Huge crowds gathered Monday in Canton, against the hazy backdrop of the Evergreen Packaging plant, to join in the town’s Labor Day celebration, billed as the South’s oldest.
Canton’s Labor Day Festival and Parade dates back to 1906 — just 12 years after the holiday officially made its way onto calendars around the U.S.
This year, the scene was a familiar sight down the small town’s Main Street, bringing in the usual decorated floats and American flags, marching bands, dancers and young athletes — and the unique-to-Canton additions of tractors, vintage cars and horse- and mule-drawn wagon trains.
The Canton Labor Day Festival began on Sunday with a music and craft fair and continued into Monday with the 10 a.m. parade, followed by the Smoky Mountain Cruiser’s Classic Car show.
As the town warmed up in the morning sun, small children waved and jumped and dove after candy thrown from the floats while the parade made its way down the street.
Although the scene was a joyful occasion for the thousands gathered along the sidewalks, it served as a public memorial for others. Each year, the horse-drawn wagons and wagoneers make their way across Haywood County to join in the parade, but on Friday the group experienced a horrific tragedy.
According to The Mountaineer newspaper in Waynesville, which was on the scene Friday, a white Ford Ranger collided with two of the 11 horse- and mule-drawn wagons, completely destroying one wagon, killing one man and one horse and injuring several other people and animals.
Only two wagons ultimately continued on and participated in Monday’s event, making the trip partly to honor their friend, Jason Messer, who was killed in the accident.
The Canton Labor Day Festival honors the community’s strong manufacturing ties and its residents’ history of working hard in the mountains.
Following the parade, the town opened its streets back up and the party continued in Sorrells Park with free entertainment until 10 p.m.