BERWICK, NOVA SCOTIA
MARCH 30, 1927
MEN AND EVENTS OF 50 YEARS AGO
BERWICK AT CONFEDERATION AND BEFORE
While Confederation feeling was at its height another question of great local importance was exciting the people of Berwick: Railway communication with Halifax was in the air. The United States, just beginning to recuperate from the devastating effects of civil war, and with a strong feeling of hostility toward Great Britain and her colonies who were suspected by the Americans of sympathizing with the South in their fight for secession, had abrogated the reciprocity party and established a tariff wall against the colonies. The only market for country produce was in Halifax, then a busy garrison city.
A railroad owned and operated by the Provincial Government had been open from Windsor to Halifax for several years. A coach line to Windsor carried passengers from Annapolis and intermediate points thence to Halifax by train. The farmer and jobber, with their loads of produce, drove their teams to Windsor, then loaded wagon and horses on flat cars and went by rail to Halifax.
About 1866 the Windsor and Annapolis Railway Company obtained a charter to build and operate a railway from Annapolis to Windsor. Three or four times during the following year surveying parties ran trial surveys near Berwick. One skirted the meadow just north of Main Street, crossing Commercial Street near Kenneth Ilsleys barn. Another crossed from the north side to the south side of Main Street near the school house and crossed Commercial Street south of the Methodist church, thence in both cases swinging northerly, passing the Caribou Bog on the north. The final survey, where the road now is, was decided on and building operations began in 1868. The Berwick people were greatly chagrined at the railroad being located so far from the village. The engineers who made the survey and located the right of way, made their headquarters at Waterville and it was current talk around the store at the corner, that Waterville influences located the road a mile south of Berwick so we would not be on the map. Whatever the reason one now would think the engineering staff exercised good judgment in making a straight road from Waterville nearly to Aylesford, and it was good for Berwick, giving the place plenty of room to grow.
Building a railroad at Confederation was not childs play. There were no steam shovels to tear up earth and stones, a carload at a scoop; no electric current or compressed air to force the drills into solid rock. Dynamite and cordite those powerful explosives were not invented. The tools of these railway pioneers were the pick and shovel, dumpcart and wheelbarrow. The right of way of the W. & A. R. was for the most part, virgin forest. Clearing this of trees and stumps was no small task. The cut east of Commercial Street, near Berwick Station, occupied a large number of men and teams for several months. The men and horses from the nearby farms earned many an honest dollar in that muck hole, as it was then. Engines were landed at Horton Landing and Annapolis. The Joe Howe, Gabriel and Evangeline, in the order named were the first on the rails; little wood-burning machines, pygmies as compared with the giants that rush by here daily now. Finally after many trials and tribulations, on August 16th, 1869, the Windsor and Annapolis Railway was opened for traffic from Annapolis to Horton Landing, the bridge over the Avon River not being completed till about the end of the same year.
On January 1st, 1872, the first through train ran from Annapolis to Halifax; the W. & A. R. having leased the Government owned road from Windsor to Windsor Junction and obtained running rights from the Junction to Halifax. In November of the same year, the first through train ran from Halifax to St. John, over the International railway. The railway boom following Confederation, the direct result of the Union, was under way and did not slacken until two transcontinental railways united the Atlantic and Pacific with a network of branch lines covering every province of Canada.
The railway station at Berwick was built about one hundred feet west of Commercial Street crossing, with Murphys hotel and restaurant nearer the street and fronting on the same platform. The baby engines and a dozen ten-ton cars which was their load limit did not interfere much with highway traffic at the crossing. Coincident with Confederation and the inauguration of through rail traffic, Berwicks boom began. Houses and business places sprang up near the railway and Main Street commenced to move nearer the hub.
In pre-Confederation days there were three lines of stage coaches, each making two trips per week from Halifax to Annapolis and return; from Annapolis there was steamer communication with St. John. The following description of an early stage coach is given by Colonel Sleigh of the 77th Regiment who travelled from Halifax to St. John in 1852 by this route:
"We leave Halifax in one of Kings Western Stages, bound for Windsor. The vehicle which was to convey us on our route, was a large cumbrous coach of American build, with a movable strap at the back which unlocked, to permit passengers to deposit themselves in the usual seats, with their backs or faces to the horses. Thus nine persons could be stowed into the space originally intended for six. Behind the stage was a carriage board, suspended to the roof, on which some ton or two of baggage could be placed; while on the top, besides a living cargo, several sailors heavy sea chests were piled up. We started it was in the month of April, 1852 with eighteen passengers and a load of luggage, which was about half as much again as we ought to carry. Six horses drew the ponderous machine, and away we went, by the upper road, past the Garrison Chapel, and thus to the one which skirts Bedford Basin.
"The Western Stage (Betchers Line) left for Annapolis three times a week, from near the Jerusalem Warehouse. While Hydes coaches left twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from Argyle St., above the Parade.
"Halifax received monthly mails from England during the winter and fortnightly during the summer.
"In those days the prepayment of letters was optional. The minimum rate was 3d.
"Sir John Harvey was Lt. Governor, Joseph Howe, Provincial-Secretary, and James Boyle Uniacke, Attorney-General."
S. C. PARKER.
(To be continued)