New book captures the history of the tobacco industry

by Sylene Argent

During an Essex County Historical Society luncheon, hosted at the historic Essex Railway Station on Saturday afternoon, author Paul E. Allen spoke of his book, “When Tobacco Was King.”

  “It is a non-fiction, social history [book],” Allen said to his attentive audience during his around one-and-an-half hour presentation. He tried to write the story about the Canadian tobacco industry through the eyes of his father, Ed Allen; a North Carolinian, who left a tobacco farm in rural Granville County, NC in 1927 as a teen.

  Allen said his father rose from working in the tobacco fields to become the President of the Canadian Leaf Tobacco Company in Tillsonburg. Ed’s career in the tobacco industry began when Herbert Jackson of Universal Leaf hired his father. By 1962, Canadian Leaf built a super plant and his dad became the President.

  With having a family member involved in the industry at its height, Allen said he had a lot of personal knowledge and coupled that with some historical research, which contribute to the completion of the book.

  “I am proud of my dad’s role,” Allen said, who currently resides in Ottawa, but has roots in the Petrolia area.

  Allen described his father as a humble man with a great sense of humour. At his funeral, Allen heard many great stories from individuals who said his father was there for them in a time of need.

  The book, Allen said, outlines the industry in the US and in Canada through stories. It also includes interesting experiences during World War II.

  In 1946, his father was one of the first to go to England after WWII to sell tobacco, which he said was needed. He was flown there on a converted Lancaster Bomber.

  Allen said the tobacco industry has its own lingo, which he incorporated into the book. The term “prime tobacco,” for instance, means to pick it.

  Allen also told stories of Sir William Macdonald, the Stewart family, and the American Duke family, including James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, who took over his father’s (Washington Duke), tobacco business. He also spoke of the agricultural areas in Essex County and the Tillsonburg area, and the impact tobacco had.

  He is excited to be a part of four engagements in North Carolina this November, including one at the Duke Homestead Museum in Durham, North Carolina. He will also be in Chatham in October.

  “It has terrific characters,” Allen said of his book, noting it took upwards of five years to complete.

  Since his father has passed on, his former secretary was essential in helping Allen create a timeline of events and pinning down specific dates for the book.

  “When Tobacco was King” is available in Kindle and paperback editions on

  For more information about the book, log onto

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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