The seat of Van Zandt county, Canton was surveyed around 1840 and settled in 1850 by people moving from Old Canton in Smith County. When a railway being built across the county in 1872 missed Canton by 10 miles, citizens of Wills Point persuaded officials to make their town the county seat. In the resulting dispute, armed residents of Canton went to Wills Point to get the county records back, and a judge wired the governor for help. The Supreme Court of Texas eventually decided in Canton's favor, and local businessmen built their own extension to the railroad to avoid having to use Wills Point.
Today, Canton is noted for its First Monday Trade Days, which runs from sunup to sundown Thursday through Sunday before the first Monday of each month. This flea-market event is one of the nation's largest, offering 300 acres of antiques, arts and crafts, and handmade items.
Canton also hosts the Van Zandt County Fair and Rodeo in June.