RARE BOOKS: CLARKES, MILNERS HISTORY (November 19/12)

Clarke’s history of the railway, written by a Kentville train conductor and published circa 1920 is difficult to find today. The Dominion Atlantic Railway’s website notes that the book was printed in a limited run “on inexpensive acidic paper,” meaning I suppose that time eroded and destroyed most of the copies.

I’ve only seen one copy of Clarke’s work and it occupies a special place in my bookshelf. I was told by a long-time railroader, whose father worked with Clarke, that 200 to 300 copies were printed, some of which were given to friends and fellow employees. While produced inexpensively and not made to last, surely more than a few of those books are extant, most likely in stored away belongings of old railroad families.

Beside my copy of Clarke’s work, another can be found in the book collection at the Kings County Museum. Don Foster, a railway collector in Grafton, has two copies, one autographed by Mr. Clarke. This makes the book rare indeed. As for the dollar value of the book, it would depend on what a railroad buff/collector would be willing to pay for it.

Above, I mentioned the circa 1920 publishing date. The late Leon Barron, an avid collector or railway artefacts in his day, told me the book may have been printed in Windsor in 1925, by the printing company that published the Hants Journal. Based on employee lists published in the book, Don Foster believes that 1925 was the year of publication.

William W. Clarke was an employee of the Dominion Atlantic Railway and the Windsor & Annapolis Railway, where he started as a water boy. On his demise in Kentville at age 64 he had been a railway employee for about 50 years. He was hailed as an “outstanding figure in railway history” by The Advertiser when his death notice was published in 1929.

While I have many details on the life of William W. Clarke (thanks to the scrapbook collection at the Kings County Museum) I can’t say the same about the author of another rare historical book.

At sometime in the 1930s W. C. Milner published a collection of historical sketches in Wolfville. The Basin of Minas and its Early Settlers is the title of his collection. Like Clarke’s book, I’ve quoted from Milner’s work many times in this column. Also like Clarke’s work, Milner’s book is difficult to find. I’m aware of the existence of only four copies. One is in the rare book collection at Acadia University; another copy is in the collection of Wolfville historian Ivan Smith, the creator and caretaker of the Nova Scotia History Index; a third copy is in my bookcase and the forth in the hands of a book collector in Truro.

Milner was the head archivist for the province of Nova Scotia, having at his fingertips sources some historians would kill to access. In his book are some 70 short historical essays in 132 pages, many of them about towns, villages and historical events in the Annapolis Valley. The essays apparently were first published as a series in Wolfville’s weekly newspaper, the Acadian, and then put together and published as a book.

What’s the Wolfville connection with Milner? Apparently Dr. Milner retired to this town, possibly in the 1920s. John Whidden, who recently published a book on the older homes of Wolfville, tells me he found a reference to Milner in his research. Whidden say that in 1926, L. Fairn designed and E. S. Langille built a house for Dr. Milner at 147 Main Street in Wolfville.

We can speculate that after retiring to Wolfville, Milner wrote his series of historical essays in his new home. Exactly when the book was published is anyone’s guess but I believe it was in the early 1930s. As I said, the book is rare, extremely rare. And costly as well compared to Clarke’s book. One of those four copies I mentioned sold for $125 over a decade ago when it was offered for sale by an Ottawa bookdealer.

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