"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Commerce and Contemplation: The Laytons and the Hills

The heart of Great Village lies just beyond the bridge, the spot where, as some villagers say with a smile, “all roads meet.” Actually, it is just three roads. It is the spot where the road from Truro and the road from Parrsboro link up. It is known as the Old Post Road, the principal highway for over a hundred years. Here, too, the Old Cumberland Road begins. This road takes folks up Scrabble Hill and through the Cobequid Mountains. At this convergence of roads is the common or green, the hub of village life ─ especially worship and business. The Presbyterian church towers over all activities, reminding people what is vital for well-being; but it has its say only one day a week. All around it the hustle and bustle of commerce is conducted the other six days.

Much of this commerce is conducted by two prominent families in Great Village: the Laytons, staunch Baptists, and the Hills, strong Presbyterians. The Laytons and Hills operate successful mercantile firms, providing villagers with just about everything they need and want, from apples to zippers.

The Layton store is located right at the corner, where the Old Post Road makes its right angle turn from Truro to Parrsboro. The Hill store is across the common, near the church on the Old Cumberland Road. With Arthur Bulmer’s tinsmith shop opposite it (on the corner of the Old Post and Old Cumberland Roads ─ a spot once known as Tan Bark Corner, when his father William Bulmer ran his tannery), the hub of Great Village is a lively place.

Both these firms have been operating for over forty years, and one could say Great Village wouldn’t be the same without them. Nearly every villager takes time out of his or her day to stop by the stores ─ they might drop off some eggs for credit, buy some thread or shoe polish, or inquire of the latest news, or gossip. Like the post office, the stores are the places to get the most up-to-date information on just about anything. Today everyone is talking about the election. Whatever the reason, rarely does anyone pass by the stores without stopping, even if it is just to say Hello.

L.C. Layton & Sons Limited

The year is 1774 and a hardy band of Yorkshire settlers, aboard the ship Two Friends, lands in Halifax. On board is Francis Layton, his wife and infant son. Also on board is John Bulmer, his wife and three brothers. Though they settle in different areas of Nova Scotia, the Layton and Bulmer families continue to have strong ties with each other, and eventually, branches of these families come together again in Great Village.

Francis Layton settled his family at Mount Denson, Hants County. In 1801 his son, also named Francis, married Abigail Stevens of Onslow, Colchester County, and they moved to Great Village. Francis Layton (2nd) was a blacksmith and farmer and the Layton home, situated on Layton’s Hill, was a stopping place for travellers. Francis and Abigail were Baptists and it is said that the first Baptist services in Great Village were held in their home.

Francis and Abigail had thirteen children. While many of them remained in Great Village, one of their sons, Jacob, moved to Upper Stewiacke (an area where some of the Bulmers also settled). Jacob raised his family there. As an old man, however, in the late 1860s, he returned to Great Village, bringing two of his sons, L.C. and A.N. Layton.

Mr. L. Carson Layton was born in Upper Stewiacke in 1848, so when he arrived in Great Village he was a young man with energy and ambition. He attended school in Upper Stewiacke and Truro, after which he began in the business world as clerk with the late Sheriff L.J. Crowe of Truro. He gave up this work to teach for a couple of years at Upper Stewiacke and Lornevale. Following this he spent a year with B. Douglas & Co., general dealers, of Amherst. By 1870, when he reached Great Village, he set up shop for himself as a merchant. In 1870 Great Village was a bustling community with shipbuilding reaching its height, employing many men and bringing continuous prosperity to the area. Mr. Layton began his business with a ready market and he prospered too.

Mr. Layton’s first premises were located in the building which now is occupied as a residence by Arthur Bulmer and his family, right next door to the tinsmith shop. But soon Mr. Layton moved across the common to the building the store now occupies. Mr. Layton opened his store in May 1870. In 1874 he joined in partnership with his brother-in-law, J.A. McDorman, and Layton & McDorman operated until 1898, when Mr. McDorman retired. In 1912 Mr. Layton brought into the business his three sons, Max, Raleigh and Welsford, and L.C. Layton & Sons Limited was born.

L.C. Layton's Store

From the beginning Mr. Layton not only exported and sold local produce (potatoes, apples, lumber), but also imported an extensive range of dry goods and merchandise. One of his early handbills announced, “We are now receiving from English, American and Canadian Markets a well selected stock of general goods, suitable to the country trade comprising dry goods, French merinos, lustres, winceys, cotton, flannels, fancy woolen goods, hats, hat and bonnet flowers, and a good assortment of fancy small wares.” This advertisement also announced that the firm accepted butter, eggs, pork, feathers, oats, cloth, yarn and other local products in exchange for goods. Barter was alive and well in the country trade of the day. Today, these goods are exchanged for credit, an amount of money which is used towards the purchase of other goods in the store. Wanting only the best and most relevant merchandise for his customers, Mr. Layton himself made regular trips to England to buy his wares. He also regularly visits the “Sample Room” at the Elmonte House.

From the beginning Mr. Layton’s motto was always “a square deal” ─ and his honesty and integrity have earned him the best respect of his many patrons. One amusing story which he still tells is that in the early years of the business a man gave a hearse as payment on his bill. Mr. Layton thought the hearse was worth $2.00, but he was offered only $1.00 for it by another fellow. After some discussion they agreed to split the difference and Mr. Layton got $1.50!

Ever the entrepreneur, Mr. Layton offers the market what is most in demand. One of the most popular additions to the store was a millinery shop, which Miss Eleanor Spencer has been operating for some years, in a cosy room off the main part of the store. Many a fine hat has walked out of Layton’s store. There has always been a tailor and shoemaker in the village, and the ladies’ heads cannot be neglected. Mr. Layton was also one of the first in the village to install a telephone in his store in the 1880s. In 1898 he modernized his home with the same convenience. Moreover, Mr. Layton was a firm believer in the power of advertising, and continues to be a liberal user of the printer's ink, his advertisements being regular features in the columns of all the local newspapers.

Mr. Layton has not only been an active businessman but he has also been a dedicated citizen. He has been a deacon in the Baptist church since his arrival in the village, and superintendent of its Sunday School for almost as many years. He immediately joined the Iron Age Division, Sons of Temperance, and has held numerous offices in that organization. He is one of the staunchest supporters of its principals. He was involved in the Reform Club when it was active in the late years of the last century. Mr. Layton is ever ready to assist his friends, neighbours and customers when they are in need. His own family of three sons and two daughters (Una and Elsee) are equally generous and active. Una is a nurse and has spent time in Boston training and working. She is home right now, but intends going back to the States soon. Elsee is going to Acadia College in September. Both are lively and bright young women with promising futures. The Laytons own one of the few automobiles in the Village and it is a common sight to see Welsford or Max motoring about with one of their sisters. Invariably, they are accompanied by friends or neighbours, who need a ride.

The Laytons are often involved in raising money for the Baptist church and its various organizations. Some of the most anticipated events in the village are the musicales and concert nights held at the large Layton house. As with most other folks in the village, music and song are never far from any gathering at their hospitable home.

The Layton family home

Mr. Layton is always keen to keep his business au courant. Earlier this year he did considerable concrete work around the store ─ clearly L.C. Layton & Sons Limited is a solid establishment which is here to stay for awhile. He also painted the inside of the store, a fresh sparkling white, which makes it look cheery and bright.(1)

Mr. Layton is always at the store bright and early, but this morning he is a bit behind schedule. The excitement of the election yesterday kept him up later than usual, and last evening he also paid a visit to the Bulmers. The Laytons and the Bulmers have a long standing connection. The Two Friends, which brought their ancestors from Yorkshire, speaks aptly of their relation ─ these families are friends. When Jacob and his sons returned to Great Village, L.C. met William Bulmer and Elizabeth Hutchinson, who married only a few months after the young entrepreneur set up shop. L.C. himself was not long a bachelor. And their families grew up together. The store being right next door to the Bulmer house meant daily contact. And Sundays saw the families worshipping and socializing at the Baptist church. Mrs. Bulmer and Mrs. Layton were active in the Missionary, Sons of Temperance and W.C.T.U. societies, and entertained each other frequently in their homes. Their children ─ five in each family ─ are close, especially the daughters. Una and Grace are especially good friends, and have shared the experience of nurse’s training in Boston.

During this past winter, when Gertrude was so ill, Mr. Layton was called to the Bulmer house on a number of occasions to help try to calm her down. Gertrude is very fond of Mr. Layton and responds to his gentle but practical manner. He is a no-nonsense sort of fellow. Mr. Layton is also very fond of Gertrude, having watched her grow up. She was always running into the store to say hello, and more than once he’d give her a humbug, her favourite candy. Mr. Layton doesn’t sell as much candy these days, but he always takes Gertrude some humbugs. That’s why he went last night, to give her a bag to take on the train. Just after the polls closed and before the results started coming in, he went over to the house with Elsee. Gertrude was calm, but he could tell she was interested in the election and wanted to discuss it. But he knew it would only agitate her. So they didn’t stay long.

This morning he keeps checking out his office window, which looks towards the bridge, to see when William, Gertrude and Grace set off for Londonderry Station. Along with the humbugs, Mr. Layton took a little doll for Gertrude’s daughter. The wee Elizabeth would be upset to see her mother leave. But Mr. Layton knows well that the Bulmers are the kindest of people, and she will be well cared for.

Amos A. Hill Limited

There has been a store where the Hill brothers operate their establishment since before the 1850s. It was first owned and operated by R.N.B. McLellan. In 1859 Amos A. Hill and Suther Spencer joined the firm and McLellan, Hill and Spencer did business until 1872. At that time Mr. Hill took sole ownership of the store, and Amos A. Hill Limited has been operating ever since. This business conducted a busy trade especially with the farmers in the area, not surprising since Mr. Hill’s sons, Barry and Lucius, who took over the business in the 1890s, along with their sister Ruth, are two of the most active farmers in Great Village. Hill’s store offers a wide range of grocery and dry goods, but they also retail in hardware and farm equipment.

Hill's Store

Barry P. Hill is one of the most active breeders of Guernsey cows in the area, having caught T.D. Blaikie’s fever for these productive bovines. The cream from his herd of a dozen cows goes directly to the Blaikie creamery, but his biggest trade is in buying, breeding and selling stock. Like Mr. Blaikie, Barry Hill is winning lots of prizes for his Guernseys. Lucius Hill spent two years in California at the end of the 1890s, but couldn't stay away from home for long. He is more involved in the operation of the store than his brother, but he is also busy with animals. His love is horses and horse racing. One of his best is Captain Purdy by Captain Aubrey. Lucius Hill is always talking horses with the fellows who stop into the store. Miss Ruth Hill works as the main clerk at the store. She and her brother Barry live in the old family home, just behind the store and church, the lovely rambling Hill house, up on the little hill. Lucius, who was married in 1905, lives in a cosy cottage on Pleasant St.

Ruth is a friendly, pleasant woman. She attended the Ladies College in Sackville, N.B., and her gentle manner brings a touch of real class to the store. She is active in many community organizations. One of her favourites was the Literary Society. She hosted many meetings of this merry band when it was at its height just before the war. She also helps out regularly at the church. Barry and Lucius Hill are active with the I.O.O.F, Barry serving as treasurer for this secret brotherhood.

Like Layton’s, Hill’s store is experiencing prosperous times. The business went through a rough patch at the turn of the century, but the brothers turned things around. They have been busy with renovations to the building. They added a concrete platform for unloading goods, and put an extension on the back for storage. There was real excitement when they installed a large refrigerator, a still uncommon machine in the village. Lucius Hill has also built a new barn, which he painted as green as his fields. Barry Hill made extensive renovations on the barn at the home place, and has one of the finest farms in the village, rivalling Will Bowers’s place. Everything in the Hill barn is 20th century.(2) The Guernseys even have their own individual cups for feed and water.

The Hills are also very close neighbours and friends with the Bulmers. Indeed, Ruth and Gertrude are the same age and are best friends. They sat together in school all the while they were growing up. Lucius’s son Seth is the best friend of Arthur Bulmer’s only boy Billy. They are almost inseparable. Like the Laytons, the Hills have been concerned about the troubles the Bulmers have had lately. Ruth has been in to see Gertrude nearly every day for some weeks.

Gertrude Bulmer Bishop standing in front of the Hill family home

Ruth herself opens up the store in the morning. All the hubbub about the election has left the front stoop littered, so she’s out sweeping up the debris. She sees Mr. Layton open up. They wave. Ruth knows he too is only partly paying attention to his usual morning tasks, because William is outside getting his horse and wagon harnessed. Ruth notices Dr. Johnson’s automobile out front. She thinks to herself several times during the busy day that she will write to Gertrude while she is at the hospital. Surely they will allow letters. And surely Gertie won’t be there very long. She has much reason to get well ─ not the least of which is that darling little girl of hers, who is always lingering at the store windows, curious about the displays Ruth puts there, a new one every week in the summertime.


1. Layton’s store was designated a Provincial Heritage Property in November 1989. A celebration of this designation took place in Great Village in August 1990. The store received national heritage recognition a few years later.

2. The Hill brothers set up the first electric light company in G.V. in 1922, the Village Light & Carbon Co. Limited.

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