Jefferson County Historical Society Remembers Jimmy Canning

The Jefferson County Historical Society submitted the following article on Jimmy Canning:

[Pictured above: Jimmy Canning’s father was a grocer on Main Street, but his real love was music. Jimmy loved music, too. (JCHS Collection)]

The following article was submitted by Carol Briggs:


My father retired in his late fifties. For another twenty years, he played golf, worked with wood, and hooked a rug for each of his four children. Mine is red and black and a constant reminder of my dad and all the things, both little and big that he taught me. My attempts to start delphinium from seed, my love of wooden hand tools, my recognition of the needs of people old and young, all began with my father.

James (Jimmy) Scribner Canning was born in 1880. When he turned 22 his father was wealthy enough to buy the entire Rogers block (now Goodwill), adding dry goods to his stock of groceries. Jimmy inherited the store and operated it until 1931. He was 53 when he retired. So what did he do?

A younger cousin, Alexander St. John Scribner, was a Brookville attorney who had a way with words. In the early 1920s Jimmy had begun collaborating with Alex. For two decades the lawyer wrote the words and Jimmy wrote the music for numerous skits and programs that were presented in churches and halls throughout western Pennsylvania. Four Canning-Scribner musicals were presented in the Brookville High School auditorium.

Older folks in Brookville may remember “That Mullins Gal,” a show that that was performed in the 1960s. At the age of 83, Jimmie organized, trained, and directed the orchestra. His other works include “Nothing Much” (1906), and with Scribner, “You’d Scarcely Believe It” (1928), and “Reginald Kidd, M. P.” (1935). He also composed thirty songs, yet according to one observer, “their intentions were never professional, but were continuous.” The History Center is pleased to own some of Canning’s original scores.

Fellow banjo lover George Collins described Jimmy Canning as “a thoro’ going gentleman from the soles of his feet to the very top of his head.” Articles written at varying times during his life refer to his quiet generosity. He liked to “gratify his philanthropic instincts.”

Although I never knew Jimmy Canning and my father only pretended to lead an orchestra when he was being silly, I’d like to think both shared several admirable human traits. They each passionately enjoyed their avocations, were unassuming in their generosity, were gentlemen, and enjoyed their families and friends.

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