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ED COLEMAN: Take an 1890s trip down the Windsor Annapolis Railway

Tony Kalkman checks some of the old railway telephones that are in his collection.  On the shelf above is a miniature steam locomotive and miniature cars, duplicates of the railway stock that once ran up and down local rails. The miniatures were made from scrap material.
Columnist Ed Coleman recently featured local railway artifact enthusiast Tony Kalkman. - Ed Coleman
KENTVILLE, N.S. —

“In the very heart of the Land of Evangeline, beneath the shadow of Blomidon, with a far-stretching strip of golden beach and the orchards extending for miles on every side ... nestles the seaside resort of Kingsport. The destiny of Kingsport is very plain – a year or so will see it as fashionable a haunt as any on the New England shores.”

This optimistic prediction of a great future for Kingsport is in a tourist booklet published circa 1893 by the Windsor and Annapolis Railway. With hindsight we know that Kingsport became important when the Cornwallis Valley Railway opened in 1890 (linking its port with Kentville ) but it never became the “fashionable haunt” predicted by the railway.

The flowery language lauding Kingsport hints that the railway had published a tourist brochure. This is exactly what it was. Starting in Windsor, after a brief salute to Halifax, the railway takes us on a tour through the Valley, describing various points of interest along the way.  Windsor, reads the brochure, “stands at the head of the world-famous orchard region of Nova Scotia,” is renowned as the seat of King’s College, the home of Sam Slick, and is the location of Fort Edward, which “played a conspicuous part in the old fights between the French and English.” The Avon River, “famous for its ruddy water and high tides,” is mentioned as well.

But it isn’t until we leave Windsor and reach Kings County that the railway really strives to seduce potential tourists, stressing the attractions in various towns, villages and communities. Some of the attractions seems humdrum today, but they are mentioned time and again in early tourist brochures such as this, apparently in the belief they would lure Americans tourists.  At least the railway was convinced of this, and in brochures published by the W&AR and by the DAR, the same attractions are hawked over and over.

But let’s continue down the W&AR line and imagine you were there. Once you leave Windsor you soon pass through Wolfville, which is given a salutary salute as “a lovely and thriving university town” with good hotels. Heading towards Kentville, you pass through land “rich in history, tradition, legend, poetry and romance.” Looming over this land is Cape Blomidon, a “magnificent promontory... guarding the Minas Basin.”

The railway brochure takes us into Kentville, where it has its headquarters, and where tourists were urged to get off the train here and take a side trip to the Look-Off for its magnificent view. In fact, it’s a good place to stop the tour and read the brochure, especially its most interesting section, a list of hotels and overnight lodges along or adjacent to the W&AR line.

According to the brochure, in the early 1890s Windsor had six hotels. Surprisingly, since it was smaller than Windsor, Wolfville also offered six places of accommodation, and Kentville only four. If tourists stopped overnight at other towns and villages near or along the line, most of them offered at least two places of accommodation. Berwick and Aylesford, along with Port Williams, Canning and Kingsport each offered two, for example, and Middleton three.

Ed Coleman is a local columnist in the Annapolis Valley with an interest in history.

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