RALPH S. EATON WAS A PIONEER ORCHARDIST (December 18/12)

“Ralph S. Eaton was descended from the Planter Eatons who came to Kings County after the expulsion of the Acadians, and like most of the Eaton clan, he had scholarly leanings and an interest in the soil,” I wrote in an Advertiser column over a decade ago.

“He was a prominent pioneer fruit grower,” I continued, “and his Hillcrest Orchards were undoubtedly a show place of national repute.”  I concluded that column with the observation that aside from the praise for Eaton and his orchards – he’s mentioned prominently in Arthur W. H. Eaton’s history of Kings County – little information about him exists.

Now, some 12 years later, I’m pleased to report that Ralph Stanley Eaton is no longer a mystery man.  Digging through that massive collection of scrapbooks in the Kings County Museum recently, I discovered a copy of Eaton’s obituary.  But some comments first on his famous Hillcrest Orchards before looking at the obituary.

The next time you see a piece of the now very collectable Blossom Time China, take a look at the orchard depicted on it.  This is Eaton’s Hillcrest Orchards, which were a showplace in the 1920s and 1930s and were said to have once been the largest mixed fruit stand in Canada.  The original orchard was located north east of Kentville on Middle Dyke Road, roughly where the Stirling orchards stand today.  That it was a tourist attraction may be assumed by the write-up and photographs of the orchard in a 1923 tourist guide published by the provincial government.  The government obviously felt Hillcrest Orchards would lure American tourists to Nova Scotia.

As I said above, Ralph S. Eaton is featured prominently in the history of Kings County fruit growing.  Taking Arthur W. H. Eaton at his word, since he included Ralph S. in his list of prominent Kings County fruit growers and pioneers, when it came to horticulture the gentleman was indeed noteworthy.  His obituary salutes him as “one of the most prominent orchardists in the Valley” on his death in 1933, indicating he was a pioneer in his field.  The following, taken from that obituary, offers some little known details on Eaton’s life:

“Mr. Eaton was born in Canard, son of the late Leander Eaton.  He studied at the Canard public school, later continuing his studies at Acadia.  For a number of years he taught school, first at his home section at Canard and for some years at Halifax.  Forty years ago he came to Kentville, and ever since has been identified with the town in all its varied interests.  He was president for a number of years of the Hillcrest Orchards Ltd., this fine orchard property being one of the show places of the Valley, and a popular resort of tourists.

“Mr. Eaton was ever zealous in placing the attractions of the Valley before visitors, and it was he who first saw the possibility of apple culture, and perhaps more than any other man, was instrumental in having the Experimental Station located here.  He was president of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association for a number of years and always took a leading part in the deliberations of that organization.”

A man widely known for his outstanding ability and integrity has passed, his obituary concluded.

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