The Old Tannery and Area

Submitted by Devonna Edwards

The Old Tannery was located three miles from Halifax, on the Bedford Highway. A Rock Quarry occupied the site after the Tannery business closed out. Today a car dealership stands on the site.

In 1796 John Irvin started the Tannery, his occupation prior to this venture, was that of a shoe maker. After his death Higgins and Brown leased the Tan-Yard and by 1843 Henry Letson owned the business.

In 1850 James Stanford advertised that he needed hides (in the British Colonists Newspaper) for his Tannery. In March 1867, an article in the Nova Scotia Journal of Agriculture advertised the erection of a Steam Bone Mill at Stanford’s premises at the Three Mile House.
The advertisement stated that Bone Dust will be for sale in good time for sowing during the coming spring. Parties having crude bones to dispose of will now have a market; and our farmers will be furnished with the means of enriching their land. On ordinary land, in order to produce a good crop, phosphates have to be put into the soil. The best form of phosphate is Bone Dust.

In August 1867 the extensive Tannery and Bone Mill owned by James Stanford was destroyed by fire. On October 2 that same year, Mr. Stanford began building on the ruins of his Tannery and Mill with the frame of an extensive edifice having already been raised

In 1871 William Whytal owned the Tannery but sold it to Alexander Forrest who also built his house there next to the Tannery. The Forrest house would later be sold to John Middlemore to house the English Farm children. The house was later known as Middlemore Home

The Old Tannery was situated three miles from town, as most Tanneries were placed at a distance from the main population due to the offensive odour. The location was perfect because the Tannery needed plenty of water to operate and it was well supplied with the water that flowed down over the rocky hills, from the many lakes above, before it went into the Bedford Basin.

Farmers and Trappers brought their hides to the Tanneries to be turned into leather. Tanning hides is process of making leather from the skins of animals; a Tannery is the place where the skins are processed.

In earlier years the Tanner would soak the skins in water to clean them of dirt and soften them. Then they would pound and scour the skin to remove any remaining flesh and fat. The next step was to remove the hair from the skin which was done by either, soaking the skin in urine, painting it with an alkaline lime mixture, or simply allowing the skin to putrefy for several months then dipping it in a salt solution. After the hairs were loosened, the Tanner scraped hairs off with a knife, once the hair was removed, the Tanner would ‘bate’ (soften) the material by pounding dung into the skin or soaking the skin in a solution of animal brains. The kinds of dung commonly used were those of dogs or pigeons.

In order to have a supply of urine in which to soak the skins, families used to pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken and sold to the Tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor.” But worse than that were the really poor families who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot, hence the expression, “Didn’t have a pot to piss in!”

In later years the hides were put into lime pits, and then into vats of brine. This process removed most of the hair, then the hides were placed into vats containing a solution made with hemlock bark. After a time the hides were removed, stretched and dried and then sold to craftsmen.

In the earlier years leather production was a huge industry. Tanneries were necessary because they supplied leather for harness-makers, saddle-makers, shoemakers, and other craft-men that needed leather for their business. Today, synthetic materials have replaced leather in many shoes and boots; nylon and reinforced cotton have replaced leather in coats.

A map of 1888, shows that the Old Tannery had their own wharf on the Bedford Basin known as
Tannery Wharf. The Old Tannery was abandoned by early 1900.

The Rock Quarry

After the Old Tannery was abandoned, the site became a Rock Quarry. The business now in the Rock Quarry was called Fairview Crushed Stone Company and was listed as such in the City Directory of 1903.

Stone Quarrying is the process by which rock is extracted from the ground and crushed in order to be used to produce materials for construction or other uses. The busy quarry employed many men from the Fairview area. Rumour has it that an old gold mine once was located in the Rock Quarry, behind Bob Cole’s Second Service Station. At one time it was called Edward Maxwell’s Quartzite Quarry. It is unknown when the Fairview Crushed Stone Company closed their business, but in the 1950s many children of Fairview played in the abandon canyon.

The Maxwell House

It was located on the Bedford Highway in front of the Rock Quarry. The house was owned by Edward ‘Ned’ Maxwell, who was a contractor.
The house built in 1928, was described as a red brick house with a gargoyle at each corner. Everything in the house was made of concrete; the chairs, tables, beds and even the stove. It was heated by radiant heat, the first attempt at this system in Canada. The house was said
to be so warm that tropical flowers bloomed inside all year long. Years later, when it was empty and in ruins, transients used the house for shelter. It was also said to be haunted. The house was demolished in 1956 to make room for the expansion of the Canadian Oil Company;
the White Rose.

Article found in the Suburban Local News- 1903-04

The Canadian Oil Company Ltd. Located on the Bedford Highway in front of the Rock Quarry; today a Car Dealership occupies the site. In 1903-04, the Canadian Oil Company was enlarging their storage and distributing depot on the Bedford Highway. This property was formerly owned by the Sun Oil Refining Company Ltd. which however, was merged into the Canadian Oil Company by the amalgamation of the following oil companies of Canada: Sun Oil Refining Co. Ltd.

– Grant Hamilton Oil Co. Ltd.
– Gall Schneider Oil Co. Ltd.
– Walker Oil Co. Ltd.
– Mc Cort Oil Co. Ltd.
– Union Petroleum Oil Co. Ltd.
– Sterling Refining Co. Ltd.
– Canadian Oil Refining Co. Ltd.

The Canadian Oil Co. Ltd. is therefore, the only competitor of the Standard Oil Co. in Canada. The capacity of the distributing depot at Fairview is being increased by the building of a number of small tanks to hold from 8,000 to 10,000 gallons each in addition to the large one already there, the capacity of which is 100,000 gallons.

The Canadian Oil Company does not, as the name might imply, deal solely in Canadian oil. Its crude is the best American product. Its presence here is a continual check on unfair raising of price which occurs in sections where the monopoly is complete. For this reason our people should, in their own interest give the Canadian Oil Company support. It is now a large company with very strong financial backing in Canada.

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The “Biggest Little Service Station in the Maritimes”

The Service Station was located near the Fairview Underpass on the Bedford Highway. The station was first owned by Jack Outhit before it was purchased by Bob Cole in the 1950s, he operated it for many years before it was demolished to make way for improvement to the Fairview Underpass. Bob Cole opened a second Service Station in the 1960s across the road, in front of the Rock Quarry, where it stood for many years. Bob Cole was a Veteran of the Second World War, who in 1944 became a POW at the infamous Stalag 7B. After liberation he regained his health In England before returning to his home in Halifax.