In 1921 the number of Dominion Atlantic Railway employees working out of Kentville numbered 320. In 1921 the D. A. R. payroll for Kentville office alone was $400,000. This is an average yearly salary of $1,250.00 per employee, which wasn’t bad for the 1920s.
In 1921 the total number of D.A.R. employees in Nova Scotia was 800. In other words, some 40 percent of all D.A.R. employees in the province worked out of the Kentville rail yard. Kentville’s role as a railway hub and the contribution of the railway to the local economy is well illustrated by these statistics. In the 1920s nearly one-third of Kentville’s population worked for the railway or belonged to families employed by the D.A.R.
I found these statistics in a history of the D. A. R. by William W. Clarke. This probably was the first published history of the D.A.R., predating Marguerite Woodworth’s work on the same topic by over a decade. Woodworth’s work, the official history since it was commissioned by the D.A.R., was published in 1936. Clarke’s work contains no publication date, but its content indicates it was probably published no later than the early to mid-1920s.
About a decade ago I reviewed Clarke’s book in this column, but I knew little about the author. There’s a photograph of Clarke in the book and he tells us he was a longtime railway employee and worked as a conductor. Other than bits and pieces of information in local railroad lore, Mr. Clarke was a mystery man.
But not anymore. Purely by chance, when I was reading the scrapbook collection at the Kings County Museum, I came across a newspaper clipping announcing Mr. Clarke’s death in 1929. Clarke was born in Hantsport in 1865 and came from a railway family. When he was a boy his family moved to Annapolis Royal where, at age 16, he became a water boy for the Windsor and Annapolis Railway.
Mr. Clarke served for many years as a conductor on the D.A.R. and his obituary notes that he was one of Kentville’s best known and most respected citizens. The Advertiser’s news release announcing his death noted that he was “one of the outstanding figures in the railway history of Nova Scotia.” A dedicated railway man to the last, Clarke had insisted on staying at his post as a conductor while still suffering from a long bout of influenza. “It was this devotion to duty which probably resulted in his death as the influenza was followed by pneumonia which resulted fatally,” reads his obituary.
When I reviewed Mr. Clarke’s D.A.R. history here in 1999, I said that it was an invaluable contribution to railroad lore. I haven’t changed my mind. I’m surprised that his history isn’t better known. Unlike Marguerite Woodworth’s work, Clarke’s history contains railroad lore that but for his book would be lost. If you have a copy of Clarke’s history, cherish it. There aren’t that many copies in existence today.