A HAIRCUT AND A HISTORY LESSON (June 1/01)

I believe there’s only one place in the Valley where a guy can get a haircut and learn a lot about local history for five bucks.

Tucked away in the former post office building on Main Street, the barbershop Reynolds Carty has operated in Canning for 43 years has a collection of documents, posters, photographs and historical tidbits one usually finds in a museum. Waiting for a haircut, you can peruse those walls and discover what the area was like in the days when Canning was a thriving shipbuilding and commercial centre.

On the walls is a list of the sailing crafts built by one of the Annapolis Valley’s most prolific and perhaps least known shipbuilders, Ebenezar Cox. There are 23 ships on the list, including two of the largest constructed in the Valley, the 2061 ton Kings County and 2030 ton Canada. Cox was active over approximately a 30-year period beginning in 1864, but receives no mention in Eaton’s Kings County history in a summation of important 19th-century shipbuilders.

Canning can justifiably lay claim to having been the largest and busiest commercial centre in Kings County in the 19th century, thanks perhaps to its shipyards and a shipping port. A list on Carty’s wall – the Canning business directory for 1864 – contains 17 merchants. At the time Canning could also boast of having four physicians, a druggist and a dentist. Two blacksmiths, a cooper, a tinsmith, shipwright, jeweller, harnessmaker and two carpenters rounded out the tradesmen operating at the time in Canning. The list was compiled by local historian Bruce Spicer.

Nearby on the wall, also compiled by Bruce Spicer, is a list of “firsts” and other notable events in Canning’s history. The list leads off with the first ship built in the village, the Sam Slick by Dr. William Baxter. The date this ship was built is unknown but it must have been prior to 1850. Eaton’s history says that from 1850 to 1875 the shipbuilders in Canning were Bigelow, Northup, Harris and Connors. Next on the list is the date of the first of a series of fires that devastated Canning, July 15, 1866. Another fire almost wiped out the village a year later.

In its peak, Canning had three hotels, the Waverly, Canning House, the Ottawa House, seven taverns, and one constable who must have been busy.

Old photos on the barbershop walls: A view of the Blenkhorn Axe Factory, Canning’s major industry for over a century; view of the crowd gathered for the unveiling of the Borden monument in 1903; view of the early Kingsport wharf. Also on the wall is a copy of an early 1900s photograph showing workers standing outside the Canard Fruit Company. A patron left the photocopy for posting with the hopes that the men could be identified. (And some have been.)

And speaking of fruit companies, all the old warehouses that were built along the railway line have for the most part disappeared along with the tracks. In the barbershop are mementoes of the glory days when the apple was king in the Valley. There were a great number of fruit companies (apple companies actually) in those days and they slapped special labels on the barrels in which apples were shipped. A number of original apple barrel labels are posted in the barbershop with names such as well-known apple exporters Geo. A Chase and R. W. DeWolfe.

Several of the early paintings of Kingsport artist and old-time fiddler Ron Goodwin are on display in the shop. And posted around the walls are my favourite mementoes of past days: Patent medicine ads guaranteeing cures for maladies unheard of today.

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