In a paper read before the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1936, R. D. Evans wrote that before 1815 the bad state of provincial roads, “together with the smallness of the population,” had prevented the establishment of stage coach lines.
After 1815, Evans continued, conditions changed and a new era of internal communications had dawned. By 1815 the “great roads” of Nova Scotia had become reasonably passable in summer and winter and there was a clamour for better postal service and an overland passenger service, i.e. the stage coach.
One shouldn’t be misled into thinking that the “great roads” Evans mentions were truly great in the sense of being grand or above normal. Upon reading Evan’s discourse on the stage coach, I found that in 1815 there were only two “great roads” in the province, and these were labelled “great” simply because other existing roads were, by comparison, in deplorable condition year around.
One of the great roads extended from Halifax to Windsor and on to Halfway River near Hantsport. If I remember my history, parts of this road were first laid out by the Acadians. Though designated a great road, Evans says that the track to Windsor was “regularly full of ruts, holes and wash-outs, and during the wet seasons of spring and fall was nearly impassable.” It was on this great road and the other great road that ran from Halifax to Truro, that in 1815 a passenger and postal service was proposed.
In this period many Annapolis Valley roads, for the most part, were mere paths. As noted, the Acadians engaged in road building. Eaton’s Kings County history devotes an entire chapter to roads and travel and the author notes that the Acadians cleared a road “eighteen feet wide, all the way from Minas to Halifax.” This undoubtedly was the foundation of the great road Evans describes and the track the first stage coach traveled.
Evans credits one Isaiah Smith with taking the initiative and setting up the first stage coach line in the province. According to Evan’s account, Smith began his run from Halifax to Windsor on February 14, 1816. Eaton’s history disagrees with Evans, noting that “it must have been shortly before 1816 that a stage coach line was established between Halifax and Windsor.”
Eventually, the stage coach line was extended to Kentville and beyond. Service to Kentville began when the Western Stage Coach Company was formed early in 1828. Evans says that Western reached an agreement with the government to run stage coaches three times a week in summer and two or three times a week in winter between Halifax and Annapolis. Eaton gives the starting date of the run to Kentville as 1829.
The run from Halifax to Annapolis took the better part of two days and the fare according to Evans was approximately 10 dollars. Eaton gives the fare from Halifax to Kentville as six dollars. Keep in mind that Evans wrote his account in 1936 and Eaton around 1900. Evans converted the 1828 passenger fare of two pounds, 10 shillings into the equivalent in 1936 dollars.
Isaiah Smith’s coach line first ran once a week with accommodations for six passengers. By 1855 the stage coach was running daily between Halifax and Annapolis with stops every 15 miles to change horses. During the stage coach period, Kentville was an important stopover. From Mabel Nichol’s book, The Devil’s Half Acre, we see that “coaches east and west met at the Kentville Hotel and exchanged passengers, freight and mail, it being the headquarters of stage travel….”
The half-century era of the stage coach in the Annapolis Valley ended with the arrival of the railway.