THE START OF THE STAGE COACH LINE (December 24/04)

In 1816 one Isaiah Smith sent a petition to the government asking for aid in establishing a stage coach run from Halifax to Windsor.

At the time there were only two good roads in the province. Termed “great roads,” one ran from Halifax to Truro, the other from Halifax to Windsor and on to the Halfway River near Hantsport. These roads were full of ruts, holes and wash-outs and during spring and fall were almost impassable. Lesser roads were in much worse condition.

Smith’s petition for aid was granted by government and he was awarded 100 pounds, provided he run the stagecoach service for one year. In his petition, Smith said he would provide two coaches, sleighs for winter and 12 horses. Apparently, he was prepared to run his coach service even if the government refused aid. Well before he received the government grant, Smith had purchased his equipment and was advertising an upcoming stagecoach service in the newspapers.

Isaiah Smith began his first run on the 14th of February in 1816. At 2 p.m. that day the first coach left Halifax. The coach accommodated six passengers at a charge of six dollars each and carried small parcels at a reasonable rate. The inaugural run of some 45 miles took nine hours.

Initially, the coach from Halifax to Windsor ran once a week. In the spring a semi-weekly service began. In a paper read before the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1936, R. D. Evans reported that in May a twice weekly run was started, the coaches now carrying eight passengers. “Quick service” (!) was maintained, Evans said, “by a change of horses every 15 miles.”

Thus began the first stage coach service in Nova Scotia; apparently, it was so popular that one “Mr. Todd” immediately began a competing run from Halifax to Windsor. In 1828 another competing line opened, the Western Stage Coach Company, which ran three times weekly in summer and two or three times a week in winter. By this time the run from Halifax into the Valley had been extended as far as Annapolis.

Imagine hopping on a stage coach in Halifax in 1828 and taking at least 16 hours to reach Annapolis. What do we do it in today, well under three hours at the very least via the 101? R. D. Evans said that the Western Stage Coach Company was committed to a 16-hour run but “this was an absurd provision which had to be ignored in actual practice.” The run, he said, was closer to 20 hours.

Until the railroad arrived, the stage coach lines were the only “existing connectors” and Evans put it between the main towns and villages in the Annapolis Valley. From Halifax the stage coach lines eventually ran in all directions – to Truro, Pictou, the South Shore and to Yarmouth. In the meanwhile, roads were slowly improved but they were still hazardous in winter and spring and would continue to be so until long after the automobile’s arrival.

 

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