PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, the island-like municipality that juts into Lake Ontario, has earned a reputation as a burgeoning wine region, but 60 years ago it was known as the Garden County of Canada. Today, visitors who wind their way along County back roads flanked by endless rows of grapevines, would be hard-pressed to realize that those same fields once produced acre upon acre of market garden produce.
The mineral-rich soils of the County are ideal for producing fruits and vegetables, tomatoes in particular. In 1941, Prince Edward County shipped 1,500,000 cases of tomatoes out of its local canneries – a whopping 43 percent of the nation’s total canned tomato production. It is said that local streams close to canning factories ran “blood red with tomato waste” dumped by the canneries.
Producing and processing were an integral part of the lives of County folk until the late 1950s and ’60s when the canneries failed to modernize or were taken over by large multinationals that eventually closed them down. All but a few held on into the ’70s. Today, the familiar rhythm of producing and processing are echoed in the County’s vineyards and wineries – rhythms that speak to an agricultural past steeped in tradition and hard work.