landing at the front door, with the carved stone bust of the queen and a garland of thistles above him. When I would walk past on my way home from work he would shout theatrically lewd taunts, his very particular style of greeting. I think he also made similar comments to passersby he did not actually know.

For his last years Tony was a treasured resident of the Schmidtville Heritage District. He was in his late eighties when he died. Those who knew him will be telling Tony stories for the rest of their lives.

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.