The Coast Railway and its Successors


In 1911 the 6,600 residents of Yarmouth, N. S., were being served by two railroads. The Dominion Atlantic Railway, which connected them with Halifax by way of the Annapolis Valley, was leased on 13 Nov. 1911 to the Canadian Pacific Railway for a term of 999 years [1, p. 134]. Seven years later the Halifax and South Western Railway, which ran to Halifax along the South Shore, became part of the Canadian National Railways [2]. Although this service along the South Shore to Yarmouth ended in 1982, Wilfred Allan’s mother still recalls the convenience, after spending evenings in Halifax, of returning on the midnight Halifax and South Western sleeper train, which arrived in Yarmouth at 8 a.m.

Here is a genealogy of railways for those hoping to make sense of the South Shore rail service from Yarmouth. In the beginning was the Coast Railway Company of Nova Scotia, incorporated in 1893 to construct a narrow-gauge line from Yarmouth through Barrington and Shelburne to Lockeport. Later the railway decided to convert to standard gauge, and in 1899 it was renamed the Halifax and Yarmouth Railway (H&YR) with a charter to continue east from Lockeport through Liverpool and Bridgewater to Halifax. In 1901 Sir William Mackenzie and Donald Mann entered the fray by incorporating the Halifax and South Western Railway (H&SW) to provide rail service between Halifax and Yarmouth. Since Mackenzie and Mann had deep pockets, it was unsurprising when the H&SW purchased the H&YR in 1905. By the end of 1906 the H&SW tracks were completed, and the first through train from Halifax reached Yarmouth on 19 December 1906. Although later the H&SW became part of the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), it continued to operate as the H&SW or, as the locals called it, the “Hellish Slow and Wobbly” [3]. When the CNoR went bankrupt during the First World War, it was nationalized and on 20 Dec. 1918 it became part of the Canadian National Railways (CNR), which in 1960 became the Canadian National (CN). [2]

Below are some photographs of the Coast Railway, the Halifax and Yarmouth Railway, and the Halifax and South Western Railway, all taken on the section of those railways between Yarmouth and Lockeport.

References and Notes

    [1] Marguerite Woodworth, History of the Dominion Atlantic Railway. Kentville Publishing Co., Ltd., Kentville, NS, Oct. 1936. 159 pp.

    [2] Wikipedia contributors, “Halifax and Southwestern Railway.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Retrieved on 4 January 2014 01:14 UTC. Available online.

    [3] Herbert R. Banks (1986), “The Coast Railway: Tom Robertson’s Wheelbarrow Railroad.” Nova Scotia Historical Review, 6(2), pp. 11–16. “There is a well-worn local legend, no doubt apocryphal, about a Halifax & South Western train that was lurching, rolling and bumping along the South Shore, when suddenly it came to a piece of track that had lately been lined up by the hard-working section men. As she glided along smoothly for a few hundred feet, the alarmed conductor sprang to his feet, shouting, ‘Jump for your lives, boys! We must be off the track!’” [pp. 14–15]

    [4] The Nova Scotia Railway Heritage Society’s web site has photographs of stations on the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific (DAR) lines.

    [5] Don R. Pothier, History of Tusket, Nova Scotia. Introduction by Peter M. Crowell. Self-published, Tusket, NS B0W 3M0, 2005. 397 pp.

    [6] J. Murray Lawson (compiler), Yarmouth Past and Present: A Book of Reminiscences. Yarmouth Herald, Yarmouth, NS, 1902. 682 pp.

    [7] Chap. 5, “The Iron Horse Arrives!”, pp. 50–59 in James T. Bebb, Quest for the Phantom Fleet. Privately printed, 1992. 200 pp. (Y MS4 12, YCMA)

    [8] I thank archivists Lisette Gaudet, of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives (YCMA), and Peter Crowell, of the Argyle Township Court House Archives (ATCHA), for providing access to the photographs and archival material concerning the Coast Railway and its successors. All photographs labeled YCMA or ATCHA are copyrighted; please contact the appropriate Archives if you wish to acquire a photo.

William Day (1 March 2015)