THE POTATO ‘MADE’ CANNING SAYS 1929 HISTORIAN (December 9/05)

In a November column, I asked if Canning was ever called Apple Tree Landing by its earlier inhabitants. In fact, I offered some rather weak evidence that maybe it wasn’t, siding with historian Bruce Spicer who argues that the name actually applied to an old wharf in the village. I even dared suggest that historian A. W. H. Eaton was slightly amiss in his 1910 history of Kings County, where he wrote that the village was once called Apple Tree Landing.

While Eaton was probably right rather than wrong, and historical writers will keep on repeating what he wrote without questioning it, I have yet to see any documentation suggesting Canning was once Apple Tree Landing. However, it really doesn’t matter; besides, the folklore about the old apple tree beside an old wharf is a colourful tale and true or not, deserves preserving.

That being said, a few days ago I discovered an article in the vaults of the Kings County Museum that sheds interesting light on Canning’s early days. The article was written in 1929 by Margaret E. Ells (1909-1986) and was entered in an essay competition at Dalhousie University. Ms. Ells writes about Canning’s various name changes, in some respects differing slightly from A. W. H. Eaton, but agreeing with him that the village definitely was once called Apple Tree Landing.

“The Loyalists settled Apple Tree Landing,” Ells writes. “When the stump of the tree for which the village had been named was no longer visible, Apple Tree Landing received another name. Habitant Corner it was called and Habitant Corner it remained for some thirty years, until in the third decade of the nineteenth century a village meeting decided to change its name to that of two leading British statesmen, George Canning, late prime minister, and his nephew.”

How does Ells differ from Eaton? The latter wrote that the village was named after George Canning and his son, not his nephew. Most people aren’t aware of the fact that the village honoured two Cannings, both of whom were Governor-Generals of India. Few if any historians and travel writers mention this fact.

Canning in its heydey was quite a place, by the way. Ells writes that when large towns like Kentville “were settlements of about 200 people, when villages like Sheffield Mills had scarcely a track through them, Canning was a prosperous village of two thousand inhabitants.”

What led to that prosperity, Ells explained, was “harbour room for as many as eleven one-hundred-and-fifty-ton freighters,” a ship building industry second to none, and potato farming. “The village of Canning was ‘made’ by the potato industry,” Ells said, noting that an excellent port and fine ships opened up a huge market for potatoes. She describes a busy Canning harbour at harvest time when the “farmers came for miles around, their ox-carts piled high with good Bluenose potatoes, to load on the vessels moored at the landing, sometimes eleven deep.”

Since we know what made Canning prosperous, its a wonder that when villagers sat down to select a new name they didn’t pick something honouring the port, the shipbuilders and the lowly potato. Why they decided to honour two British statesmen “can only be conjectured,” Ells wrote.

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