Old Time Customs
Memories and Traditions and Other Essays
Public Roads and Ways of
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 passengersnine
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.
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 newsas well as of
travellingwas happily improved by the Royal Mail Steam-ship Line
established by the enterprise of a citizen of HalifaxSir Samuel
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