ED COLEMAN: Kentville train station barrels a mystery

Ed Coleman
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The Kentville railway station with mystery barrels on its roof.Submitted

By Ed Coleman

Of all the railway stations the Dominion Atlantic Railway built across Nova Scotia, one of the largest was located in Kentville. This station housed the headquarters of the DAR, with offices on the ground floor and living quarters on the second.

But while spacious, the Kentville station was barn-like, compared to some of the splendid stations built along the line between Windsor Junction and Yarmouth. For a look at some of these “architecturally interesting” DAR stations, I suggest you go to your computer and key in Nova Scotia railway station photographs. This will take you to the Nova Scotia Railway Heritage web pages, where you’ll find photographs of many of the stations the DAR constructed across the province.

I recently did this, spurred on to look at DAR railway station photographs by an email message from Kentville historian Louis Comeau.

Accompanying the email was a really great photograph of the Kentville station and a short message from Louis asking, “What are the barrels for?”

         Take a look at the photograph with this column and you’ll see three barrels mounted on the station roof. They look like apple barrels to me; and since the railway was built with the booming the apple industry in mind, I assumed the barrels might have been symbolic. This is what I suggested when I forwarded Comeau’s message to Ivan Smith, asking him if he knew why barrels were mounted on the Kentville station’s roof. 

Ivan Smith has done a tremendous amount of research on railways, which you’ll discover if you look at his website, the Nova Scotia History Index. Railways are one of Smith’s many interests and he covers them extensively, especially the historical aspect, on his site. It’s the only place, for example, where you’ll find a comprehensive history of the old Cornwallis Valley Railway, which once ran from Kentville to Kingsport.

Anyway, Smith replied that the barrels on the Kentville station roof have him puzzled. 

“I have no idea, but my guess is they were water reservoirs for quick response to a chimney fire. Two of the barrels are visibly close to a chimney and the middle barrel could be beside a chimney hidden from view in this photograph.”

However, Smith said, water reservoirs seem unlikely since chimney fire are most likely in the winter, “when any water in the barrels would be frozen.”

This, Smith concluded, is a long-winded way of saying he has no idea why the DAR would mount apple barrels on the station roof.

So, we leave it up to you, the readers of this column, the history buffs.  What are the barrels for? Louis Comeau would like to know, and since I’ve piqued Ivan Smith’s interest, he’d like to know as well. We need your assistance, so let’s hear from you.

And by the way, isn’t that a magnificent photograph of the Kentville station? I said “barn-like” above, but that’s not really a fair assessment on my part. For all its appearance, the Kentville station was probably the most serviceable, if not one of the most picturesque stations the DAR built.

Organizations: Dominion Atlantic Railway, Nova Scotia Railway Heritage, Cornwallis Valley Railway

Geographic location: Kentville, Nova Scotia railway, Windsor Junction Yarmouth DAR railway Kingsport

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Recent comments

  • Steve Hunter
    February 12, 2013 - 19:08

    These are definitely fire barrels. There are likely roof ladders on the rear of the roof, for easier access. Yes, water freezes in winter, but remember steam locomotives can throw sparks and many stations burned down from this cause. Railway bridges above a certain length were equipped with fire barrels as a standard practice. They were exposed to sparks from locomotives and from train brake shoes as well. Mills and other commercial buildings frequently had fire barrels, roof ladders, etc for use in emergency. Apples, no. Decoration, no... Hope this helps. Steve Hunter Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario

  • Dave Fineberg
    February 06, 2013 - 08:54

    It would seem entirely appropriate that the railway would want to tip its hat, however cryptically, to the burgeoning barrel industry. The cooperage industry at New Ross, which we can still explore at Ross Farm, was a supplier on a global scale, not only for Annapolis Valley fruit, but for " higher octane" products as well, such as whiskey. This would render barrels as a virtual necessity of life, and undoubtedly the source of a significant percentage of railway freight. This would explain why the railway would want to salute the barrel industry, but would want to keep that recognition on an "inside joke" type of basis. The relative inaccessibility of these barrels would tend to argue against more practical applications for them. That's entirely theory, and not history, but one with some grounds to it, I think.