The town of Berwick boasts that it is the apple capital of Nova Scotia, a claim partly based perhaps on the fact that major apple growers once were located there.
Looking back, there was a period when Kentville could have made the same claim. This was the time when the railway’s headquarters were in the town, and the railway, with its shipping facilities, spurred the growth of the apple industry. Formed in 1912, the United Fruit Companies of Nova Scotia (later Scotian Gold) had its headquarters in Kentville, another plus that arguably could boost Kentville’s claim to be the apple capital – if Kentville wanted to make this claim, that is.
However, historical writer John DeCoste made it clear in a recent talk in Kentville that another area could also claim to be the apple capital of Nova Scotia. That honour, at one time, belonged to Aylesford.
The theme of DeCoste’s talk, the history of the apple industry, began with him noting that roughly from 1920 to the mid-1950s a good deal of what is now the Scotian Gold operation was situated in Aylesford. “In its heyday (Aylesford) was the hub of a fruit production concern that rivalled any in Canada at the time.”
In 1919, the United Fruit Company, now operating Valley-wide in support of apple growers, decided to build a canning and cider-making factory. After weighing all the factors, DeCoste said, the decision was made to construct the factory in Aylesford. After some delays, the factory was operational by the fall of 1920. Soon after, the factory was shipping cases of canned apples to England and was annually turning out thousands of gallons of cider. Diversifying later, the Aylesford plant began producing vinegar and dried apples.
Thanks to the heart of the apple industry being located in Aylesford, the village boomed. DeCoste notes that during the second world war as many as 500 or more people worked in Aylesford. “Aylesford, at the time,” he said, “could be called, without much exaggeration, the centre of the Valley apple industry.”
Over time, as the entire apple industry went into decline, facilities devoted to producing apple-based products closed down or moved into other areas of the Valley. The United Fruit Company dissolved in the 1950s and reorganized as the Scotian Gold Co-Operative Company Limited. However, this spelled the end of Aylesford as an apple-based factory. Scotian Gold ran a small-scale factory in Aylesford for a while but as DeCoste noted, it was closed in 1964.
However, from the 1920s and during its heyday in the 30s and 40s, Aylesford could rightly claim to have been the apple capital of Nova Scotia. Berwick makes that claim today.
(A former newspaperman, John DeCoste is the co-author of two history books – the history of Aylesford and district and a history of the Anglican Church in Auburn. DeCoste has been recognized nationally for his sports writing and photography and in 2017 was inducted into the Acadia Sports Hall of Fame. He currently serves as a director of the Kings Historical Society).