A Brief History of Windsor, Nova Scotia
5. The Railway
Queen Mab, first train on the N.S. Railway
As Haligonians’ need for agricultural and forest products from the Windsor and Minas Basin area became greater, transportation had to improve. Plans developed for a railway line, and in 1856 the first public railway in the province, the Nova Scotia Railway was built between Halifax and Windsor. It was the first link of the Dominion Atlantic Railway that would eventually cross the Avon River, making Windsor the Gateway to the Valley and connecting all points in western Nova Scotia with the capital city of the province, Halifax.
The Flying Bluenose
Windsor and Halifax had become great neighbors and were very important to each other. The government continued to improve the highway and the rail service and the college served the city folks well as did the town as a summer resort and source of food and building materials.
Nova Scotia’s first passenger railway ran from Halifax to Windsor, beginning in 1858. Haligonians could thus access Windsor, the “Playground of Halifax”, also known as “The Athens of Nova Scotia”, and “Canada’s First Centre of Culture and Learning”, for it was the site of King’s College, “Canada’s First College” and “The Windsor Reading Society”.
The commonly-called “Halifax-Windsor Railway” was officially known as “The Nova Scotia Railway” and later became a part of the exciting Intercolonial Railway which connected the Maritimes to Quebec and Ontario, which was then known as “Canada”, before Confederation.
First Windsor Railway Station
The station at Windsor accommodated passengers by allowing them to exit from their carriage “inside” the station as the train ran directly through the station, from end to end.
Commuters expect the same protection from the elements during travel in subways all over the world today, but this was modern technology, a century ahead of it’s time in Windsor.
Windsor Waterfront – ShipYards
If Passengers were to continue on beyond Windsor, they would have continued their trip by sea, leaving Windsor’s docks on the Bay of Fundy side-wheel steamer “Empress” to Digby, Saint John and Boston, or onto the Saint Lawrence River, to Montreal or Kingston. This is the route that the military took from the Maritimes to Kingston, Ontario and the province of Quebec. At that time, Windsor was the third largest port in Canada, second only to Montreal and Saint John in the quantity of goods and passengers being shipped to world ports on locally-made ships, operated by Hants County sailors.
By 1875, Starr Skates, and Hockey Sticks, hand-made by Nova Scotian Mi’kmaq craftsmen were being transported to the other parts of Canada as the Nova Scotia game of Ice hockey began to spread from east to west, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, as “Ice Hockey Became Canada’s Great Winter Game!”
Windsor reached its peak of performance in the 1890s when the age of sail gave way to the age of steam and the local ship building industry began to fail.
Great Windsor Fire – 1897
In 1897, the Great Windsor Fire destroyed 4/5 of the town. Among the buildings lost was Windsor’s first rink (built 1870) on Fort Edward. It was the first building replaced in the town (1897), and eventually became known as the Stannus Street Rink . It is believed to be the oldest standing wooden, natural ice rink in Canada. The town was rebuilt within three years but never regained the vitality of those earlier years.
In 1920 another fire burned the main King’s college buildings and a decision was made to rebuild the college in Halifax. Steamboats continued the shipping business to and from Windsor into the 1950s when highway transportation dealt a great blow to the shipping industry of the town.
Water Street, Windsor 1910
Gerrish Street, Windsor, 1920
Copyright – Garth Vaughan December 8, 2000