“Canning, on the road to the Lookoff, was once called Apple Tree Landing, and later it was known as Habitant Corner,” writes Dorothy Duncan in the 1946 book, Bluenose, A Portrait of Nova Scotia.
In what is probably the handbook for historians, genealogists and other dabblers in local lore – Place-Names and Places of Nova Scotia – Charles Bruce Fergusson also writes that Canning’s early names were Apple Tree Landing and Habitant Corner.
Fergusson’s work was published in 1967, so obviously, Dorothy Duncan accessed another source in her travel guide. The same can be said of one of our most famous authors when he referred to Canning. In Off-Trail in Nova Scotia, Will R. Bird mentions that Canning was once called Apple Tree Landing. Unlike Duncan who gives no source, Bird attributes his information on the village’s former name to a Canning resident.
Another travel writer who predates Bird but writes similar travel books also refers to Canning and Apple Tree Landing in the same breath. However, in Down in Nova Scotia (published 1934) Sara Dennis intimates that Apple Tree landing and Habitant Corner were not one and the same place. Dennis says that the tree in the village’s early name referred to “an old French apple tree that grew there.” Then she adds that “nearly one hundred years ago the citizens of Apple Tree Landing and the citizens of Habitant Corner decided to change both names to the one, Canning, in honour of the British statesman of that name.”
Dennis’ assertion that there was an area called Apple Tree Landing and one called Habitant Corner in a way supports the argument of historian Bruce Spicer re Canning’s old names. Despite what the likes of Bird, Fergusson, and Duncan have written, Mr. Spicer argues that there’s no evidence Canning was ever officially called Apple Tree Landing.
I tend to side with Mr. Spicer, a well-known historian who has been recognised and honoured for his research on Canning and the surrounding area. Mr. Spicer grants that the main wharf in Canning once had an apple tree standing near it. “That’s what they called Apple Tree Landing and Canning was Canning,” Spicer says. “They were separate.”
Mr. Spicer refers to an old postcard, printed in the early 1900s, that shows the old Canning wharf where ships came in and refers to it as Apple Tree landing. The postcard reads, “A glimpse of Habitant River from Apple Tree Landing, Canning, Nova Scotia,” clearly indicating that the landing and Canning are separate entities.
“I could be wrong about this,” says Spicer. However, he’s willing to discuss Apple Tree Landing and Canning with anyone who wishes to dispute his claim. “I’d like someone to call and argue the point with me.”
Of course, anyone disputing Mr. Spicer’s claim will undoubtedly use the bible of historians, Eaton’s history of Kings County. Eaton says that “the hamlet that finally grew into the town of Canning was first called Apple-Tree Landing.” It may be heresy to say this but Eaton used local folklore in parts of his history and we’re all aware of how unreliable this can be. Eaton simply could be wrong about Canning’s earlier names.