George Hebden Corsan
The chief crusader in the fight to make Canadians nut-conscious in the '40s was George Hebden Corsan of Echo Valley near Islington.
Known as "Canada's Nut Man" though he was a native of New York State, he spent half a century doing pioneer work in proving the commercial possibilities of nut-growing. He wrote for many magazines, including Saturday Evening Post, Forest and Stream, the Family Herald and Weekly Star. He taught in a score of cities all over the continent and lectured on his doctrine of health, long-life (still active at the age of 94) and vegetarianism, including addresses to more than 400 Rotary Clubs in Canada and the United States.
As a young man of 32 studying medicine, he was bitten on the wrist by a copperhead snake, usually considered to be fatal. He was ill for more than two months, pronounced dead at one point, but survived to make his life a crusade for physical fitness.
At the age of 94 he fell head first out of a nut tree, 30 feet broke his neck in two places and recovered to continue his active life for several more years before dying in an accident in Florida where he spent his winters.

He was a friend of Gregory Clark who called him "the only crank and fanatic 1 have ever known who has a sense of humor, delights in being a crank, rejoices in his fanaticism and knows exactly what each and every person he meets thinks of him."

Clark described his speech as a cross between that of an archbishop and a sergeant-major. "His dignity is that of an aboriginal man. He is lean and straight as a poker."

I remember him pruning nut trees in the nut plantation of an Oxford County grower, Charles Tatham, north of Woodstock, Ontario. There were five acres of different varieties with a wealth of foliage. Among them moved the tall, spare enthusiast, looking many years less than 90 and moving with the grace and agility of a schoolboy. He was doing an expert job and between trees would pause and talk to the admiring group watching him, about nuts, diet, disease prevention, swimming, his bird sanctuaries, his water lilies in Echo Valley and many other things. His pruning costume consisted of khaki pants, red plaid shirt and green coat. His sandy hair looked as if it had never been introduced to a comb.

He left us to speak at a luncheon in his muddy shoes. With the message he carried, what matter his appearance. His consuming interest was not in himself but what he could do for others.

At that time (1949) on his 25-acre plantation, Echo Valley near Islington, he had 15 different kinds of nut trees and almost 400 varieties. Many of these were the result of his hybridizing experiments over 25 years, aimed at producing bigger and better nuts than those already in existence, with a particular emphasis on hardiness.

For the best return in cropping Corsan recommended the butternut-heartnut cross, the Stranger heartnut and filberts.

His list of nuts which could be grown in southern Quebec, middle Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick included: butternut, butternut-heartnut cross; Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia); small, sweet, thin-shelled hickories; Manchurian butternut (Juglans Manchurica).

In Corsan's opinion, a nut should have certain qualities to be considered of value. It must have flavor; must be of reasonable size; must be soft in texture and free from woodiness. Crackability was of greater importance than size. The shell should be thin and the meats, preferably plump and large, should come out whole or in halves.

One of his hybrids produced nuts which met all of these requirements and more. He took the Japanese heartnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis), a tree which grew for 1000's of years in North China and Manchuria, and crossed it with a North American relative, the butternut, which was growing as far north as 100 miles up the Ottawa River. This cross between the male blossom of the butternut and the female blossom of the Japanese heartnut produced a nut which took on the characteristics of the smoother and thinner-shelled heartnut.

This hybrid nut grew in clusters of seven to eleven, and never less than four, instead of the butternut's usual one to three. The trees produced a large crop annually. They were healthier and more attractive than the butternut. One 20-year-old tree at Echo Valley measured 21 inches in diameter in 1947.

Several named types at Echo Valley were David Archibald, named after the plant explorer and author of "The World was my Garden" who claimed it to be the best nut he had ever tasted; and Senator Pepper, after Sen. Claude Pepper, in appreciation among other things of the help he gave to northerners to enable them to enjoy Florida during the winter months. (Corsan had a Florida property where he grew avacadoes, coconuts and bananas. He began a tropical nut experimental station in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Northern Nut Growers' Association.)
The European filbert was one of Corsan's favorites from a commercial standpoint. He used 30 varieties to demonstrate their possibilities.

In growing the filbert, he said, many varieties should be mixed as it is a peculiar nut in that the male blossom must synchronize with the female flower and self-pollinators are rare. Certain varieties withstand Canadian winters and will pollinate the female flowers of those with no pollen. The seed planted in the fall, soon after gathering, will sprout and grow one foot the
first season. The seed can also be planted in early May, about two inches under the ground as a squirrel would cache them.

The Echo Valley property on Mimico Creek was purchased in 1959 by the Etobicoke Parks System. It can be reached by driving west on Wingrove Hill, coming off Kipling Avenue just one block north of Burnhamthorpe Road.

According to W. A. G. Morsink of the Shade Tree Research Laboratory, University of Toronto, the property in 1971 had shagbark hickory Carya ovata (Mill) K. Koch; bitternut hickory Carya cordiformis (Wangh) K. Koch; black walnut Juglans nigra L.; Japanese walnut Juglans cordiformis Max. (J. ailantifolia Max.); pecan Carya illinoesis (Waugh) K. Koch; mockernut Carya tomentosa Nut.; big shellbark Carya laciniosa (Michx. F.) Loud.; Turkish hazel Corylus colurna L.; European hazel Corylus avellana L.; chinquapin Castanea pumila Mill; pawpaw Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal; persimmon Diospyros virginiana L.; some Douglas firs and a couple of Ponderosa pines. (TO BE CONTINUED)

Mrs. Kathryn Lamb,
Box 573,
Kitchener, 0ntario.
Reprinted from SONG News #`10, Spring 1977.

 
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