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Old Time Customs
Memories and Traditions and Other Essays
Public Roads and Ways of Communication


THE MODE of travelling and of sending letters from one place to another in the early history of the province has already been noticed. It was about the beginning of the nineteenth century before a road suited to wheels was made between Halifax, Truro and Pictou. In the winter of 1773-4 the pioneer settlers of Pictou, in need of food supplies, were compelled to transport flour and potatoes from Truro on handsleds. Several years Iater Dr. MacGregor of Pictou, in journeying to Halifax by way of Truro found only a bridle path between the two places. In returning, also, he and his bride travelled on horseback.

In taking this journey travellers passed a night or two in the forest, under the shelter of a hastily constructed camp and slept on a bed of fir boughs. Sometimes, also, they strayed from the direct route and were thus a longer time on the way.

Early in the nineteenth century the roads between Halifax and Annapolis, and those running northerly from Halifax to Amherst and Pictou, by way of Truro, were made passable for wheeled vehicles. The stage coach was then established as a public conveyance, continuing for half a century or more. From Kentville to Halifax was a day's journey. It was continuous travelling, except two short stops for exchange of horses and one for dinner. The coach was a covered vehicle drawn by four or six horses and seated twelve or fifteen passengers—nine inside and the others on top.

The sedan, a kind of covered chair, seating only one person, was introduced into Halifax in 1793. Poles along each side, passing through rings and projecting at the ends, formed handles for the bearers. It was thus carried by two men, one in front and one behind. The charge for conveyance varied from one to two shillings according to the distance.

As already stated there was no regular mail through the country in the early days. Letters were dependent on chance conveyance, often moving on from house to house as opportunity offered towards their destination; or, where they were of great importance, they were sent by a special messenger. The peripatetic pedlar was often pressed into the service of a letter carrier. For many years after mail routes were established, postage was expensive compared with rates at the present day. In the early part of Queen Victoria's reign the postage on letters from Nova Scotia to the United States was nine pence or fifteen cents. The stage coaches, during their day of public service, carried the mail through the main routes, leaving mail matter at certain points for couriers who traversed branch routes through remote settlements.

Down to 1851 the Post Office in Canada was under the management of the British Government. It was then transferred to the Provincial Governments. More postal routes were then established and postage stamps were introduced. Previous to this time it had been optional to prepay postage or to impose this payment on the receiver of the letter, who could decline to accept the letter if he pleased to do so.

In the early part of Queen Victoria's reign it cost from one to two shillings, according to the distance, to send a letter from one part of England to another. The uniform rate of one penny postage was brought about in 1840 in a most unique fashion. The poet Coleridge, one day passing a cottage in the north of England, saw a postman hand a letter to a young woman. She took the letter, looked at it and stating that she had no money to pay the postage, returned it to the postman. Coleridge, pitying the poor girl, paid the postage and gave her the letter. After the postman had gone on his way she told Coleridge that she was sorry that he had gone to such unnecessary expense. The supposed letter was merely a blank sheet enclosed in an envelope. Her brother had gone to London, and that, being too poor to pay postage, they had agreed on this plan of informing her that he had arrived and was in good health. On returning to London Coleridge told the story to Sir Roland Hill who, through his influence, brought about the passing of a postal reform act in 1839, reducing the postage of letters under half an ounce to one penny. This reform measure caused only temporary loss to the public revenue.

The beacon light, was a singular way of sending a message to a distant place, used to some extent in Nova Scotia. A chain of hills, of which any two consecutive ones were within sight of each other, was chosen as signal posts. These hills were kept supplied with brush, tar barrels and other combustible matter ready to be set on fire when occasion required. Of course such means of giving information could be made practicable only by previous arrangement between the parties concerned as to the significance of the fires.

Seventy-five years ago mails between Nova Scotia and Great Britain were carried by sailing vessels which were from four to six weeks in making the voyage. In the year 1840 this slow way of getting news—as well as of travelling—was happily improved by the Royal Mail Steam-ship Line established by the enterprise of a citizen of Halifax—Sir Samuel Cunard.


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