RUM ON THE RAILWAY (June 5/17)

In the pioneer days of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway, writes William Clarke, “ale, porter and other intoxicants” (meaning mostly rum and whiskey) were sold at train stations in Windsor, Kentville and Aylesford.

The W & A Railway officially opened on August 18, 1869, so the pioneer days Clarke refers to must have been the late 19th century. Apparently serving alcoholic beverages at train stops was common in the early railway days, following a practice that likely started when stagecoaches stopped overnight at various inns in the Valley. In his book, Clarke’s History of the Earliest Railways (published circa 1925 in Windsor) Mr. Clarke indicates that passengers expected refreshments of the alcoholic kind would be available, if not at the actual stations then in nearby restaurants and lunch counters.

During its daily runs, the W & A also made stops at Mount Uniacke and Windsor Junction. At the latter stop at least four places close to the railroad tracks offered a “dock n’ doris” says Clarke. (Freely translated, the Gaelic expression, deoch n’ doris, means a final drink before departing and traditionally it was whiskey).

What made the imbibing of alcoholic beverages possible for train travellers in the early days may have been the long stops along the line for meals. “Previous to 1872,” writes Clarke, “trains stopped 20 minutes for meals.” At most of these stops along the line, “eating houses” were set up to cater to a travelling public that wanted hard liquor and ale.

When a new train station opened at Annapolis in 1891, a “splendid restaurant was also opened,” writes Clark, and this too catered to the belief that a wee deoch n’ doris before moving on was a necessity. The railway sponsored the opening of the Kentville Railway Restaurant, which at first was operated privately. Like other food stops on the line the Kentville Railway Restaurant served liquor, beer and ale, a practice that continued until prohibition put an end to it.

At the train stop in Aylesford the restaurant there became famous for its fish patties. Clarke writes that the “little restaurant recalls memories of the motherly Mrs. Patterson, who won the hearts of the ‘boys’ supplying daily, quantities of the appetizing fish patties.” The restaurant was taken over by Kentville’s Lyons Hotel, an establishment noted for catering to the drinking public, and no doubt certain beverages made the fish patties even more delicious.

When the railway was being constructed, tots of rum were often imbibed daily along the line. The liquor also flowed freely when the railway celebrated its grand opening. In her history of the Dominion Atlantic Railway, Marguerite Woodworth writes that during the grand opening of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway, the train crews celebrated by drinking too much alcohol – if that’s what Woodworth meant in noting that they celebrated the occasion “not wisely but too well.” The grand opening celebration was held in Kentville and Woodworth intimates that alcohol flowed freely.

Rum or whiskey may have been responsible for a riot involving Irish railway workers, who were primarily Catholic, and a group of Protestant rail layers. In her history, Marguerite Woodworth writes that the riot was caused by religious differences, but elsewhere we read that Irish labourers imbibed whiskey often when putting down the railway tracks through the Annapolis Valley.

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