Residence and Office, at Port Hastings, N.S. of
George C. Laurence, Esq. Inspector or Weights and Measures,
for Cape Breton Island.
This is one of the several imposing buildings that dominated Port Hastings around 1860 to 1910. The village was a natural port-of-call in the days when travel and trade were carried out by water, Among the businesses operating during this time were several merchants, blacksmiths, customs office, barber and tailor shops, hotels, telegraph office and even a stage coach line.
Keeping this prosperous era in mind, we look at the three storied Laurence house. It was located on the corner of the road where the Post Office stands today. George Craig Laurence junior, one of the eleven sons of George Craig Laurence of Scotland, built this house.
According to "The History of Inverness County", by J.L. MacDougall, "The Laurences were well connected in Scotland. They owned an estate there that was later owned and highly prized by Sir Walter Scott. In this county they were prominant for a long time".
The senior Laurence, George Craig, was a high sheriff of Inverness County. His son Walter, was a successful merchant in Cheticamp, and his other son Frederick A., was a lawyer and later judge of the supreme court.
George Craig Junior, (1836-1913), moved to Port Hastings from Port Hood Island, where he was first a merchant and later became Inspector of Weights and Measures for Cape Breton Island. In Port Hastings, George Laurence had many connections, through business and marriage, with other prominant families.
George was a business partner with James G. MacKeen. It was MacKeen who, as a natural business promotion in 1861, ran 3300 feet of pipe from Plaister Cove to the shores of the Strait of Canso. This eliminated the lack of fresh water which would often result in master mariners opting to stop at other ports. Soon the sailing ships were so numerous that as many as seventeen stores opened in the community.
A source of information on the Laurence house and family was George Craig Laurence's grandson, (living relative). He feels the house was built big enough to accommodate a business and a place of residence as well.
A general store was run by MacKeen and George Laurence in the North end of the building. (living relative) remembers that there was no ceiling between the first and second floors of the store. A balcony ran around the upstairs and goods were displayed on shelves up there.
Although born in Ontario, (living relative) spent many summers for a number of years in Port Hastings with his grandparents. The store did not operate in his lifetime but he remembers playing in the store part of the building which was still full of things like brown derbys and fish hooks.
The middle door of the building allowed entry to the customs office which would have been necessary in Port Hastings at this time due to the large number of vessels and steamships that called here. American fishing vessels made Port Hastings a port-of-call to secure supplies. Vessels loading coal would also go through customs. The customs officer was Henry A. Forbes, son of Rev. William Gordon Forbes, pastor at St. David's in Port Hastings for thirty-four years.
George C. Laurence's son Aubrey (1874-1959), provided a link with the Forbes family when he married Mary Ann Forbes, daughter of Henry A., in 1903.
On the third floor of the Laurence Building was a large hall that could seat 200 people. This was used as a temperance meeting hall. (living relative) recalls seeing temperance posters on the walls and that there was a small stage at one end. He also remembers a staircase behind the store up to the third floor, to two bedrooms where he would sleep during the summer. The three chimneys led to stoves in the kitchen of the residence, the Forbes custom office and the store.
Exact dates are hard to pinpoint, but (living relative) does know the building was built after his father was born in 1874, and was torn down a few years after 1922, after standing vacant for a couple of years.
 Copied from materials at the Port Hastings Museum.
Last Updated: February 22, 1999.
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