Monday, November 7, 2011

An evening of trains

Last weekend there was a great show at the local theatre about the history of the local trains. The Mud Creek Boys sang railway songs and Gary Ness showed slides of his personal collection of local trains. Gary told the story of trains here in the Annapolis Valley.

The DAR (Dominion Atlantic Railway) was formed to run trains on tracks built in Nova Scotia in the mid 1800s, before Confederation. The railway between Halifax and Yarmouth via the Valley was started in 1857 and completed in 1869, two years after Confederation, with the exception of The Missing Link. The tracks were started at both ends and should have met in the Valley, but just outside of Digby quicksand was discovered and there did not seem to be a way around it. So a small section was left unbuilt until some time later. It became known as The Missing Link.

DAR workers were very proud of their work. They built their own locomotives in Kentville, and every locomotive was painted in DAR colours (gold and maroon) with the DAR Land of Evangeline emblem on the coal car. Every locomotive was given a name which it bore on a big brass plate on its side.

Canadian Pacific wanted an Atlantic port and tried to force Canadian National to sell its tracks to them, they even tried to get the federal government to force the sale, but it didn't happen. So instead, CP bought out the DAR which leased the CN tracks to Halifax, thus giving CP access to Halifax. CP told DAR workers that they had to make their locomotives conform to CP standards, which meant no DAR emblem, no DAR colours and no brass plates and locomotive names. The DAR workers were unwilling to conform and I guess Nova Scotia was just too far away for CP to enforce their rules. Every time the DAR got a new CP locomotive they painted it gold and maroon, gave it a name and affixed a brass plate with that name.

Gary explained how steam engines worked, and the complications of freight and passenger hauling, whether in separate trains or in mixed trains. The pictures were fascinating, all these old trains in our Valley. He could often name the engineers in the pictures.

The audience was packed. At the intermission many of us turned to each other to share our own stories of the trains. In 1994 the last train ran through the Valley. The tracks are still there but they have been left to rust and weed over. In some parts of the rail system there are trees growing between the tracks now. It is a shame.

When I lived here before we had the Dayliner, a train that ran twice a day between Yarmouth and Halifax. You could board it in the morning and head to Halifax, and return home on the evening train. It was not suitable for commuting to work but you could definitely go for a day of shopping and just hanging out in The Big City. I used to take the kids; travel on the train with kids was so much easier than on a bus because you could let the kids run around, you didn't have to try to keep them in their seats for two hours.

It turns out that CP's lease on the tracks was only for 99 years, and that lease expires next year. Who knows what will happen then?

After the show several people headed out to a Hallowe'en dance at the Old O, and a few of us went next door to the pub. This pub is very busy on Monday nights (standing room only!) but pretty quiet on a Saturday. I had a glass of local Muscat wine and someone else ordered a Beer Sampler. For less than the price of my Muscat, he got six little glasses of house-brewed beer, all different. I tried the AVA and the Raven. My favourite is still the Gaspereau Pilsner, but the Raven isn't bad. The stout does not compare well with Guinness, so best not to bother. They also brew seasonal beers, so there should have been a Pumpkin beer in the Sampler, but they were all out.