Trade Promotion: 1890s Style

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is on yet another pilgrimage to China as I write, “engaging” with the Chinese rather than isolating them because, according to what he told reporters just prior to his departure, that’s how you show non-democracies “what democracies have to offer.”

At first I thought he meant what democracies had to offer in terms of freedom of speech and the like, but when I read the next bit — where he told reporters that what is important is “to build relationships through trade that benefit both economies” —  I realized he means literally showing them what we have to offer, like lobsters.

 Protesters brave heavy rain as they march against the 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill on Sunday, August 18, 2019.

Protesters brave heavy rain as they march against the 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill on Sunday, 18 August 2019. (Photo by Studio Incendo, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

So detain Canadians, put Muslims in camps and crack down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong all you like, as long as you keep buying our lobsters and blueberries, China, we’re cool.

If the Chinese haven’t been learning much from us, McNeil seems to be learning a lot from them — particularly in terms of information control. CBC political reporters Jean Laroche and Michael Gorman dedicated their most recent “Sound Off” segment to the secrecy surrounding the premier’s China trips and literally the only information I have came in the form of a November 7 press release that didn’t even include an official itinerary. Instead, it said that at some point McNeil will:

…meet with the governors of Shandong, Fujian and Guangdong provinces, and participate in various meetings to discuss trade and investment opportunities related to transportation, tourism, culture and education

At some other unspecified time, he will attend the Canada-China Business Council annual general meeting and later a “food and beverage trade show” in Shanghai. He will then go to Japan and South Korea where he will “attend ocean-tech business meetings and meet with Ian Burney, ambassador of Canada to Japan” and “attend energy-related business and government meetings,” respectively.

As Laroche and Gorman noted, we have no idea who will be traveling with the premier other than Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and Aquaculture Keith Colwell, who is travelling to China and Vietnam from Nov. 8-21. Colwell will join the premier at the Shanghai food and beverage trade show, then “participate in separate meetings and events to promote Nova Scotia products in Shanghai, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.”

The press release gives trade numbers for all three countries: Nova Scotia exported $793 million worth of goods to China in 2018 (up 33% from $197 million in 2013), $93.4 million to Japan (seafood, frozen blueberries, tires and gelatins), and $108 million to South Korea (mostly seafood — $84 million — but also navigational instruments, food products, scrap aluminum and peat.)

The release also stresses the number of students from each country who study in Nova Scotia — 3,500 Chinese, 104 Japanese and 171 South Koreans.

And that’s basically all she wrote.

So what do you do when you simply don’t have enough information to discuss a 2019 Nova Scotia trade mission?

Why, you talk about an 1891 Nova Scotia trade mission, of course.


Canadian exhibits

In a turn of events you might think of as random but I choose to view as serendipitous, I happened, this week, across a detailed Dominion of Canada sessions report on the Jamaica Exhibition of 1891.

The trade and industrial exhibition was intended to “draw the world’s attention to the island’s potential” but Canada seemed to view it chiefly as an opportunity to showcase its own products. Canada requested 50,000 square feet of exhibition space for its 247 exhibits, “everything produced by Canada that could have a market in the West Indies” and an annex, exhibition hall and art gallery were added.

As a way of turning around the Jamaican economy, the exhibit was something of a dud. As Joy Lumsden, writing in the Jamaican Historical Society Bulletin, put it:

On Jamaica’s economy as a whole the Exhibition had no startling impact. Many Kingston merchants had actually suffered from the competition of exhibitors who sold goods at the Exhibition. Some new ideas were taken up and new business ventures started, but there was no immediate tourist boom and the new hotels slid into bankruptcy. Jamaica’s economy had to await many more profound developments than an Exhibition before it began to show signs of emerging from the long period of depression of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The sessions report suggests some Canadian exhibitors may have succeeded in expanding their markets, but what’s really interesting about it is the window it provides into what Canada in general — and Nova Scotia in particular — was trying to sell the world in 1891.

Compared to the information we have about what Stephen McNeil is showcasing on his 2019 trade trip, the report is a treasure trove of information. Not only does it list the companies — telling you where they were from and what they made — it tells you which of them won medals (the exhibits were judged) and how the crowd responded to their products. I’ve pulled all the references to Nova Scotia from the report and turned them into a table, which I’ll insert below, but first, some highlights.


Provincial produce

The Province of Nova Scotia submitted a number of items for exhibit and what struck me most, reading the list, was the wonderful variety of roots and fruits and vegetables we used to grow here.

Take apples, for example. I knew (because my garden columnist, Michelle Smith, wrote a fascinating column about it), that this province had actively chosen to focus on commercial production of a relatively few “marketable” varieties, like Honeycrisps, but seeing the list of apples we sent to Jamaica in 1891 made me nostalgic for a time I never knew. A time when eating an apple could have meant eating any one of these:

Nonpareil, Golden Russet, Cooper’s Russeting, Fallawater, Baldwin, Northern Spy, Stark, Ben Davis, Wagner, Mann, King of Tompkins, Pennock, Greening, Spitzenburg, Clyde Beauty, Jewett’s Fine Red, Yellow Belle Fleur, Gloria Mundi, Bethel, Esopsis Spitzenburg, English Nonpareil, Peck’s Pleasant, Danver’s Winter Sweet, Talman’s Sweet, English Golden Russet, Cornish Aromatic, English Russet, Crine’s Golden, Broadwell.

Michelle tells me she’s not only heard of all of these, she has quite a few of them in her collection (she grows many apples just so she can “taste the rare ones.”)

Esopus Spitzenburg Apple

Esopus Spitzenburg, reputed to have been the favorite apple of Thomas Jefferson. (Photo by Vicki Rosenzweig, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Likewise, she tells me, there’s a large potato collection at the Plant Gene Resource of Canada (PGRC) in Fredericton and civilians can request samples to grow in their own gardens. So maybe one day, when I retire and can turn my hand to gardening, I will grow some of the potatoes this province produced in 1891:

Prairie Rose, Chenango, Jennie Lind, Dakota Red, Early Ohio, Kings Land, Irving’s Blue, Prolific, Beauty of Hebron, Garnet Chili, Burbank, Rural New Yorker, American Giant, Late Rose, Peerless, Early Rose.

Of course, these were the days before it was possible to scrape the bottom of the ocean clean, freeze everything you trawled and ship it instantly to other parts of the globe, so the “seafood” being showcased by Nova Scotia in 1891 tended toward pickled herring and salmon and dried cod (for which there was “large demand”) and canned lobster (which was considered too expensive).

But if the agricultural and seafood products have changed in the intervening 100 years, the mining products of 1891 look surprisingly similar. In fact, you can draw a pretty direct line between the McNeil government footing the bills for geophysical surveys to help mining companies in 2019 to the province’s representatives schlepping bags of gypsum, boxes of coal (from Sydney Mines, Victoria Mines, Low Point and Lingan) and a collection of “the economic minerals of the province” to Jamaica in 1891.

There was even a gold-mining company among the exhibitors — G.O. Fulton of Truro — whose “gold conglomerate rock” from its “gold areas in Upper Stewiacke, Colchester County” were “much admired.” (Where have I read about gold mining in Colchester County before? Oh, I know, here.)

That said, the list of agricultural products is far more extensive than that of minerals or seafood. (Drum Quintal cabbage, anyone? How about a Ward’s Ovoid Yellow Wurtzel?)


Foreign students

Interestingly, given our modern-day focus on foreign students, there were a few Canadian institutions of higher learning represented at the Jamaica Exhibition.

The Ontario provincial government, in addition to exhibiting crops from the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, sent framed photographs of universities, colleges and high schools and “a complete set of the authorized school books for use in Public Schools, High Schools, and Collegiate Institutes of Ontario.”

The Ontario Veterinary College had its own exhibit, which consisted of catalogs of its courses.

The report notes:

All the exhibits from the Ontario Government attracted a great deal of attention. Convention of school teachers were greatly interested in the educational part of the exhibit…

The vet college catalogs were “distributed.”


Bung & Spile

I think my favorite part of this report is the names of the products I couldn’t identify.  I have curated a sample selection for your reading pleasure (feel free to laugh at me if you recognize them right off):

Fluid beef

A beef extract that can be used as flavoring or to make a hot beverage. It was invented by a tee-totaling Scottish butcher who originally called it “Johnston’s Fluid Beef” but later renamed it — wait for it — Bovril!

I always thought “Bovril” sounded unappetizing but that was before I’d heard of “fluid beef.”

Evaporated vegetables

I was picturing some sort of invisible vegetables but it actually means dehydrated vegetables and Kerr’s Evaporating Vegetable Company of Kentville won a Gold Medal for theirs, which sold out at the exhibition and were “placed with an agent” for sale in Jamaica. I found this label from another evaporated vegetable company, the Dayton Evaporating and Packing Company, founded in Dayton, Ohio in 1890. The firm’s dehydrated potatoes were apparently “popular with miners…trekking over the Chilkoot Pass into the Klondike. Hence the name of the brand, “Gold Nugget.”


Spiles are small wooden pegs or spigots for stopping casks. They were sent to Jamaica by the Canadian Bung and Spile Company (a “bung” being another kind of wooden stopper.)

I just like the sound of the Canadian Bung and Spile Company and I wish it were still around today, like the Bay and Canadian Tire.

Lapstrake boats

Lapstrake is a method of boat construction where the edges of the planks making up the hull overlap each other. It is also called “clinker built.” It is the opposite of “smooth seam” construction and Henry Moseley of Dartmouth sent examples of both types of boats, plus “eight pairs of oars” and “six models of vessels” to the Jamaica Exhibition. Adam Brown, who wrote the report on the Exhibition, noted that Moseley was awarded a Gold Medal for his work and that all of it sold.


‘Coals to Newcastle’

In addition to Moseley’s boats, Nova Scotians sent rhubarb wine, rocking chairs, shoes, shoe lasts, horse buggies, birch bark paintings, gypsum, beer, whiskey, ventilated barrels, school desks, shovels, cod-liver oil, soft wool hats (and more) to the Jamaica Exhibition with varying degrees of commercial success. The rocking chairs “sold readily,” the rhubarb wine was “not wanted” and the gypsum (some of which was sent by Mrs. W.E. McCurdy of Baddeck) was “coals to Newcastle” according to Brown, who was delightfully frank in his assertions and evaluations (especially given that this would have been — I think — a public report).

Oland & Sons of Halifax earned an “Honorable Mention” for its bottled ales and enjoyed a “high reputation” in Jamaica, according to the author, but a competitor, P & J O’Mullen of Halifax, fared less well — its exhibit reached Jamaica “in bad condition.”

The Ventilated Barrel Company of Halifax had its products put to the test — a “trial shipment of oranges” was sent from Jamaica to New York as an experiment which, if successful, was sure to lead to “large orders,” according to Brown. (Alas, we never find out whether the experiment was a success.)

Other than Mrs. McCurdy’s “pyramids of raw gypsum rock,” the only other Cape Breton products were Bras d’Or Marble from “Cape Breton quarries,” which met with “no demand” (the samples were “given to the Jamaican Institute”) and Bras d’Or Lime — two casks — which inspired “very little inquiry.”

Reasonably close to home, though, L.C. Archibald of Antigonish won a Gold Medal for his cheddar cheese and creamery butter, causing Brown to note:

First-class. Exhibit sold at invoice prices. Grand opening.

There were also two Nova Scotian producers of “aerated [carbonated] waters” — J.E. Bigelow & Co of Truro and Wilmot Spa Springs of Middleton. Neither did very well in Jamaica (Brown noted the products could be made in Jamaica more cheaply than either manufacturer could sell them) but they are the reason why I stumbled across this story. I was looking for modern day sources of bottled water in Nova Scotia and Wilmot Spa Springs in Middleton still exists — it’s now Spa Springs Mineral Water and while its products have changed, their source is the same. You can read more about it in this week’s feature story.

For now, here’s the full list of Nova Scotia exhibitors at the 1891 Jamaica Exhibition. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did:

W.C. Archibald, WolfvilleStatuary: Subjects -- Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Charles TupperNo demand for statuary. Much admired.
Amherst Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company180 different styles of Mens', Womens', Misses', Boys' and Youths' boots, shoes and slippersGoods highly thought of, regarded as a little too expensive. However, good trade could be made by a traveller.Silver
3. Anglo-American Manufacturing Company, WittenburgShutters for windows, Venetian blinds, rustics, window fasteners.Good demand, but must be made in any lengths and style required.
A. A. Archibald, TruroOpen business buggy, Top buggy.Exhibit will be sold. Good demand for the cheaper bugggy. Builders, however, required to attend to the styles wanted.Silver
L. C. Archibald, AntigonishCheddar cheese, creamery butter.First-class. Exhibit sold at invoice prices. Grand opening.Gold
J.E. Bigelow & Co, Truro Aerated waters.Manufactured in Jamaica cheaper than we can sell them.Silver
Bigney Brothers, HalifaxTinwareGood demand for tinware; no details with this exhibit.Bronze
William Bishop, HalifaxMarble Headstone with Granite Sockets.First-rate opening. Traveller should be sent to the Island.Silver
Brad d'Or Lime Company, HalifaxTwo casks lime.Very little inquiry.
Bras d'Or Marble Company, HalifaxSamples of marble from Cape Breton Marble quarries.No demand. Gave samples to the Institute of Jamaica.
R.M. Browne, HalifaxFolding umbrella standNo sale.Bronze
Brown & Webb, HalifaxFruit syrups, Puttner's Emulsion of Cod-Liver Oil, Simpson's Liniment, Orange Quinine Wine, Flavouring Essences, Perfumery, Wine of Rennet, etc, etc.Goods similar to portion of this exhibit put up in the Island.Bronze (fruit syrups)
Bronze (Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil)
Honorable Mention (Orange quinine wine)
Consumers' Cordage Company, HalifaxCordage, clothes lines, spunyarns.Goods a little too high. Exhibit sold. Manilla preferred. Heavier hawser wanted.
Craig & Kent (Felt Hat Works), TruroSoft wool hats.Well thought of; exhibit sold. An agent would increase trade.Silver
James C Crosskill & Son, HalifaxFruit syrups.Similar prices up in Jamaica at lower prices.
Dominion Paint Company, DartmouthMarine paints, copper paint.Considered high.
Misses Annie & Mary Downs, HalifaxBirch Bark pictures (In Art Gallery)No demand.
Forrest & Co, HalifaxCanned lobsters, canned salmon.Cheaper quality wanted.Gold
G.O. Fulton, TruroGold conglomerate rock from exhibitor's gold areas at Upper Stewiacke, Colchester CountyVery much admired.
C. Gates & Sons, MiddletonProprietary MedicinesExhibit sold, fair demand, requires a special agent.Honorable Mention
Halifax Shovel Company LtdShovels, cone shovels, scoops and spades.A good demand for short "D" handles. Somewhat larger trade discount would insure business.Silver
J.B. Hamblen & Co, PictouCanned lobstersTheir price too high. Lower-priced goods in demand.Silver
J.C. Harlow, ShelburneTrunks: Wood, leather covered and tin covered.
All sold. Good demand for Canadian trunks.Bronze
Hart, Levi & Sons, HalifaxPickled Herring, pickled salmon, dried codfish.
Large demand. Local agent appointed.Bronze
Henderson & Potts (Nova Scotia Paint Works) HalifaxWhite lead paint, white zine paint, colored paints, handy colours Marble line Tins, Varnishes, Shoe blacking.Too high for market. Exhibit sold.Gold
R. Hopper & Sons, Truro30 Pairs Lasts, different sizes and styles.Exhibit sold. Orders sent for more. Good trade.Gold
C. Jennison, New GlasgowGypsumCoals to Newcastle.
Kerr's Vegetable Evaporating Company, KentvilleEvaporated vegetables.Exhibit sold. Goods placed with local agent.Gold
KDC Company, New Glasgow“K.D.C.”Large demand.Silver
Lager Beer Brewing Company, HalifaxLager BeerVery highly thought of.
J.A. Leaman & Co, HalifaxCanned beef, canned sausages.Distributed a good many samples. Good trade can be done if prices a little lower.
J. Lewis & Sons, TruroMen's, Women's, Boys' and Child's Plain Lasts. Men's Lasts, iron bottom, iron heel and toe. Moccasin Lasts, compressed machine peg wood. Wood tops for corked mineral water bottles, shoe shanks.Good demand for lasts and bottle tops. Pushing agent would do a good business.Gold
Mrs Anna Lewis, TruroBirch Bark Pictures, pencil drawing, water color painting, Drawing (In Art Gallery)Admired but too expensive.
Mrs George H. Lucas, Hammond's Plains (Native of St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica)Mats with “Jamaica Exhibition 1891” and “HRH Prince George” worked in wool.No demand. Were sent as an exhibit.
George A Misener, DartmouthSchool Desks and Seats.Little expensive. Prices reduced a good demand would follow.
Henry Moseley, DartmouthLapstreak boat, Smooth Seam boat, eight pairs of oars, six models of vessel.Good sold. Large demand for heavily built boats.Gold
Mrs. W. E. McCurdy, BaddeckPyramids of Raw Gypsum RockNot wanted.Bronze
John F. McDonald, HopewellRocking chairsReady sale.Silver
C.B. McDougall, HalifaxWhiskeyHighly thought of. Ready sale.Silver
Nova Scotia Cotton Manufacturing Company, HalifaxGrey YarnsSame report as to other cottons.Silver
Oland & Sons, HalifaxBottled Ale, Bottled Stout, Kilderkin's Ale and Stout.This firm has a high name here.Honorable Mention
P & J O'Mullen, HalifaxAle and PorterThis exhibit reached here in bad condition.
Charles A. Patriquin, WolfvilleHarnessHarness considered rather high.Bronze
Pineo & Clark, BerwickSchool DesksStyle liked.Silver
W.M. Read, AmherstHarnessPrices considered too high.Gold
Rhodes, Curry & Company, AmherstCounter, School Desks, Red Wainscoting.Highly thought of, quite a business has been opened up in regards to it.Gold
John Silver & Co, HalifaxOxford Homespun TweedsSplendid opening for Halifax tweeds.Silver
J. Godfrey Smith, HalifaSyrups. Tonic Bitters. Cough Cures. Perfumery.Syrups too high. Other exhibits require special agents.Honorable Mention
Truro Condensed Milk & Canning Company, TruroCondensed MilkPlaced in an agent's hands and expect a good business will be done.Silver
J.J. Turpel, HalifaxRhubarb WineNot wanted.
Ventilated Barrel Company, Halifax NSVentilated barrelsIf the barrels sent for exhibit turn out well, large orders will be sent to Canada. A trial shipment of oranges has been made to New York in them.Gold
Yarmouth Duck and Yarn CompanyCotton Duck, Sail Twine.Difficulty in placing order for these goods, being too good, but quality will tell in the end.Gold