At midday on August 19, 1869, a steam locomotive trailing passenger cars carrying government dignitaries shunted into Kentville from the Western Counties Railway.
Earlier that day, a passenger train had arrived in Kentville from Grand Pre, carrying some 100 dignitaries – among them the Governor General and the Receiver General of Canada. The occasion was the official opening of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway.
But despite the celebration, there was an uncompleted section of the railway in the Horton area, obliging the Governor General and his entourage to take coaches from Windsor to Grand Pre and to pick up the train there.
However, once the gap at Horton was finished, the line running west from Kentville through the Annapolis Valley would connect with lines to the South Shore and Yarmouth; running east into Halifax, the line would connect Nova Scotia with New Brunswick and the Canadian hinterlands beyond.
The opening of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway marked the start of new times and a new way of life, and the Valley would never be the same again. Towns and villages along the line prospered. Apple warehouses, needed to service a rapidly expanding apple industry, sprung up by the score all along the line. Almost overnight, Windsor, Kentville and Berwick boomed, new business and residential areas expanding so fast that the towns lagged behind in servicing them.
Wolfville was looked at first as the railway’s headquarters, but apparently, enough land wasn’t available to hold what would become a sprawling enterprise. Looking back, we can see why Kentville became the railway’s centre. The headquarters were built there; roundhouses, freight sheds and machine shops sprung up, along with what was the grandest train station found anywhere in the Valley.
Statistics indicate that at one time, two out of five Kentville residents either worked for the railway or had close connections with it. Their numbers are few, but even today, many town residents have grandfathers, fathers, uncles and cousins who once worked on the railway. Their numbers are dwindling as well but in Kentville and in the county you can still find men and women who once drew railway paychecks.
The Windsor and Annapolis Railway, after amalgamation with other lines in western Nova Scotia, eventually became the Dominion Atlantic Railway. It’s a complicated story – the W & A Railway, for example, had to appeal to the highest courts in Great Britain just to stay in business. In her History of the Dominion Atlantic Railway, Marguerite Woodworth spells out the details of the railway’s complicated ups and downs, concluding that in the end, the W & A swallowed up the lines that had opened to serve the area west of Kentville (the Western Counties Railway) and the South Shore.
Suffice it to say that by 1894 the W & A Railway was the leading force in amalgamating the lines. The W & A was incorporated in 1866. On July 22 in 1895, an Act of Parliament incorporated all the lines into the Dominion Atlantic Railway and the W & A Railway, after 25 years of struggling to stay in business, had won out.
More than a few books have been written about the railway and its heyday. But only Marguerite Woodworth’s book contains a detailed account of how the railway came to the Annapolis Valley after starting up in Windsor; No other book chronicles the ups and downs of the Annapolis and Windsor Railway and how its struggle just to survive finally paid off.