The village of Canton was first settled by Europeans in the summer of 1800, by Stillman Foote, from Middlebury, Vermont.[1] Mr. Foote purchased the square mile that would become the center of Canton Village, and returned to Vermont that fall. By the spring of 1802, Stillman Foote returned to Canton with his wife and three children; several Vermont families came not long after.[2] The town built like any other, erected by the legislature in 1805 under state law.[3] He enacted a grist mill to compliment his grain mill, and built a forge sometime after, along with many other industries.[4]

            A little later, Nathaniel and Barzillai established an iron furnace which was in operation until 1828; they produced the Jethro Plow which revolutionized the agricultural industry, and manufactured the stoves and iron implements found in Canton and throughout the North Country.[5] Next came the Eagle Mill, originally named the Van Rensselaer Mill, built in 1842 by Henry Van Rensselaer. This mill was operational until the early 1900s, and was among the most successful in the country.[6] Clearing land became more of a business and less of a chore by the late 19th century, with the establishment of the Canton Lumber Company in 1884. Likewise, dairy farming took a stronghold, at one point being the dominant industry within Canton around the same time. Early settlers spent valuable resources and man-power clearing land for farms, which began as more “all purpose” agricultural pursuits before it became clear that dairy was the key to the North Country.

            Before Stillman Foote brought Europeans to Canton, it was not some far away land uninhabited by humans. Indeed, most of New York was occupied by tribes within the Iroquois Confederacy. One of those tribes, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, lived on both sides of the river and primarily farmed corn, although they also fished, hunted and of course formed alliances and trade agreements with neighboring groups.[7] The St. Lawrence Iroquoians disappeared between European contacts, and the question is not settled among academics, but they certainly inhabited this area for quite a while before the Foote’s came.


[1] Judith Liscum, Canton: The Town Friendliness Built (Canton: Saltbox, 1986), 10.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Ibid., 12.

[4] Ibid., 14.

[5] Ibid., 15.

[6] Ibid.

[7] "The St. Lawrence Iroquoians (around 1500 CE)," The St. Lawrence Iroquoians (around 1500 CE) Musée McCord Museum, accessed February 14, 2017, http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tablei….


               Three of Canton’s major employers are St. Lawrence University, the State University of New York at Canton and the Canton Central School District.[1] Just like how most of the population of Canton is students, most of the workforce is somehow connected to education, and the economy is plainly reliant on the higher-education industry.

Another one of the six major employers in Canton is St. Lawrence County, being that Canton is the county seat. The Town of Canton and the Village of Canton have separate positions. The Town is run by a Supervisor, a Town Board, and many traditional municipal departments.[2] The Village has a Mayor, as well as Village Trustees, both elected and appointed, zoning, planning and housing boards, and other typical village positions, some positions being duplicates filled by the same person.[3] The local government resembles that of a larger population center, like a hungry man tightening his belt but wearing the same oversized pants. A general rule in governments is that they’re much easier to grow than shrink, so it’s a safe bet that the local government will stay big in proportion to Canton itself.

There are hardware and auto parts stores, one large supermarket, Italian restaurants, a taqueria of sorts, a Chinese restaurant, several gas stations and even more fast food places. All of these places are staffed at least in part by students, and certainly the food market is bolstered by the hungry students that flock here in the fall. Canton is a unique place in that the summer hours are more restrictive than the winter hours for restaurants.


[1] "Town and Village of Canton Data, News and Reports," Canton NY RSS, accessed February 13, 2017, http://www.cantonnewyork.us/bus/data/.

[2] "Town and Village of Canton Elected/Appointed Officials – Town of Canton," Canton NY, accessed April 12, 2017, http://www.cantonnewyork.us/government/elected-town/.

[3] "Town and Village of Canton Elected/Appointed Officials – Village of Canton," Canton NY, accessed April 12, 2017, http://www.cantonnewyork.us/government/elected-village/.


This photo shows a crown jewel of Canton, the old theater, which has been around since the turn of the 20th century and is quintessential to the Canton atmosphere.




Adam Hill, “American Cinema,” Decaseconds Photography, November 14, 2014, https://decaseconds.com/2014/11/page/2/.


               Canton could be described as a post-industrial town. As technology has progressed, politics have shifted and industry has fled, leaving Canton somewhere between a struggling rural town and a shell of its former glory. Today, Canton Village has a population of 5,882, while the town has 10,334 people. The median age of the village is 21.9 years, 26.9 in the town and 35.4 in St. Lawrence County, which is still younger than the average age of New York State.[1] In other words, St. Lawrence County is a moderately young county, and the town of Canton is an extremely young town, while the village within is ridiculously young. The Decennial Census provides data for the village specifically, which is even more staggering: the per capita income is $18,732, dramatically lower than the $33,236 of the State of New York. 19.6% of people are below the poverty line, with more than twice as many children under 18 than seniors over 65 suffering in poverty. In other words, Canton is a poor town, in a poor county, in a relatively wealthy state. The demographics are also deceptive, because although at any given time that is the median age, Canton is a revolving door of young people and the investment made in education does not stay in the North Country. People from the North Country dedicated and fortunate enough to attend college up here usually see it as an avenue of escape, and most ‘out of town’ students don’t really consider ever living here. From personal experience, the area surrounding St. Lawrence is a quirky type of running joke among St. Lawrence students, and Ottawa, Montreal and more distantly Quebec and Syracuse are considered the places to go around here.

            In this way, there’s two diametrically opposed ways to look at the demographics of Canton: the cultural residents who have roots in Canton, own businesses or work here, and who have long term plans to stay; and the students, who come here for the exception educational opportunities and swiftly depart, diploma in hand.


[1] "Town and Village of Canton Data, News and Reports," Canton NY RSS, accessed February 13, 2017, http://www.cantonnewyork.us/bus/data/.


This photo shows the St. Lawrence-adored Sergi's Italian restaurant, as well as a bar typically frequented by more culturally ingrained residents. The two demographics of Canton coexist neatly, but isolate surprisingly well. 


Adam Hill, “Labatt Blue Velvet,” Decaseconds Photography, November 12, 2014, https://decaseconds.com/2014/11/page/2/.


               90.6% of people graduate high school, and 46.7% receive Bachelor’s degrees, both higher than the New York average.[1] This isn’t surprising considering the driving force of SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence University, not to mention Clarkson and SUNY Potsdam a few country miles away. The author lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he is not attending St. Lawrence, and has seen first-hand the effect involved parents can have on their children, and likewise that people employed in education tend to put a larger emphasis on education. Graduation rates are a product of the economy, the culture, environmental factors and geographical considerations. If 1950s Kentucky Coal Miners could start working in the 10th grade, there will be far fewer high school graduates. Likewise, the children of higher-education employees likely have a higher than average understanding of the knowledge economy of the 21st century and the importance of education.


[1] "Census profile: Canton, NY," Census Reporter, accessed April 11, 2017, https://censusreporter.org/profiles/16000US3612331-canton-ny/.