The first exercises by the Black Watch at Camp Gagetown, New Brunswick, were held in the mid-50s. During the exercises a number of old, abandoned farms were discovered inside the Camp boundaries. Eventually the farms were demolished but not before soldiers used them for bivouacs.

On an attic floor in one of the old farms a soldier from Kentville found piles of letters with 19th century postmarks. Out of curiosity, and to pass time, he began to read the letters. One was most interesting and the soldier put it in his knapsack. When he returned to Kentville he gave the letter to me and I’ve held on to it for over 40 years; the contents of the letter is the topic of this week’s column.

Written by a man who signed his name J. J. Maguire, the letter was mailed from Boston to St. John, New Brunswick, in September of 1887. The recipient was a man identified only as “Friend Charles,” and its contents tell us Maguire had swindled his employer (a Mr. Dodge) and was asking for help in covering up his misdoing. While telling Charles of his plight, Maguire also gives us a glimpse of life in that period and the price of such things as strawberries and freight costs.

“I have seen Mr. Dodge and he says that he wants a statement from you for what berries that you shipped to him this season,” Maguire writes. Then he gets to the purpose of his letter. “Now Charles, you can send in with your statement a small lot (of berries) on some back date. You might put a lot say on one day previous to the first lot you shipped.” Maguire added that his employer was “all bothered upon his books and won’t know the difference.”

The reason for falsifying records? Maguire had been on a binge in St. John and had spent some of his employer’s money while carousing with a friend. And he wanted Maguire to cover the money he had spent with a fake invoice which he supposedly had paid while in St. John. “The last Saturday I went down there I went through a lot of money. I got full that night and it went from me one way or another. Now you can help me by billing in 14 crates from Hoyts on the date previous to the first lot you shipped from there.”

In his letter Maguire spells out to the penny exactly how Charles can help him. Invoice the 14 crates of strawberries at four cents a box or $1.28 a crate, he requests. This will total $17.92 he goes on and when you add 36 cents a crate for freight charges between Boston and St. John ($5.04) and 32 cents a crate for packing and hauling ($4.48) the total of the false invoice will read $27.44. Which gives us a fair idea of what a night on the town costs 110 years ago.

Over the years I’ve occasionally taken Maguire’s letter (now tattered and flimsy) from my files, read it, and speculated on what might happened as a result of his carousal over a century ago. Did Charles foolishly help his wastrel friend, who, by the way, reveals in his letter that he owes money to several people in St. John and promises to cover it.

I treasure my intriguing old letter – because of Maguire’s pitiful plight, because I will never know the outcome of Maguire’s attempt to swindle his employer, and for the brief glimpse of life in the 19th century that it provides.

In a way I empathize with Maguire who closes his letter with a final appeal for help: “Charlie, do the best you can (and) everything will be all right.”


The young soldier-to-be signed the “attestation paper” signifying he was willing to serve overseas in the Canadian Expeditionary Force for one year or as long as the war between Great Britain and Germany lasted. By signing he swore he would be “faithful and bear true allegiance” to King George the Fifth. The date on the document was February 5, 1916. The First World War was just over two years old when he enlisted at Kentville. He was 22 at the time.

It’s difficult to explain how I felt when the computer screen brought up the enlistment papers my father had filled out and signed when joining the Army 81 years ago. At first I was surprised and amazed that I could find his war records. It was a bit eerie looking at his handwriting and a detailed physical description.

I was even more amazed – you could say thunderstruck – upon discovering that the First World War records of over 600,000 Canadians soldiers are on the Internet. With a simple keyboard entry, a few clicks of the mouse, the personnel files of the National Archives are there for anyone to read. Once you know your way around the Internet, finding a relative or anyone who served in the war and looking at their personal records is as easy as typing a name.

What is surprising is that the information I discovered on the Internet appears to breach the Privacy Act. Under the stipulation of the Privacy Act, access to service records or release of personal information about individuals is not permitted without the written consent of the individual concerned. If an individual is deceased, only members of his immediate family can obtain his service records.

Write the National Archives of Canada and what I’ve spelled out above about the Privacy Act is exactly what they will tell you. With the onset of the Internet, however, it appears that the Privacy Act no longer applies. The records of some 600,000 Canadians soldiers, which are now available worldwide to anyone with a computer, indicates this must be the case.

I don’t know how you feel about this or even if it is something we should be concerned about. While there appears to be nothing sinister and such easy access to Internet information may be welcomed by many, it does hint at what the future could be like. Two years ago when I hooked up to the Internet I accessed business sites without reminders that any personal information I might transmit was available to anyone with a computer. Nowadays I am constantly reminded that there are computer crooks out there and it isn’t wise to email bank account or charge card numbers. The Internet may seem perfectly safe but it isn’t. And you can expect to read more about computer crime as use of the Internet becomes more widely spread.

Getting back to the records of Canadian soldiers being on the Internet, I mentioned that this type of information would be appreciated by some. I’m sure anyone doing genealogical research will eventually find those 600,000 plus war records helpful. And undoubtedly this is one of the reasons, and perhaps the only reason, the National Archives made this information easy to obtain.

However, I still wonder if the Privacy Act has been ignored or if the Act even exists anymore. Perhaps the wildfire spread of the Internet has made it obsolete.


When Hurricane Edna devastated this area in the summer of 1954, one of its victims was a schooner that for nearly three decades had plied the waters of the Bay of Fundy.

Dubbed the “FBG,” the two-masted auxiliary schooner Fred Boyd Gibson Green was moored on the west side of Kingsport wharf on the evening of September 9 (11?). The hurricane winds split the hull open and ripped the deck from the FBG, throwing it on the beach. The schooner came to rest onshore less than 100 meters from were it had been built 26 years before.

The FBG was built in Kingsport in 1928 by master shipbuilder Fred Green and mariner Boyd Gibson, standing in stocks where the parking area is today at the head of the wharf. Launched the following year and captained by Gibson, the FBG carried cargo for over a quarter-century from Parrsboro and Joggins to Minas Basin ports such as Canning and Windsor and up the Bay of Fundy as far as Grand Manaan and Deer island. The FBG never left these waters while it was in service.

For decades after it was totaled by Hurricane Edna the FBG lay rotting on the Kingsport beach. It was here that I first saw its skeleton. The sea, sun and winds eventually wiped away all traces of the ship, but not before I became familiar with its remains; clambering over it over as a teenager, I imagined all sort of things about pirates, buried treasure and exotic cargoes. The truth about the FBG, I eventually learned, was a lot less glamorous. During its lifetime the schooner was used mainly as a carrier of coal and fertilizer. Its most exciting adventure was the honeymoon cruise of Captain Gibson and his new bride across the Basin to Parrsboro for a load of coal.

Puzzled over the FBG’s designation as an “auxiliary schooner” I asked local marine history buff Leon Barron for an explanation. “This means the FBG also had a 10 h.p. engine and didn’t depend entirely on its sails for power,” Barron said. As well as possessing a copy of the FBG’s certificate of registration, Barron has collected a number of interesting tales about the ship. Leon told me, for example, about the FBG’s connection with another sailing craft, the Hattie McKay. Built at Parrsboro in 1896, the Hattie McKay was wrecked on Medford beach in 1927 a few miles from Kingsport, possibly in a storm similar to the one that did in the FBG. The engine from the Hattie McKay was salvaged and used in the FBG.

After the FBG was wrecked Captain Gibson removed and stored what was left of the rigging, gear and woodwork. Some of this salvage was used in the construction of a sailing ship at Parrsboro in the 1960s. Retired Captain and boatbuilder, Alden Coffill, used the steering wheel from the FBG when he constructed “The Sou’Wester,” a 70-foot two-masted schooner that was launched into the Minas Basin in 1970. Later sold and rechristened the “Freedom,” the ship now runs out of New York as a charter boat.

This summer a downsized replica of the FBG was started at Avondale in Hants County. Using the original plans for the FBG the Avon Spirit is identical except for its length which is 10 feet shorter. The Avon Spirit was officially launched and christened in August and then put back in the boathouse for completion. Next summer the Avon Spirit will be cruising the waters of the Minas Basin, perhaps retracing some of the old routes sailed by the FBG.

The FBG was the last cargo schooner operating in Nova Scotia; with its demise it could be said that the age of commercial sailing ships in Nova Scotia came to an end. The old FBG still sails on, however. In the Avon Spirit, in the Freedom, in the hearts of men for whom the age of sail was a golden era.

NOVA SCOTIA SHIPWRECKS – 1875-1914 (November 28/97)

Nova Scotia never claimed, like Britannia, that it ruled the waves, but this province can boast of once being a commercial sea-going power.

At one time Nova Scotia vessels sailed to ports world-wide. This was in the days of sailing ships and the major role played by Bluenose vessels has been chronicled in numerous books and documents. What perhaps hasn’t been adequately recorded is the hazardous life Nova Scotia’s mariners faced on the oceans of the world. Many of the sailing ships out of Nova Scotia ports had tragic ends. In the hundred or more years that Nova Scotia was a major shipping power, many vessels foundered and were lost; exactly how many went down at sea or were disabled on foreign shores will never be known.

Some records of Nova Scotia shipwrecks are available, however. Falmouth writer John V. Duncanson has compiled a detailed account of more than 250 Bluenose vessels that were shipwrecked or disabled in United States coastal waters between 1875 and 1914. Released this month by the West Hants Historical Society, the book will be a welcome addition to Nova Scotia sea lore and a handy reference that will be well thumbed by marine history buffs.

To compile this account of Nova Scotia vessels Duncanson accessed the records of the United States Life Saving Service which was established in 1871. Mr. Duncanson spent several of his winters in recent years pouring over the annual reports of the Service. This in itself was a chore since the reports were housed in several States, Florida, Alabama and Illinois, for example, and had to be tracked down.

Thankfully, the records kept by the US Life Saving Service were detailed. As a result, Duncanson was able to include in his account the names of vessels, home ports, voyage destinations, the names of captains, crew and passenger numbers. The account also includes the cargoes carried by the vessels, estimates of damage and the total number of persons lost or saved.

Readers will undoubtedly find the second part of Mr. Duncanson’s book the most interesting section. The chapter on statistical information is bare bones and dry. The second part is a mini-history of each vessel Duncanson listed in the statistical section. The narratives are matter of fact but they reveal the horrors and hardships that often befell Nova Scotia seamen in the old days.

Typical examples are the fates of two vessels out of local ports. The barquentine Albertina from Windsor, sailing from New York in 1904, went down off the coast of Massachusetts and the crew of 10 were lost. The schooner Bill Baxter out of Canning, disabled off of Rhode Island in 1875, went down with a loss of $7,360., a small fortune in those days. The crew of six were saved.

There are similar accounts of vessels built in small shipyards along the Bay of Fundy and the Minas Basin and its tributaries. Vessels with names that leave no doubt about their place of origin; schooners such as the Pereau, Sam Slick, Avon and Harold Borden, for example. While it was incidental, Mr. Duncanson’s inclusion of a shipmaster (Captain) index will undoubtedly be on help to anyone researching their mariner ancestors.

Duncanson’s book, which hopefully is the first of a series of two or three similar undertakings, is available from the West Hants Historical Society, PO Box 2335, Windsor, NS B0N 2T0. E-mail address:

MINAS BASIN “SHIPS OF SAIL” (November 21/97)

If you want to learn about wooden sailing ships of Minas Basin or Bay of Fundy origin, printed sources are available; the building of sailing ships along these shores has been chronicled in several books.

Or even better, if you enjoy intimate accounts with personal details on the builders, you should talk with people whose hobby is the collecting and compiling of information about ship building. People such as Leon Barron, South Alton, or St. Clair (Joe) Patterson, Hantsport, who can tell you a great deal about the wooden ships that were built around here over the past century or two.

Through a lifelong interest in wooden ships, Barron and Patterson have amassed an amazing amount of facts and figures, most of which is at their fingertips. Patterson, who retired as manager of Basinview Village in 1985, has been collecting and filing away information on the wooden ship industry on the Minas Basin and Avon River for 30 years. Patterson calls his work “one of my hobbies.”

In this column recently I mentioned a scrapbook book excerpt that told about a sailing ship – the Kent – that was built on the Cornwallis River in Kentville around 1845. Joe Patterson’s database shows the Kent being built at Horton in 1847, not on the Cornwallis. In other words, the information in the newspaper clipping was an error. Patterson tells me a ship was built on the Cornwallis River, possibly in Kentville’s town limits, and it was called “The Kentville.” The year of construction and launching? Patterson has been unable to dig out the exact dates but he tells me evidence indicates it was in the 1870s or early 1880s.

As well as correcting an error, the update on the Kent and The Kentville are mentioned to illustrate what I said about people like Patterson and Barron. People like these two marine history buffs have a wealth of information in their files and data bases. There are other people with similar interests who have also dug into various aspects of local history. Unfortunately, some of their findings will never be published.

Like Mr. Patterson, Leon Barron is also retired and now has more time to devote to his history hobby. For 40 years Barron has been collecting information on his favorite topics, wooden sailing ships and the Dominion Atlantic Railroad. Recently he has been assisting on a private project spearheaded by Cathy Margeson, Kentville, which is the identification of every wooden sailing ship constructed in Kings County.

Margeson and Barron have succeeded in identifying over 600 ships to date over a 200 year period and the project is far from being completed. Barron tells me that a lot of historical records have yet to be researched.

Undoubtedly the results of this project will eventually be published as a pamphlet or book and available to the public. If you’re into local history you should find the Margeson-Barron research interesting. Barron tells me, for example, that they have confirmed the dates of the first and second vessels built in Kings County. The first, a small schooner, was built in 1790 in Cornwallis Town Plot; the second in 1800 at Canning.

Barron is also working on compiling a list of shipwrecks in the Minas Basin. While many of the shipwrecks have been identified in books about Nova Scotia marine disasters , Barron says the list is far from being complete. His research will be a welcome addition to local folklore.


1896 – THE TIME OF TEMPERANCE (November 14/97)

In the spring of 1896 Sheriff Stephen Belcher issued a legal notice wrapping up the affairs of a deceased Kings County resident. Belcher ran an advertisement in a unidentified County paper advising the public of a property sale. On another page a merchant offered nickle alarm clocks for $1. in an advertisement with the quaint heading, “What Think Ye Of This?”

Without Sheriff Belcher’s dated legal notice I couldn’t have determined the age of the tattered pieces of yellowing newspaper I found recently. While housecleaning I came across the scraps of newspaper in a filing cabinet that has been in a corner of my basement for decades. The partial pages had no dates or identification but the advertisements indicated it was a Kings County newspaper. Which one I don’t know. One hundred years ago the County was served by at least four and possibly up to six newspapers. Wolfville, Berwick, Canning and Kentville each published a paper at the time and the latter two may have had more than one.

Amateur historian/collector Louis Comeau tells me that researching local history requires much detective work and a lot of luck. Comeau says it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with seemingly unconnected pieces of information. Get enough pieces (i.e. facts) and they should tell you something about a particular period in the past.

Old newspapers usually provide plenty of clues about life in bygone days, even when they’re tattered, incomplete and unidentifiable. The fragments of my old newspaper ooze complacency and a total lack of urgency. The quaint ads invite you to visit this or that store but there’s no rush; come in when you have the time. Even the medicinal advertisements with their preposterous claims for a host of ills and chills are mellow.

Even if I hadn’t been able to date this newspaper, there were plenty of clues that it was printed in the horse and buggy days. Chas. McDonald, Wheelwright, tells us that 100 years ago he was prepared to do an outstanding job of repairing or painting one’s carriage. Jas. Handley was offering “ox rigs” and the finest of harness and reins, “handmade by Nova Scotia leather workers of long experience.”

Around the time my old paper was printed the Nova Scotia Prohibition Convention was held. In the paper was a notice from Rev. E. J. Grant urging Kings County residents to vote only for candidates who supported a prohibitionist platform. Rev. Grant spoke of muzzling the rum trade and the “sad fact (that) dastardly demon rum was much a part of politics and business.”

When Rev. Grant wrote his missive to the electors of Kings County, various parts of the province were “dry.” The Canadian Temperance Act (Scott Act), had been in force for almost 20 years. Under the Act any city or county could, with the support of only one-fourth of its electors, opt to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks. This explains the campaign by Rev. Grant; he wanted Kings County to go dry, which it apparently did for a time.

My old paper refers to an upcoming national plebiscite on prohibition; this was held two years after my old newspaper came off the press. The “wets” won, by the way. I looked it up after the old paper titillated my interest and learned that only a small percentage of Canadians voted for national prohibition in 1898.

Rev. Grant and his supporters must have been flabbergasted since in 1896 Kings County was deeply into the temperance movement. It says so in my old newspaper.



Judging from the comments, phone calls and notes from readers about recent columns, there is a lot of interest in local history. The columns about Boot Island and the “lost history” of Canning brought an unusual number of responses from readers who had information about these topics. I was surprised that people know so much about the history of places like Canning and Boot Island and so little of it has been written down. Obviously much local history exists only as recollections and family stories that are passed from generation to generation.

Most interesting were the notes and telephone calls from people whose relatives had lived on Boot Island. Several readers supplied the names of families who besides the Leon Cards had lived on the Boot. The Hutchinson, Nowlan, Biggs and Allen families were mentioned by readers. These families had farmed on Boot Island at some time over the last 100 years; undoubtedly there were other families who in the centuries after the Acadian expulsion had made the Boot their home but no written record of them is believed to exist.

Marion Schofield called to tell me that her grandparents, David and Abigail Hutchinson, started married life on Boot island and had a sheep ranch there in the 19th century. Mrs. Schofield wasn’t sure about the exact dates of their occupation but she said it was prior to 1870, the date her father was born.

Several readers mentioned that Boot Island was profiled briefly in a book about island life in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. None of the callers could remember the title of the book but a letter from Thelma Duncan revealed its name and author.

“I wondered,” Ms. Duncan wrote , “if you have read Paradise or Purgatory by Allison Mitchum, which was published (by Lancelot Press) in 1986. She has a good chapter on Boot Island (with) the history of the Biggs and Allens who lived there prior to the Cards.” Ms. Duncan added that she has a special interest in the Boot which she looks upon from the patio of her home on the Oak Island Road in Avonport.

One reader told me several tales about the treacherous tides in “The Guzzle,” that infamous stretch between Boot Island and the main shore. One of them was about a team of oxen and a wagon filled with produce being swept along the shore by the rush of water, eventually reaching land well below their destination point. I have also confirmed that at least one Valley resident was born on the Boot. An interview with one of these people will be the topic of a future column.

A former lifelong resident of Canning, the late Ira Cox, is one of the persons who has written a history of this village. John DeWolfe of Canning called to tell me he is in possession of the Cox history, which has never been published, and has kindly agreed to let me look at it. Hopefully I’ll be able to review the Cox manuscript in this column. I believe Mr. Cox covered Canning history for a period of well over 100 years.

I was told recently – I was given the approximate location actually – that New Minas contains a Micmac burial site. Information anyone might have about this or other Micmac sites in New Minas (Oak Island, for example) would be appreciated. Perhaps the “Micmac factor” in New Minas will also be a future column topic.


“My mind will go back to the many different horses I drove and the different quirks some of them had. Like the black mare Dolly, who every time we stopped at a (watering hole) managed to pull her bridle off, no matter how securely it was buckled on. Also old Harry who we had to stop watering on the road because he insisted on trying to roll in the water. Another common sight at the time was to see whole sets of wagons wheels soaking in the brooks; hot weather would dry (the wheels) out, so they would be dropped in the water for a few days.”

These observations about horses and wagons are among the many glimpses of farm life Alex Middleton offers in a recently completed autobiography. Middleton’s book, Down Through The Years, is filled with homey revelations such as these, which while seemingly trivial, let us glimpse times that are gone forever. Beginning with his arrival in Sheffield Mills with his family in 1929 when he was 13, Middleton takes us through the rough and tumble life of a farm lad growing up in Kings County between the two world wars. Besides telling us about life on the farm when there were few machines and work was done by man and beast, Middleton also writes about bootlegging, rum running, horses and oxen, rafting lumber on the Bay of Fundy, the hoboes and drifters of that period, the men who turned farming into big business.

These were the horse and oxen years in Kings County and one day people will value the account Alex Middleton has written about those times. It is a wry, rough account, written humorously with no pretensions or preaching. But what a wonderful, detailed account it is! Straightforward, a dash of saltiness, a story straight from the heart and the farm that touches on all aspects of rural life.

A few of us will easily identify with the times Alex Middleton writes about. But like me, most people who read this account will be amazed that there was so much work and little time for recreation. In the winter there was skating, the occasional card party and through winter the weekly dance. “They were held at a different house in the village every Friday night,” Alex writes. “The ladies brought a plate for the lunch and the men paid for the music. This was usually a fiddler and a young man or two accompanying him with a guitar or mouth organ.”

When Alex was a lad the temperance movement was still strong; this and prohibition in the U.S. made rum-running and bootlegging not only profitable but common. In one amusing anecdote Alex writes about a successful attempt to bring a shipload of liquor into Kings County. The police were tipped that on a certain high tide a cargo of alcohol would be brought ashore in Scots Bay. “There was a boat out there all right but it didn’t come in,” Alex writes. “It just stayed offshore long enough to hold the cops while the real (shipment) was being unloaded in Canning.”

Then there’s the prominent Aldershot bootlegger who avoided the police for years by hiding rum in the hollow legs of a table. And the bootlegger who hid booze in his vegetable garden. “When his customers wanted a pint they had to buy (vegetables) for camouflage whether they wanted them or not.”

As I mentioned, Alex’ book is full of such anecdotes and funny asides. Unfortunately, his book isn’t for sale. Only 10 copies were printed. However, if you wish to read about the trials, tribulations and good times of farm life as Alex Middleton lived them, visit the Kings Courthouse Museum. A copy of his book has been deposited there.



Through her interest in genealogy and as a compiler of family and community history, Marie Bishop has collected a massive amount of information on local history. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do with it all,” she said when I visited her New Minas home recently to look at one of her scrapbooks.

I wanted to suggest I hire a truck to take all her files home, but I contented myself with borrowing the scrapbook she had invited me in to see. Marie said it was one of her better scrapbooks and I’d probably “find interesting things in it.” Which, to make an understatement, was an understatement. While brief, the scrapbook was a treasure chest of historical nuggets. Among them, for example, was ….

A sketch of Wolfville in 1869 by B. O. Davidson who tells us the town was a great shipping and ship building center in its heyday and recalls seeing vessels from the West Indies, South America and the U.S. tied up at the wharves. “At one time I counted sixteen of these vessels at their moorings,” Davidson wrote. “In early days many vessels were built here at shipyards on both sides of the creek.”

When Davidson first visited Wolfville in 1869 the town had “no paved streets or sidewalks, no street lights.” Ox-teams were common in that period and at harvest time were “parked by the roadside for a considerable distance waiting their chance to unload.” From Davidson’s sketch we learn that Wolfville at the time was headquarters for the newly arrived railroad. The railroad headquarters were moved to Kentville after a dispute with Wolfville landowners, Davidson said. We can probably surmise correctly that this dispute and the railroad move led to Kentville being the major center in this area.

From Marie’s scrapbook we learn that a ship – the Kent – was built in Kentville, possibly right in the downtown area, and launched into the Cornwallis River in the summer of 1846. An excerpt from a sketch written in 1907 tells us the Kent was built on a grassy area just across the town bridge but there was no indication if it was the north or south side of the river. The excerpt hints the Kent, which was built by James E. DeWolfe, had a short, unsuccessful career. Perhaps a reader has more details on the Kent and would like to enlighten us.

The scrapbook tells us that in 1846 three of the four merchants operating in Kentville sold rum. “The great event of the week was the arrival of the mail coach from Halifax. “It brought the farmers in and served as an excuse …. to patronise the Crown Inn and the Kentville Hotel and replenish the little brown jug.” Mentioned in the excerpt is George Bear, the “great colored orator and philosopher who would (speak) to the crowd from his rostrum, the scales at the corner of the Red Store.” Readers having any facts on the life of Mr. Bear – he appears to have been an interesting man – are invited to contact me.

From the scrapbook we learn that the original Planter name for Port Williams- Terry’s Creek – came from John Terry who with the Lockwood family first settled in the area. Colonel John Burbidge, one of the first settlers after the expulsion of the Acadians, is mentioned in detail in the Port Williams sketch. Burbidge was ahead of his time in his treatment of slaves, freeing them in 1790, and was a pioneer in the introduction of several varieties of apples and pears. Direct descendants of Burbidge still live in this area.

CANNING – A LOST HISTORY? (October 17/97)

Some 50 or 60 years ago, the story goes, a longtime Canning resident decided to write a history of his village. The history was said to be based on old records, interviews with other longtime residents and the writer’s involvement in the affairs of Canning for over half a century. The history was completed in the early 1950s but has never appeared in print and few people have read it.

Depending on whom you talk to, this history of early Canning has been destroyed or is gathering dust somewhere in an attic. The author passed away in the early 1960s and at the time of his death the history wasn’t completed.

Is the lost Canning history fact or fiction? The dates given may be off a bit but I believe an account of Canning from the late 19th century through the early 1900s was probably written; and it probably has been stored away somewhere and forgotten.

It’s even possible there may be more than one Canning account. Writer/researcher Marie Bishop, who is best known for the in-depth community histories she has penned, told me recently that she heard about the existence of two histories of Canning. Like me Ms. Bishop has heard the stories about the accounts being written – with one of them now in the hands of a relative – and she has the name of at least one possible author.

Not all of this is conjecture or rumors. When I was working in the Canning area for this newspaper some 25 years ago I heard that a Canning history had been written and I was directed to the door of a gentleman who was then in his 80s. Yes, he told me, he had been working of “a paper about Canning for years.” I was told I couldn’t see his work at the time but I would be invited back later when the history was in order.

The invitation never came. Several years later the old gentleman died; and when I inquired about his history several months after his death, no one knew anything about it.

In a way it’s too bad that this account, or perhaps the accounts, of Canning aren’t available. At one time Canning was a thriving village and was probably one of the major shipping, ship building and commercial centers in this part of the Annapolis Valley. I don’t believe an in-depth history of Canning has ever been compiled and there’s no doubt that many of the old records have been lost. The personal account(s) mentioned above would be invaluable in fleshing out a history of the village.

There undoubtedly are interesting bits and pieces of Canning’s past in newspaper files, museums and in personal accounts that people have squirreled away or misplaced. A few short histories and various photographs of Canning have appeared in The Advertiser from time to time, most dealing with ship building or the great fires that ravaged the village in 1866. In my files, for example, is an excellent profile of the village written by Doreen Roberts and published in this paper in 1978. This article has a concise report on the Canning fires and an overview of the village.

Various authors, some of them prominent, have mentioned Canning in their writing, Esther Clark Wright being one example. Ms. Wright mentions Canning at least half a dozen times in one of her better known books, some of it disparaging.

Future generations will read Ms. Wright’s remarks about “poor Canning” with its rotting wharves and pretentious forefathers. The village deserves better treatment. Perhaps one day, when all the lost accounts are found, a future historian will be more kind.