RAILWAY NOTES: WOLFVILLE VS KENTVILLE (September 5/17)

As a direct result of running its line along what at the time was the northern boundary of Kentville, the Windsor & Annapolis Railway created a building boom. Records show that through 1868 and 1869 at least 200 new homes were built within a mile of the rail lines in the Kentville area. There was yet another boom in 1870 just after the railway moved its headquarters from Wolfville to Kentville.

A change in the railway’s original plan to bypass the town also helped to bring Kentville to prominence. The line running into Kings County was originally supposed to cross the Cornwallis River at Port Williams and run west, skirting the town. We can only speculate but perhaps the cost of building a railway bridge over the Cornwallis River was a factor in the railway’s change of plans – it was simpler and there had to be less expense involved in running the line straight into Kentville from Wolfville along the south bank of the Cornwallis River.

The elimination of a costly bridge, and the fact that, unlike Wolfville, Kentville had land available to build the various machine shops, sheds, turntables, roundhouses and a station that would also house the railway’s headquarters, made the town the obvious choice for the railway’s destination. Kentville prospered and Wolfville lost the opportunity to become the major town in Kings County. A lack of enough available land for the railway to build in Wolfville apparently was the problem. However, newspaper accounts from the period hint that while space was available, the citizens and merchants of Wolfville weren’t willing give up this land for the railway to build on.

As noted in the town’s history, Mud Creek, the railway at first operated out of Wolfville. “In 1869 Wolfville was the headquarters of the W & A. R. The car shops were located here and the two engines built in Bristol, England, No. 1 Evangeline and No. 2 Gabriel, were landed in Wolfville.

This was to quickly change, however. As the editors of Mud Creek observed: “Owing to a lack of co-operation from owners of land (in Wolfville) the headquarters were removed to Kentville.” Later the building of a spur line (the Cornwallis Valley Railway) from Kingsport to Kentville dealt yet another blow to the town when (quoting from Mud Creek) “in 1897 the W. & A. R. removed their tracks from the Wolfville wharf as an incentive to get the C.V.R. (in Kingsport) into operation.”

Wolfville’s loss was Kentville’s gain. Kentville became a major centre (the railway later adding to the town’s lustre by building the magnificent Cornwallis Inn). With its rail link to Kentville, Kingsport became a major shipping port and Wolfville’s role as the railway’s
Bay of Fundy connection vanished.

As mentioned, the building boom in an around Kentville was an immediate result of the railway relocating its headquarters there. As can be seen from scanning the various directories published in the years following relocation of its headquarters in Kentville, the railway also became a major employer. For example, Clarke’s history records that the total number of railway employees in 1921 was 800 in Nova Scotia; of this 800 some 320 lived in Kentville. The railway’s payroll in Kentville alone in 1921 was $400,000.

These figures alone illustrate how much Wolfville lost when the railway relocated to Kentville.

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