WINDSOR TO WOLFVILLE – “HIGH-SPEED CHASE” IN 1899 (March 22/22)

In September of 1889, what began as a leisurely buggy drive in Halifax eventually led to a “high-speed chase” down the Valley. At least newspapers of the time called it a high-speed chase, perhaps the equivalent today of police pursuing a speedster on the 101 at 250 kilometres an hour.

This doesn’t qualify as historical, but the chase that took place from Halifax to Wolfville gives us a glimpse of law and order in the 19th century. And we may not regard a horse thief evading the law as a high-speed chase. But that’s how newspapers reported it when a Sheriff tried to arrest a gentleman who neglected to return a horse and wagon to a Halifax livery stable – and at the time it was big and exciting news and caused quite a stir.

According to newspapers, the said horse thief, named only as Captain Smith, went sightseeing down the Valley to Windsor, Hantsport and then headed towards Wolfville, all the while pursued madly by various county Sheriffs and constables. After a leisurely drive with a lady friend, Captain Smith picked up a male companion and went on his way to the Valley. He was soon in trouble.

It was a “hard chase” from Windsor to Wolfville, the papers reported, at the “highest speed” possible for horses to obtain. At least two newspapers (Halifax and Kentville) covered the event and the following are excerpts from them:

“The man who stole the horse and buggy (from a stable) in Halifax was captured yesterday. He was traced by police from Halifax to Mount Uniacke and later to Windsor. The constables at Windsor were telegraphed to apprehend the man and immediately secured a team and gave chase after he was noticed driving through the streets of Windsor.

“The suspect had a good lead on the constable, which he kept until the officer secured another horse and team and started in pursuit once more. This time the chase was very exciting, with the officer and the man driving their horses at the highest speed. At last, when near Wolfville, the constable overtook the suspect and hauled him out of his team. A brief scrimmage followed.”

The culprit, a naval officer out of Halifax, later explained in court that an American friend he picked up suggested they “take in the Kentville races.” As reported in the Kentville paper, “the two then drove to Windsor where they separated and he planned to return the horse and wagon. The chase was a hard one, he said, and that the constables never would have caught him if his horse was not fatigued by excessive driving.” What was the fate of Captain Smith, the horse thief? While he had his day in court, I was unable to find follow-up reports in local or provincial papers.

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