CHASE, CHUTE – WHO WAS THE APPLE KING? (March 18/08)

About a year ago I devoted two columns (column1, column2) to the career of William H. Chase (1851-1933) and called him the apple king of Nova Scotia.  At the time, the editor of the Kings County Register questioned this.  “I always thought the title of apple king belonged to Berwick’s Sam Chute,” Sara Keddy said.

Of course I had heard of Sam Chute.  Who hasn’t if they live in the Valley.  His name is synonymous with apple growing and with Berwick, where he was one of the town’s leading citizens.   But as for him being the apple king, well I was dubious about that.  William H. Chase’s impact on the apple industry in Nova Scotia was unrivalled, as far as I was concerned, and he’s regarded as one of the men who brokered the apple industry into national prominence.

However, the possibility that others regarded Sam Chute as the apple king intrigued me.  What was Chute’s claim to fame?  Looking for an answer to this question, I learned that first of all, that comparing Chute to Chase was, well, like comparing apples to oranges, if you’ll pardon the cliché.   While Chase owned orchards, for example, he flourished more as an apple broker, a major exporter, a builder of warehouses and ports, a pioneer in turning the growing and selling of apples into a major business that put Nova Scotia on the world map.

Sam Chute, on the other hand, was an apple pioneer, one of the men who led the way into making the Valley a flourishing fruit belt, a fruit belt which astute businessmen like Chase turned into a financial empire.  Comparing Chute with Chase was, in other words, comparing growers with an exporter, a man who bought and sold apples, and this was wrong.

I have Berwick historian Pat Hampsey to thank for setting me straight on this.   Pat gave me several newspapers clipping on Chute from the Berwick Register, one detailing the life of the grower when he died in 1941 at age 74.  The Register hailed Chute as a pioneer of the apple industry.  In addition to turning out record crops and operating some of the largest orchards in the Valley, the Register said, Chute had also established international business connections with the fruit trade, and had “large fruit interests” in the States.

Sam Chute’s prominent role in the apple industry is brought into perspective by Anne Hutten in her book, Valley Gold.  “S. B. ‘Sam’ Chute of Berwick is known to have pioneered in the extensive use of commercial fertilizers during the 1890s, while increasing his acreage of orchards at a steady pace,” Hutten writes.  “By 1909 he was producing 4,000 barrels of apples, the largest crop ever grown by a single farmer up to that time.”

Elsewhere, Hutten tells us that when Apple growers banded together to form the United Fruit Companies of Nova Scotia, the new organization looked for the best men available to manage it and build warehouses.  “S. B. Chute of Berwick was an acknowledged expert on the growing, buying and shipping of apples, and he was hired as the first general manager.  That he continued to operate his own private business did not yet bother growers.  They needed a man who knew the business, and Sam Chute, without any doubt, knew it.”

Hutten includes other tributes to Chute in the book, verifying that beyond a doubt, he was in his time a leader in the apple industry.  That in one sense he was worthy of being dubbed the apple king cannot be disputed.  He was certainly acknowledged in his day as the apple king; the Register clippings from Pat Hampsey’s file never fail to refer to him as such whenever his name came up.

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