A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
Chapter 25, Railroads

A group of businessmen in the Northeast of England built a rail route for steam locomotives. Their aim was to be able to haul the diggings from the coalfields near Darlington to the docksides at Stockton-on-Tees. Thus it was that in 1825 the first railway opened. Stephenson's "Rocket," with a thirteen ton train, got up a speed of 44 miles per hour. George Stephenson (1781-1848), a capitalist and an inventor, one of the "penniless men with powerful brains and imaginations," learned as a boy all there was to learn about steam engines used to lift water out of the mine pits. By 1830 English mining and industrial companies were heavily committed to a fixed track system for the movement of goods and people.

In his diary, Crabb Robinson wrote this:

Monday, 10th [June 1833, Liverpool]: At 12 Mr. Arman and myself placed ourselves on an Omnibus and we [were] driven up a steep hill to the place whence the steam carriages start at 12 we embarked.--We travelled in the second class of carriages. -- There were 5 trams linked together on each of which were placed open seats for the traveller 4 and 4 facing each other and of these 24 in each tram but not all were full -- and besides there was a closed carriage and one other machine for luggage. The company not genteel. -- The fare 4/ for the 31 Miles.
Everything went on so rapidly that I had scarcely the power of observation. The road begins at an excavation thro rock and is generally to a certain extent insulated from the adjacent country. -- It is occasionally placed on bridges -- and is frequently intersected by ordinary roads. -- Not quite a perfect level is preserved. -- On setting off there is a slight jolt arising from the chain catching each tram but once in motion we proceeded as smoothly as possible. For a minute or two the pace is gentle, and is constantly varying. -- The machine produced little smoke or steam. -- First in order is the tall chimney. -- Then the boiler -- a barrel like vessel. Then an oblong reservoir of water -- Then a vehicle for coals and then come of a length infinitely extendible the trams on which are the carriages. Our train would have carried if all the seats had been filled about 150 passengers. But Mr --- assured me at Chester that he went with a thousand persons to Newton fair. -- There must have been 2 Engines then. -- I have since heard that there went to and from the fair that day 2000 persons and more but only 2000 at 3/ each way would have produced £600!!! But, after all, the expense is so great, that it is considered uncertain whether the establishment will ultimately remunerate the proprietors. -- Yet I have heard that it already gives to the share holders 9p cent dividend. -- The bills have already passed for making rail roads between London and Birmingham, and B: and Liverpool and what a change will it produce in the intercourse. One conveyance will take between 100 and 200 passengers and in a forenoon the journey will be made. -- Of the rapidity with which the journey will be made I had better experience on my return; but I may say now that it is certain that stoppages included the journey may be made 20 miles an hour!!!...
I should have remarked before that the most remarkable moments of the journey are those when trains met. The rapidity is such, that there is no recognising the features of a traveller. -- The noise on several occasions of the passing engine was like the whizzing of a rocket. On the road are stationed guards who hold flags at the stations to give notice to the drivers when to stop. -- Near Manchester on going I noticed an inscription on marble recording the memorable death of Huskisson'.
In Great Britain, by 1843 there was 2,000 miles; by 1848, 5,000. "The posting inns and postilions disappeared, and with them went the public mail-coach, and the heavy family coach" of the aristocratic households.2

In America, in 1830, the first 13 miles of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad inaugurated railroad passenger travel in the United States. When it first opened, it did not have steam engines, the trains were horse-drawn.

In that area we now know as Canada, in July of 1836, the Champlain and St. Lawrence Rail Road Company set on its tracks its first train. The rails stretched only 14.5 miles from Laprairie to Saint-Jean on the Richelieu river. (Passengers traveled between Laprairie and Montreal by ferryboat.) It was basically a "portage" railway, following an old trail used to transport freight from the St. Lawrence to the Richelieu River and its connecting waterways, Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.

While England in the 1830s was making great strides with its railways, and while by 1839 Nova Scotia had its first steam railway -- Albion Mines Railroad -- railways over any distances, ones that could haul passengers and freight, were not to be seen in Nova Scotia until after the 1850s.

Enabling legislation for railway construction was passed in 1854.

"By the passing of this legislation, the government was committed to the construction of three lines. The first was a trunk line to Truro then on to the New Brunswick border, to link up with any intercolonial railroad which the other provinces might construct. The second was the long-discussed line from Halifax to Windsor, later to be continued through the Annapolis Valley. The third was a branch to Pictou from the main Truro line; it was authorized in order to secure the export of coal from the Albion Mines and other collieries of that area, during winter months when the Northumberland Strait was closed by ice. The trunk line to Truro was to be constructed first."3
On June 13, 1854, work began with a sod turning at the Halifax end of the line, at the "Governor's North Farm in the north end of the Halifax peninsula, Richmond. A Pictou company was to level the the first part of the trackway.4 Though, it is to be observed, that it was an English engineering firm -- Jackson, Peto, Betts, and Brassey -- was the firm that built many of the early railways throughout the world, including those in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.5 The very first locomotive to be brought in to run on the railway was called the Mayflower, built in Massachusetts; it arrived in January, 1855. That autumn the Mayflower was wrecked in a collision with a horse. Within months two more locomotives were brought in from Greenock, Scotland: The Sir Gaspard Le Marchant and the Joseph Howe. The rails used in these first railways were brought in from Wales.

The work on these first two lines -- Halifax/Windsor and Halifax/Truro -- continued for three years, 1854-1858.

"For the next three years, work on both the branch line to Windsor and the trunk line to Truro proceeded regularly. The railroad had reached Bedford in July 1855. The 23 miles from Windsor Junction to Windsor were completes in late 1857; the first locomotive over the line ran on 30 December, but the run was deemed unsatisfactory. The line was officially opened on 3 June 1858, when the first full train left Halifax at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in Windsor at 11 a.m. The whole town turned out to greet it. On the return run, the train left Windsor at 3 p.m. and arrived in Richmond at 6 p.m. A holiday was declared on 8 June in Halifax, with festivities held in both communities. During the course of the day, Joseph Howe was presented with £1,000 and a complimentary address in appreciation of his great service to Nova Scotia."6
When the lines to Windsor and to Truro first started to operate, 1858, there were 7 locomotives, 6 eight-wheel passenger cars, one eight-wheel second-class and mail car, 4 eight-wheel covered merchandise cars, 31 eight-wheel platform cars, one four-wheel cattle and sheep cars, two four-wheel ballast cars, one snowplow and 4 handcars.7

What was intended was that there should be a branch line off of Truro to go to Pictou. After more political hassles, the work was first started in November 1864. Sandford Fleming was hired as chief engineer in 1864 to oversee this work. Fleming was not impressed by the local contractors hired to do the work. The project was proceeding too slowly and the expense of it all was building up. Charles Tupper, the premier of the province through the years 1864-1867, admired Fleming and thought it best to put him completely in charge of the project. In fact the contract to complete the line (Truro to Pictou) was given to Fleming, "ignoring the provincial statute that called for public tendering." The move was a controversial one, but a good one, "for on 31 May 1867 the entire line from Truro to Pictou Landing was completed ahead of schedule and on budget."8

It is not the object of this particular work to trace the growing lines of railways beyond 1867, enough to say that with the continued expansion of the railways, not only did travel became immensely easier, it also advanced communications throughout the county; so important for such a large country as Canada, and, indeed, it was one of the principal factors -- the building of a trans-Canada railroad and sharing the cost of same -- that drove the British colonies to unite and become Canada.

NEXT: [Chapter 26, Lighthouses]


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Peter Landry