Thanks to a railway system that connected the Valley’s fruit growing belt with distant ports, the apple industry was flourishing in the late 19th century. In her Dominion Atlantic Railway history, Marguerite Woodworth notes that between 1871 and 1893, approximately 1,400,000 barrels of apples were exported to England, using the railway lines to reach shipping points in Halifax.
But great Britain wasn’t the only market for Valley apples. Woodworth writes that there was a period when the bulk of the Nova Scotia apple crop went to the United States. For a time apple growers appeared to have a choice of markets. While the United States slapped duties on apples in 1888, causing growers to turn to the English market, Nova Scotian fruit growers were still shipping to America as late as 1892.
Having a choice of markets for their apples in both Great Britain and the States should have been beneficial to Valley fruit growers. However, this may also have meant that farmers often couldn’t agree on where to ship their apples.
That there was a disagreement of sorts is revealed in an interesting letter on display in the Blair House Museum at the Kentville Research Station. Dated September 7, 1892, the letter from fruit grower Harold Gates is addressed to C. R. H. Starr (possibly Charles Richard Henry, a fourth generation Planter grantee of the prominent Starr family who were Kings County fruit growing pioneers) and it deals with the mundane business of making apple barrels.
Gates wrote to Starr asking him to supply “1,200 flat hoops as soon as you conveniently can” as he wanted to “get the (apple) barrels made at once.” Gates then reveals that he is heavy into growing and exporting apples and was active in promoting the British market.
“Before I left,” writes Gates who is at Camp Aldershot on a militia exercise, “I canvassed for a car (of) Gravensteins to London.” But with so many of his fellow apple growers being away, Gates wrote, and with American agents attempting to buy “and soliciting consignments,” no one was willing to commit to the British market. Farmers were “waiting to see how much is going to be paid for the Boston market,” Gates explained. Gates also mentions a disagreement among apple growers on the best time to ship fruit. “None wanted to ship (on) the 19th (of September?) as nearly all thought it a bit too early.”
Gates’ reference to “so many of his friends being away” is also interesting since it appears he is referring to the annual call out of militia to Camp Aldershot for summer training. Apparently, even farmers had to attend the annual training exercises at the camp and from what Gates wrote, the training interfered somewhat with farming. You could read that militia training came first, farming second.
Gates noted in his letter that he was writing from Aldershot Camp. This puzzled me at first since I thought that the camp had opened much later. Advertiser columnist Brent Fox cleared this up for me, explaining that Aldershot Camp was first located on the barrens between Kingston and Aylesford – which I had forgotten – and moved to its present location in 1904.