When Kentville incorporated as a town in 1886 and county warden John King became the first mayor, an immediate problem was making up the by-laws with which the town was to be governed.
This was in the pre-auto age, of course, when hitching rails and watering troughs were common, and many of the early by-laws reflected this fact of life. Bicycles were common as well and the by-laws set strict restrictions on riding them on Kentville streets.
Early on, in 1885, the town set down the by-laws in 125 sections and possibly some of them are still on the books today. On display at the Kentville Historical Society heritage centre is the town’s minute book from the period 1885 to 1904. The by-laws posted in the minute book were eventually published in a separate booklet and this is on exhibit at the centre as well.
Recently I was allowed to read the by-laws booklet – I did it carefully – and I found some interesting, quaint laws regarding bicycles, pedestrians and horses. It was illegal at one time, for example, to ride a bicycle through town with only one hand on the handlebars. A rough quotation of this by-law reads, “No person shall ride a bicycle on the streets without having his hands on the handlebars.” Further, to be legally used in town, every bicycle had to be equipped with either a bell or a gong of sufficient strength to warn people on foot of the bike’s approach.
The by-laws regarding pedestrians on Kentville streets certainly were unusual; perhaps “strange” is a word that also would apply since the by-laws regulated how you could pass someone while walking on town streets. This by-law reads that “pedestrians shall, when meeting, pass to the right; and when overtaking other pedestrians, pass to the left.” The penalty for ignoring this by-law could be as high as $20.
I actually counted them and I found that of the 125 by-law sections regulating traffic in the town, 17 specifically mention horses. One of the by-laws dealing with horses laid down the law on speeding with them This by-law reads, “No person having charge of driving a carriage with an animal attached hereto shall drive the same no faster than a rate of eight miles an hour.”
It was illegal away back then to wheel baby carriages abreast on any town sidewalks. If guilty of this apparently frowned-upon activity, the fine could be as high as $20. (This by-law may have been passed due to the generally messy conditions of roads at the time – blocking the sidewalk may force someone to step into a roadway where horses freely dump their digested hay and oats).
In an effort to control traffic on town streets, it was necessary for the town to clearly spell out what is and what isn’t a vehicle. The by-laws define “vehicle” as waggon (sic) carriage, cart, sleigh, sled “or other thing” travelling on wheels or runners… whether drawn by any animal or propelled by mechanical power. Baby carriages were excepted.
Finally, one could determine that some of the rules governing the town were made in the horse and buggy days by this by-law: All vehicles must “ signal when slowing or stopping by raising a whip or hand vertically.”