#84 - THE RAILROAD ERA
Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, July 30, 1990
As the railorad era is coming to an end in our quarters, nostalgic thoughts hunt our minds of the days when, as kids we would watch in awe the big engine puffing, as if it was out of breath, while pulling a train of cars, or when, as it went by in the morning, it meant that it was time to leave for school, or when late in the afternoon, at the sound of the whistle, our mothers would start to prepare supper. Yet, there is something sentimental that the train has always aroused in our heart, young and old, and that, ever since the day it made its first appearance.
On this continent, it appeared first in the United States, when, on July 4, 1828, the first shovelful of dirt was turned to build a railroad. Four years later, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company line reached Point of Rocks, 73 miles west of Baltimore from where it had started.
The Champlain-St. Lawrence line was the first railway in Canada. It was opened to traffic in July 1836, between La Prairie (across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal) to St. Johns (16 miles away, on the Richelieu River).
In Nova Scotia, the first sod was turned for the first railway on June 13, 1854. It was to run from Halifax to Windsor. It took the name of the Nova Scotia Railway. Already in 1839, there was talk of a railway line linking the Maritime provinces with Upper Canada (Ontario). It was only on Dominion day, 1876, that the Intercolonial Railway was opened from Halifax to the Great Lakes. And we still all have vivid in our mind the picture in our school books of Sir Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, with his white beard, hammering the last spike on the railroad that was to link in 1886 the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In Yarmouth County, as a means to get to Halifax via Windsor, in the early 1870's a company was formed, the Western Counties Railroad, which was to be renamed in years to come the Dominion Atlantic Railroad, more commonly known as the DAR. The first rail was laid, starting at what was then Lovitt's Wharf, now Sweeney'a Wharf, in Yarmouth. But it was only in 1879 that the Yarmouth to Digby line was opened, although, thanks to an engine that came from Portland, Maine, small excursions were taking place as early as 1875, according to the distance that the railroad had been built. It did not go smoothly all the way. People living along the shore in Yarmouth and Digby County would have liked to have the railroad follow the coast when the company preferred an inland route at least up to Weymouth, on acocunt of the inland natural resources being an omen for a bright future.
With regard to the route from Yarmouth to the south shore, this section was from 10 to 15 years behind the North Shore. The matter was to become very complicated on account of rivalries; rivalries with regard to different companies which wanted to build the railway; rivalries between those who favored the narrow gauge and those who favored the broad or standard gauge; rivalries between the residents of different villages, each wanting the railroad to go by their doorsteps. Moreover, factions created by politics were to interfere, especially on account of the fact that the year when the project was being debated was an election year in Nova Scotia.
April 30, 1892, the South Shore Railway Company was incorporated, comprising twelve members from Yarmouth and Shelburne Counties, with the intention of building a railroad from Yarmouth to Shelburne. Exactly a year later April 29, 1893, after that company had spent a whole year in discussing what route it was to follow, a new company was formed, the Coast Railway Company, comprising five Americans, mostly from Philadelphia, who wanted to build a railroad from Yarmouth to Lockeport. In a letter dated January 24, 1894, from Philadelphia, there is mentioned a plan to build electric railways in Nova Scotia.
During the last week of September, 1894, and the first of October, arrived by steamer in Yarmouth, from Baltimore 110 mules and horses, wagons, blacksmith's outfits, etc., and over 100 laborers, mostly colored, from Alabama, Georgia, and other parts of the American south.
The companies just mentioned had to choose between the narrow gauge and the standard gauge. The narrow gauge was much cheaper to build, as it was only of about one meter-- although three feet are mentioned here. While the standard gauge could withstand more weight and was more secure. Anyway, the new arrivals from the United States went to work to build a narrow gauge railway. From Yarmouth to Tusket, they were to follow approximately the route which was finally adopted. But from here, the road was to go east towards Eel Lake, then follow the west side of the lake up to the brook at what was called then, Eel Brook, joining Eel Lake to Salt Bay; a bridge was to be built over the brook, after which the road was to keep on, following the shore line of Salt Bay, up to Glenwood, which was the very trace of the first road that the Acadians arriving at Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau after the Expulsion had opened. Remains of the embarkment over which the narrow gauge railroad was to be built are still very perceptible up to this day, close to a hundred years later. Motoring through Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau on your way to Yarmouth while crossing the brook just mentioned, you have all seen a part of the embarkment, which ends abruptly on the northern bank of the brook.
But this route was not to the liking of the people of Belleville. I have been told that Lézin Pothier of Belleville who was constable and a man of great influence, made use of all his strings to have the railroad, which was built in the standard gauge, to go through his village of Belleville. So on May 9, 1895, the south shore mules, Negroes, left Yarmouth for the United States, having lost their efforts, their time, their money and two Italian laborers. (A personal note: the old Italian cook where I resided doing studies in Rome, 1936-38, was telling me that while he was on the railroad in Canada, he had learned only two words, SNOW and WHISKEY!
The first freight to move on the Coast Railway was on February 17, 1896, from Yarmouth to Tusket. Later the same year, the railroad was getting close to Argyle, when excursions were organized for picnickers to spend a day or an evening on the hills of Argyle Head, was I told, by the old people of the place. It was in the summer of 1897 that first train reached Pubnico. Trains started to run from Yarmouth to Halifax on the south shore in 1900. The previous year the Coast Railway became the Halifax and Yarmouth Railway Company, Limited. It was afterwards taken over by the provincial government and still later was incorporated with the Canadian National System.
And now all that there is left for us who enjoyed for many years what sounded like the whooping cough of the choo-choo train and the shrill whistle of its locomotive which was music to our ears, is the nostalgic memory of the thrills of our childhood days.