Page images
PDF
EPUB

summer day. We are justified in assuming, therefore, that from the day that a railroad from Windsor to Halifax was fairly opened, thirty miles of the distance would be annihilated; and the capital, with its fine harbor, and command of the Atlantic seaboard, would be brought within ten or fifteen miles of the Bason of Mines, and the rich lands of the midland counties.

Every man in at least one entire section of the Province has a personal and pecuniary interest in the matter. This interest may be deeper with the people situated immediately around the two points of termination; but it affects more or less the whole population dwelling on the shores of the Bason of Mines, in Cumberland, Colchester, Hants, King's, Annapolis, Lunenburg, Queen's, and even in Shelburne county; but much more than all these does it affect the interest of the people of Halifax. To us it is, if not a vital question, one of the most pressing and commanding importance. A railroad to Windsor at once strikes off from Halifax the ancient reproach of barrenness and sterility; it annihilates the bad land by which we are surrounded; it brings the finest tracts in the Province may we not say in North America ? — thirty miles nearer to our doors; it gives us Newport, Windsor, Falmouth, Horton, and Cornwallis, as suburban towns, in reality nearer to us than are Lawrence Town, Chizetcook, and Margaret's Bay, with the present indifferent roads. Indeed, so closely identified would Halifax become with the business and improvement of those fine townships, that every acre brought into higher cultivation, every child born within their limits, would become a hostage for its growth and prosperity. No longer sighing for a river flowing into our harbor, we should have one with the tide of steam running both ways, and bearing us to and fro at the rate of twenty knots an hour. What river, what canal, could possibly be half as good? No longer presenting to the whole population along the shores of the Bason of Mines the repulsive aspect of a long, tedious, and expensive land carriage, by which they are driven to seek other markets and form other connections, we should attract them to our streets and stores, by multiplied facilities for active and profitable intercourse. A railroad to Windsor would be of more essential service than a river as broad and deep as the St. John extending all the way.

These papers attracted a good deal of attention at the time they were published, but Mr. Howe was not then in the Legislature; he had no influence in the government, and those who might have much earlier realized the conception, had not the courage to come up to the task. Judge Halliburton became an early convert to Mr. Howe's views, and eloquently enforced them in his amusing sketches. At a later period Mr. Fraser and Mr. Wilkins, of Windsor, exerted themselves to have traffic returns collected and preliminary explorations made.

On motion of the former gentleman, a resolution was passed in the session of 1848, authorizing the government to employ competent persons to examine the country between Halifax and Windsor, to ascertain if a practicable line could be found. Mr. Howe and Judge Desbarres (then Solicitor General] were appointed commissioners to make the necessary arrangements. Mr. George Wightman, a self-taught civil engineer, familiar with the face of the country, was selected for this service, and with a small party spent the summer of 1818 in running trial lines, and collecting information. His work was reviewed and his calculations tested by E. S. Chesborough, Esq., of Boston, and the results of their joint labors, with a report from the commissioners, were laid before the Legislature in the session of 1819.

A railroad from Halifax to Quebec was suggested by the Earl of Durham in his celebrated report submitted to Parliament in 1839. This project was thenceforward freely discussed in all the Provinces. The want of a military road was much felt during the troubles in Canada. It would be indispensable to the security of the Provinces in the event of a war with the United States. Under any circumstances, whether they were to be confederated or not, such a great highway must bind the Provinces together, open up their unsettled lands, and inspire their population with feelings of pride and a sentiment of nationality. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that the enterprise was popular, and, for many reasons, had earnest and eloquent advocates in all the Colonies.

It was not, however, till 1845 that the leading politicians of the Provinces had much leisure or inclination to grapple seriously with this project. Outsiders discussed it a good deal, but those whose first thought was to establish securities for wise internal administration, naturally felt that they must do one thing at a time.

In October, 1845, some gentlemen in London proposed to form a company to build a railroad from Halifax to the St. Lawrence, and communications were sent to the Provinces interested inviting coöperation. A public meeting of the principal citizens was held at Halifax, at which coöperation was pledged, and the attention of the Executive invited to the importance of the undertaking. Other meetings were held at Quebec and elsewhere, in which a good deal of earnestness was manifested. In November, prospectuses were issued by the promoters of the company in London, who proposed to build, as we have already said, not only the road to the St. Lawrence, but the road to Windsor also.

As these persons had used the names of a good many Colonial gentlemen without their knowledge and consent; and as, upon inquiry, there was good reason to doubt the extent of their resources, a good deal of bickering arose between those who represented and those who opposed the promoters. A meeting was held at Masons Hall, at which feeling ran very high. At this meeting an executive committee of nine gentlemen was appointed to prepare statistics, conduct correspondence, and report from time to time as progress might be made.

Meetings were also held during the autumn, both at Windsor and in Halifax, at which the importance of the Western Railroad was freely discussed.

When the session opened, a memorial was submitted from the promoters of the Halifax and Quebec Railroad, in England, with certain dispatches, to which reference has already been made, and which increased rather than allayed the feelings that had been previously excited at the public meetings. There were communications to and from the Colonial Secretary and the Governors of Canada and New Brunswick, showing that in all the Provinces the subject was exciting a good deal of interest.

On the 14th of March, resolutions and an address were passed, pledging this Province to coöperate with the other Colonies interested, in a joint survey of the line to the St. Lawrence, in the incorporation of a company, and the appropriation of funds in aid of the enterprise.

The survey by Major Robinson and Captain Henderson followed, and their report and plans were submitted to the Colonial Legislatures in 1819.

During that session, the right of way, with ten miles of crown land on either side, and £20,000 sterling per annum forever, or until the road paid, were granted by our Legislature. Grants, proportional to their resources and interest in the work, were also made in Canada and New Brunswick. The belief was general that substantial aid would be given by the British government; and sanguine and apparently well-founded hopes were entertained in all the Provinces that a work, recommended by a royal commissioner, countenanced by Governors and secretaries of state, which had been surveyed at a cost to the Colonies of £10,000, and in aid of which £60,000 per annum and ten thousand acres of land had been granted by the Colonial Legislatures, would be considered of sufficient importance to command the attention of Parliament. This had been the general belief of many from 1816 to 1849. When the surveys were completed, and the Legislative grants were given, a rail. road from the seaboard to the St. Lawrence, upon British territory, appeared to be un fait accomplis.

The disappointment was universal, when a report from a captain of the Royal Engineers, addressed to the Colonial Secretary, and by His Lordship transmitted to the Provincial governments, dashed all the high hopes that had been raised, and left the people of North America to digest their disappointment as they could: wondering, as no doubt they did, at the facility with which one Royal Engineer officer could construct a great scheme of national improvement, after two years of careful inquiry, and at a cost to them of £10,000, which another officer of the same corps, but of inferior rank, could scatter to the winds.

Up to this period Mr. Howe had taken no particularly active part in the advocacy of the railroad to the St. Lawrence. He had served as a member of the Halifax committee; as a member of the Legislature he had voted for the grants, resolutions and addresses, which had been brought forward by other gentlemen; but he did not aspire to take any lead upon the question, or to share with others the laurels that might be reaped in a field upon which they had established rights, by priority in the display of activity and zeal. Mr. Uniacke, Mr. George R. Young, Mr. Cogswell, Mr. William Pryor, Mr. Godfrey, and some others, had displayed very creditable intelligence and enterprise, and in their hands Mr. Howe left the work until their resources were exhausted - till the measures which they recommended had been tried and failed; until Captain Harness had disparaged the enterprise by his report, and the British government had thrown it over, after so many years of excitement, and in view of the lavish appropriations made by the Provinces.

Captain Harness's report was laid before the House in 1849. Mr. Howe waited until near the close of the session of 1850, leaving the railway field clear for gentlemen who had any thing further to propose, and only entering upon it when assured that it was, for the present, abandoned. He determined then to make an effort to build the Windsor road, which he had suggested fifteen years before; and to propound a new policy, which, however it startled the public mind at the time, was destined ultimately to supersede all others in the maritime Provinces, and to be crowned with abundant success.

Mr. Howe, on the 25th of March, moved a resolution, pledging the Provincial revenues to the whole extent of the sum required by Wightman and Chesborough to construct the railway to Windsor; and made the first that we can find of a series of speeches upon railways, which ultimately resulted in the passage of the laws of 1854, and the construction of the two great works which now happily give life and elevation to our country.

The House having gone into committee of the whole, on motion of the Hon. the Provincial secretary, to consider the resolution of which he had given notice on a former day, the object of which was to pledge the public funds to the extent of £330,000 for the construction of a railroad between Halifax and Windsor, he rose and said:

Mr. Chairman, - I regret that the pressure of other business, to which circumstances had given precedence, has compelled me to move a reso

« PreviousContinue »