CANNING – A MINI HISTORY (March 28/03)

Several years ago the Kings Historical Society considered hosting a historical essay contest an anonymous sponsor offered to finance with substantial cash prizes. If I recall correctly, there would have been six to eight historical categories, among them science, communications and agriculture.

This was an excellent idea since it would have resulted in some good papers on various aspects of local history. Unfortunately, the contest never happened. Shortly after, another historical group announced an essay contest, with the topic to be the history of Canning. Since the announcement, however, I haven’t seen a single word on the contest; I assume there were no essay entrants and the idea was quietly dropped.

This was too bad in a way. Canning has a long, interesting history and a better story to tell than, say, nearby Kentville or Berwick. It was at one time a major port and a major shipbuilding centre and even had its own newspaper. In its heyday, Canning dwarfed other county villages and towns.

Getting back to the essay contest, there probably wasn’t any need to hold it. An excellent mini-history of Canning has already been written.

Around 1918 the Wolfville Acadian published a history of the early settlers of the Minas Basin as a serial. The history was later bound in a paperback book and about 500 copies were printed. The author/compiler was provincial archivist W. C. Milner.

Since Milner had access to the historical papers stored in provincial archives, the book is a goldmine of information. Milner wrote about shipbuilding, the Acadians, old times in various towns and villages of the area; he profiled leading families, such as the Eatons and DeWolfes, and included excerpts from other historical works.

Included in Milner’s book is the short history of Canning I referred to above. Milner borrowed from the work of Dr. Benjamin Rand for the Canning profile. Rand, a Harvard University professor and historical writer, was also quoted extensively by Eaton in his Kings County history. There are hints that Rand wrote much more on Canning than is quoted by Milner and Eaton; it may be worthwhile for the village of Canning to obtain a copy of his papers, which probably can be found at Harvard University.

As mentioned, Canning in its glory days boasted a newspaper. This was the Kings County gazette, published by H. A. Borden from 1864 to 1865 and by Major Theakston from 1865 to 1866. The great fire that practically destroyed Canning in 1866 may have been responsible for the village losing its newspaper. Eaton’s history lists the county newspapers and indicates that there was no publication in Canning after the 1866 fire. Theakston moved on to Wolfville where he started another newspaper, The Acadian, in 1866.

Milner’s book says that the fame of Canning rested on two foundations – “shipbuilding and ‘taters.” On the shipbuilding there’s one interesting tale of a Mr. Reid of Halifax who had a vessel built in Canning. Reid became “financially embarrassed” and died before he could repay his debt. “One of his creditors, indignant at Mr. Reid’s perverseness in dying, issued a writ of Respondendum and seized the body.”

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