Some 40 years ago I discovered the remains of Pickett’s Wharf while beachcombing. I’ve been collecting information on the old wharf over the years but my file can hardly be called bulky; while the wharf is a landmark of sorts and was once an important port, not much has been recorded about it.
Pickett’s Wharf, or as some of the old records call it, Pickett’s Pier, once stood below Canning on the Habitant River, just off Saxon Street in Lower Canard. The government sessional papers indicate the wharf was built in 1845 “by the locality,” meaning farmers and commercial interests who would benefit from a handy outlet to the Minas Basin.
When the wharf was constructed, the Minas Basin via the Habitant River was important to Kings County farmers as a corridor to outlying markets. This was in the days of sailing vessels when Kings County farmers shipped potatoes to New England, the West Indies, and closer to home, across the Basin to the important Halifax market. An old description of Pickett’s Wharf told of wagons loaded with potatoes lined up at harvest time along Saxon Street; the line “at times stretched for half a mile” reads a newspaper account. An early Canning business, the Blenkhorn Coal Company, used the wharf extensively.
Another wharf, Borden’s, was also built along the Habitant River channel near Pickett’s Wharf but even less is known about it. However, its brief existence may be an indication that the bustling port of Canning had reached its peak and other outlets to the Minas Basin were necessary to handle farm and commercial traffic. One can speculate that Pickett’s and Borden’s Wharf existed to handle the excess shipping that overflowed from Canning.
I’ve been curious about the origin of the wharf’s name. Who was Pickett? Or perhaps I should ask, was the wharf named after an actual person? In her book, Canard Street, the late Elizabeth Rand mentioned the possibility that a “Mr. Pickett” may have been “an eminent figure during the wharf’s construction. Rand suggested that the most probable explanation for the wharf’s name was suggested by Freeman Eaton, who was wharfinger for many years. Eaton claimed that the name originated from a picket fence that ran along the wharf road from Saxon Street.
If the latter is the case, why do some of the old references to the wharf spell it as if it were a surname, with two “T’s”? In his book on Kings County place-names the eminent researcher and historian, Dr. Watson Kirkconnell, uses the surname spelling; as does Elizabeth Rand, by the way, in Canard Street. Most reference sources spell the wharf’s name as if it is a surname, suggesting that a Mr. Pickett did exist and lent his name to the structure. On the other hand, Alpine’s Gazetter, the 1804 edition for Nova Scotia, spells it as Picket’s Wharf, that is, with one “T.”
Pickett’s Wharf was a busy port for at least 80 years. By 1920 its best days were past. Kirkconnell refers to it as a ghost port, “reduced today (1971) to a few weathered pilings.” Rand tells us the port was no longer in use by 1920 and refers to its site as a “once bustling center of commerce and social exchange.”
Hillaton resident Steward Brown has lived within sight of Pickett’s Wharf for most of his 76 years. Mr. Brown recalls that the wharf was intact when he was a boy in the 30s but it was no longer in use. Like many farmers in Kings County, Brown’s father shipped potatoes out of this port and he often talked about the mile-long line-ups of produce wagons leading to the wharf.