Significant Dates in
Nova Scotia Railway History

(Before 1850)

1827 June 4
Richard Smith Arrives With Machinery

Richard Smith, of Staffordshire, England, arrived at Pictou on the brig Margaret Pelkington with a cargo of mining machinery, including boilers, cylinders, and other parts needed to assemble steam hoisting and pumping engines. Smith was the mining engineer for the General Mining Association of London, England, which then held the rights to most of the coal in Pictou County. Decades later, the business built up by the GMA became the foundation for Dominion Steel and Coal, Canada's largest industrial corporation, with a complex of coal mines, shipyards, steel plants and railways stretching from Wabana, Newfoundland, to Windsor, Ontario.

["Prior to the arrival of the large British company, called the General Mining Association of Nova Scotia, in the 1820s, mining in what was then a colony was on a very small scale – a modest bit of work from the surface on outcrops, but nothing that you could really label industrial, large-scale mining. What happens in the 1820s is the General Mining Association gets control of mining leases in the colonies and it's given a monopoly over coal mining in the colony of Nova Scotia. On the basis of that monopoly, it invests very large sums of money in the colony, developing massive coal mines using state-of-the-art technology – the Albion mines, Pictou County, and the Sydney mines in Cape Breton. So you have almost overnight the emergence of state-of-the-art mining in Nova Scotia, and at the same time the GMA brings over its money – its capital – it also brings over British miners to operate these mammoth new mines. It begins there; you have transplanted directly from Britain these large steam engines, surface railways, large surface works for sorting coal, and the entire system of mining including the idea of boy miners..." Interview with Robert McIntosh, Ph.D., Historian]

1827 December 7
Canada's First Steam Engine Begins Operation

At Stellarton, "the very first steam engine in all Canada began puffing away": H.B. Jefferson wrote in his paper Mount Rundell, Stellarton, and the Albion Railway of 1839, read before the Nova Scotia Historical Society on 9 November 1961.

First Standard Gauge Railway

In 1829, a tramway (light railway) for horse-drawn vehicles was built along the river bank from Albion Mines (now named Stellarton) to a wharf near New Glasgow, where small schooners could take on cargoes of coal. According to noted railway historian H.B. Jefferson, "this was the very first standard gauge track in Canada, and probably in North America, and the fish-belly type rails cast for it at the nearby Albion foundry were undoubtedly the first rails of any kind cast in Canada, and very likely in North America."
[In railway parlance, "gauge" refers to the distance between the rails of a railway track, as measured between the inside faces; this is the most fundamental characteristic of any railway. "Standard gauge" refers to the gauge which Robert Stephenson had chosen for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the first railway in the modern sense, opened for regular operation in England in 1825. Over the next century, many gauges were used to build tens of thousands of miles of railways all over the world, but more track was built to the Stephenson gauge than all other gauges combined. The Stephenson, or "standard" gauge, is 4 feet 8½ inches 143.5 cm.] In 1834 this horse tramway was extended 400 yards downstream to a larger wharf, to handle the increasing traffic.

1830 December 23
Fifteen Steam Engines in Operation

On this day, the Novascotian newspaper reported that fifteen steam engines were in regular operation in Nova Scotia, just four years after the first engine began working at Albion Mines (Stellarton). Many of these were marine engines.

1837 June
Seventeen Shillings per Chaldron

"The Mining Association is now selling coals in Pictou County at 17s (shillings) per chaldron, same price at the mines [in Stellarton] and at the loading ground [New Glasgow] 6 or 7 miles below."
[The Yarmouth Herald, 16 June 1837]

["Coals" was the term then used for what we now call "coal". In those days, coal was often sold by the "chaldron", a unit of measure often encountered in the old records but nowadays almost completely forgotten. The World of Measurements, by H. Arthur Klein, Simon & Schuster, 1974, (an excellent reference book) states that the chaldron is equal to 32 dry bushels, which is the same as 71,017.6 cubic inches. Klein uses an inch equal to 2.540,005 cm. Thus one chaldron is equal to 1,163,777 cubic centimetres. That is, one chaldron is nearly equal to 1,164 litres, or 1.164 cubic metres.]

1839 May 27
Three Locomotives Arrive

The three steam locomotives, Samson, Hercules, and John Buddle, that were to provide motive power for the Albion Rail Road (always spelled in old documents as three separate words) arrived at Pictou on board the brig Ythan of Newcastle.  H.B. Jefferson: "They were built in 1838 by Timothy Hackworth, today becoming recognized as a greater locomotive genius than better publicized George Stephenson."

1839 September 17
Albion Rail Road's First Coal Trains

Samson, the first engine to be assembled and given trial trips, hauled the first coal trains over the newly-built and still not complete Albion Rail Road, about 2.5 miles from Albion Mines to Fourth Chutes, across the river from New Glasgow.

1839 September 19
Albion Rail Road Formally Opened

The formal opening ceremony for the Albion Rail Road took place in Stellarton on this day. The ceremony was premature, in that only 2.5 miles of the railway had been built; this was less than half of the complete railway which was to be 6 miles 403 feet 9.78 kilometres in length. H.B. Jefferson wrote: "The great celebration at Mount Rundell (the General Manager's house on Foord Street in Stellarton) on that date has often been described, with its roast whole ox barbecue, its casks of rum and ale placed on convenient saw horses about the grounds for the edification of the proletariat, and its 'initial running of the locomotive carriages', when John Buddle and Hercules, in that order, made two round trips over the line, each hauling 35 cars and 700 passengers." Samson was held in reserve, and did not run that day.

From The Yarmouth Herald of 27 September 1839: The Pictou County Rail Road – The portion of this work reaching from the mines (Stellarton) to New Glasgow – a distance of about two miles three kilometres – has been completed, and steam Locomotives with their trains were to be run on it on the 19th of this month. This, we believe, is the first piece of Railroad, traversed by steam power, ever opened in a British Colony – and the event is certainly one of much interest. The Mechanic and Farmer of the 18th says:– To commemorate the event, it is to be held as a gala day at the Mines. The different Companies under the command of their respective captains, plan walking in procession with suitable emblems; and we believe that no expense will be spared by the Agent of the General Mining Association to render the spectacle as imposing as possible, and to infuse hilarity and animation in the bosom of the immense concourse of spectators who will attend to witness the exhibition. Both steam locomotives will be in town at half-past seven o'clock a.m., for the gratuitous accomodation (free rides) of the onlookers. The Volunteer Artillery Company will also attend to enliven the scene.

1840 May 14
First Trains to Dunbar's Point

The first trains run over the whole length of the Albion Rail Road, from Albion Mines (Stellarton) to Dunbar's Point, Abercrombie, in Pictou County.

1842, Summer
Survey of a Canal Across Chignecto

Fredericton, N.B.
27th January 1843

I have the honor to enclose to you, by direction of the Lieutenant-Governor, copy of a Letter from Capt. Crawley, R.E. [Royal Engineers] who has been employed in the Survey of a Line for a Canal between the Bay of Fundy and the Gulph of St. Lawrence, and to request, that you will bring the same under the consideration of Lord Falkland, in the hope that His Lordship may think the matter of sufficient importance to induce him to submit it to the Legislature of Nova Scotia, with a view to obtain a contribution towards carrying out the Survey, suggested by Capt. Crawley.

I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most Obedient Servant,
(signed) A. Reade
To The Provincial Secretary, &c. &c. &c. Halifax, Nova Scotia

Fredericton, N.B.
19th January 1843

May It Please Your Excellency–
When I was employed in the Survey of the Line for a Canal between the Bay of Fundy and Gulph of St. Lawrence, last Summer, Mr. J.S. Morse, of Amherst, N.S. showed me the Plan of a Line that had been surveyed for a similar purpose, from the mouth of River LePlanche to Tignish River.

There appeared to have been no levels taken of that route. If any funds could be made available, it would be very desirable that a more minute examination should be made of it, with a view to carrying the desired communication by that Line, which lies wholly within the Province of Nova Scotia.

I have, &c.
(signed) H.O. Crawley,
Capt. Royal Engineers

[Appendix No. 11, Journal of the House of Assembly of the Province of Nova Scotia, for the Session 26th January 1843 to 29th March 1843.]

[This survey line "from the mouth of River LePlanche to Tignish River" eventually became the location of the Chignecto Ship Railway, 1888.]

1845 December 4
Meeting to Discuss the Halifax - Windsor Railway

"In spite of stormy weather and almost impassable roads, over 150 inhabitants consisting of members of the Legislative Assembly, clergy, magistrates, and the more weighty and influential freeholders of Windsor and its vicinity" gathered in Windsor on Saturday, 4 December 1845, to discuss transporation in general and, in particular, a railway between Halifax and Windsor.  The tollkeeper of the Avon River Bridge at Windsor entered the discussion and produced figures on the amount of traffic passing to and from the western counties:

Traffic Passing Over Windsor Bridge
Dec. 1, 1844 to Dec. 1, 1845

Persons passing & repassing 22,865
Single horses, carriages & ox carts 6,008
Two-horse carriages 679
Three-horse carriages 477
Four-horse carriages 346
Cattle 1,198
Calves & Sheep 408
Excerpted from History of the Dominion Atlantic Railway
by Marguerite Woodworth, 1936

1846 April 02
Nova Scotia Asks the British Government for a Railway
from Halifax through New Brunswick to Quebec and Montreal

This letter, dated in Halifax on 2 April 1846, signed by Lucius Bentinck Cary, 10th Viscount Falkland, Governor of Nova Scotia, and addressed to British Colonial Secretary William Ewart Gladstone, reads as follows:

I have the honor to transmit, for presentation to the Queen, an Address from the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia, on the subject of the projected Rail Road from Halifax through New Brunswick to Quebec and Montreal, praying that should the undertaking be found to be a practical and prudent one, Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to cause to be applied towards its completion the same amount of money as would have been expended on the formation of the Military Road, which it is understood Her Majesty's Government had it in contemplation to construct through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada.

The Address also prays Her Majesty's favorable consideration of a set of Resolutions, a copy of which accompanies this, and the object of which is to obtain an accurate and careful exploration and survey of such portions of the Province as it is probable the Rail Road will traverse, and by that means ascertain at once the feasibility of the project, and the probable ultimate cost of carrying it into effect.

It will be at once seen from the tenor of these Resolutions that the local Legislatures have followed a wise and guarded course, and one likely to inspire confidence in their future proceedings.

I venture to hope that Her Majesty's Government will therefore be disposed to accede to the wishes of the House of Assembly by sending out qualified Engineers, and by advancing, in any other possible manner, the execution of the work.

The local Parliament has pledged itself to provide for the expense of the Survey, but as it would of course be desirable to diminish the amount of that charge as much as possible, I would suggest the employment of Military Engineers, the whole or part of whose emolument (as may be deemed just by the Imperial Government), might be defrayed by the Province; and I venture to add, that the rapid approach of the season, during which all public works are carried on in this country, renders an early communication of your intentions in this respect of the utmost importance.

Source:— The Journal of the House of Assembly of the Province of Nova Scotia
1847: Appendix No. 8

Significant Dates in
Nova Scotia Railway History

Before 1850   1850-1899   1900-1949   1950 to now

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