At one time three noon hour whistles sounded in Canning – at the Bigelow shipyard, Blenkhorn’s Axe Factory and Melvin’s Mill.
This bit of historical trivia may not seem important but it’s significant. What it indicates is that Canning was not only a thriving centre of industrial and commercial activity but was probably the most prosperous village in Kings County in its heydey.
Some idea of how prosperous Canning was at one time can be ascertained by the book compiled in 1980 by A. Marie Bickerton, Old Timers, Canning and Habitant. Bickerton writes, for example, that Canning once had its own newspaper – the Kings County Gazette – and in the mid-19th century was the “largest and most prosperous village in Kings County.” The population in 1881 was just over 3,000.
In his Kings County history, A. W. H. Eaton called Canning a notable trading centre. Canning had one of the first steam mills in the county, Eaton says. To be explicit, Steam Mill had the first, Canning the second. It was a major shipbuilding area, one of the most prominent in this region, and a major shipping port. Canning also had one of the first private schools for girls in the county.
Eaton glosses over the main features of Canning in its heydey and it’s only in works such as Bickerton’s that we can truly see how prosperous the village once was. Bickerton notes, for example, that between 1839 and 1853 some 14 houses were erected in Canning, seven stores were opened and one hotel was built. Around this time a “cutlery factory” was opened. Canning later had a “soup factory,” the Kerr’s Vegetable Evaporating Co., a butter and cheese factory and a small plant where vinegar was made. And, of course, we mustn’t forget the famous Blenkhorn Axe Factory, which operated for about 120 years (closing in 1962) and was synonymous with Canning.
One of the things that makes Bickerton’s work invaluable is the amazing amount of detailed history and genealogy the author has on various properties and their owners.in Literally going from house to house, Bickerton notes who owned the various Canning homesteads over the years, providing family histories that future genealogists will find most useful.
Bickerton delves into folklore and old-time medicinal treatments as well. Ledger pages from early Canning stores can also be found in the book. Noting the Acadian connection with Canning and area, Bickerton mentions buried treasure and Acadian churches.
While out of print, copies of Bickerton’s book are available in the local library system and at Acadia University in the Nova Scotia section. If I’ve interested you in reading the book, check out pages 13 and 143 for brief references to the Acadian church and Acadian treasure. You’ll also discover that a Canning family, the Spicers, have a link with the American war of independence.