Western Counties Railway
By John R. Cameron
The story is murkier for the next-eldest partner in the DAR, the Western Counties' Railway. The successful joining of Yarmouth and Digby was for many years marred by the line's inability to connect Digby and Annapolis, owing to difficult country and the huge cost of the Bear River bridge and the Clementsport trestle. The linkage was achieved by the federal government in the 1890s, about the time the line was swallowed by the Windsor and Annapolis to form the Dominion Atlantic.
The Western Counties Railway was chartered in 1870 (c.81) to connect Annapolis and Yarmouth. Two of the incorporators, Thomas and Frank Killam, were members of a highly successful political and mercantile family in Yarmouth. Frank Killam was president in 1893 (see 1893, c.46). Initial capital was fixed at $2,500,000.00. A grant of 50,000 acres in Digby County and 100,000 acres in Yarmouth County was to assist in financing the railway. The right of way would be provided free of charge. Time for completion had to be extended in 1873 (c.4)
The Township of Yarmouth was authorized to take stock in the railway for up to $100,000 (1873, c.26), and that part of Yarmouth County outside Yarmouth Township was exempted from paying for the right of way (1873, c.43). The right of way in the Township of Yarmouth was again the subject of legislation in 1874 (c.59), authorizing the borrowing of up to $55,000.00.
Apart from the deemed ownership by the City of Halifax of ten per cent of the Nova Scotia Government Railway, the Township of Yarmouth is the only known example of a municipal unit holding shares in a railway company. This may be the result of the urban orientation of the unit (by the time other towns were incorporated, the "profits" to be gained from owning railway shares were seen to be illusory), or possibly the political domination of the area by the Killam family and other incorporators.
Another unique feature is the fact that Yarmouth was the only incorporated Township in Nova Scotia. It had been the only area to take advantage of optional municipal incorporation in the 1850s and, although it had petitioned to revert, it was obviously still operational. It became the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth when the County Incorporation Act (precursor of the Municipal Act) established province-wide elected municipal government in 1879.
In 1875, the Township of Yarmouth was allowed one director on the board of the Western Counties as long as it held stock in the railway (c.54). Miscellaneous corporate changes, including a reduction in borrowing authority, were also made (c.68). In 1876, the question of payment for right of way arose in Digby municipality (c.57) and a debenture issue was ratified (c.73).
As a work in progress, annual legislative amendments could be expected, but 1877 was a big year. The province replaced the subsidy with provincial debentures (c.29), and right of way claims were dealt with in Annapolis (cc.41, 42) and Digby (c.50). The Township of Yarmouth may have been falling behind in its payments on railway stock, as enforcement measures were enacted (c.63). Debenture exchange (to lower the effective interest rate) was authorized (c.71), and the time for completion was again extended (c.72). The next year saw continuing concern with the appraisal of land claims between Digby and Bear River, and elsewhere in the town of Digby (1878, c.35), a further extension (c.53) and a new debenture issue to complete the undertaking and build iron rather than wooden bridges (c.54).
In 1879, it became apparent that earlier debentures had not sold. Two series were authorized (c.64) to be a charge on the main railway (Yarmouth to Annapolis, the B series) and on the whole undertaking including the company's interest in the Windsor Branch (later held void by the courts) (the "A" series). The government was authorized to guarantee Western Counties debentures to an amount sufficient to ensure the completion of the railway from Digby to Yarmouth.
A company was incorporated in 1880, to merge the Western Counties and the Windsor and Annapolis and finish the railway to Yarmouth (c.69), as the Nova Scotia Railway Company. The Western Counties was authorized to sell (c.74). This grand merger did not take place for another decade, and then under the Windsor and Annapolis. In 1881, the trustee under the debenture was given instructions on how to obtain the consent of the bondholders to the merger (c.48) and the new municipality of Yarmouth was substituted for the former Township of Yarmouth in railway right of way bonds to the amount of $32,000.00 (c.49).
The provincial secretary was authorized to sell the Western Counties Railway for default in payments due under various guaranteed debentures (1886, c.16). This was one step in the attempt to consolidate the railway system: Railways Aid and Consolidation Act, 1886, c.1. Terms of the proposed sale were amended in 1887 (c.2).
Township of Yarmouth debt relating to the Western Counties Railway became a joint responsibility of the town and the municipality of Yarmouth following the incorporation of the Town of Yarmouth (1891, c.124). The Town had to borrow its share of the outstanding bonds in 1892 (c.128).
Amalgamation with the Windsor and Annapolis came about in 1893. Chapter 46 authorized a restructuring. It recited the change of name to the Yarmouth and Annapolis Railway by federal legislation effective April 1, 1893. The railway owed the province and the municipalities of Annapolis and Digby an amount in the range of 50,000. The new owners undertook to buy the thousand shares (issued at $100.00 per share) held by the town and municipality of Yarmouth for $20.00 each and agreed to spend 30,000 to improve the railway. Yarmouth municipality borrowed $30,000 to pay its share of maturing bonds (c.136). The sale to the Windsor and Annapolis was authorized by c.141. Provincial authorization was needed because of the debt due the province and its right to sell the railway for nonpayment of that debt. This Act cited the Dominion statutes (1887, cc.25 and 77) that declared the Western Counties to be a work for the general advantage of Canada and hence subject to federal jurisdiction. The Windsor and Annapolis was empowered to buy (c.142). The actual completion of the sale was postponed by c.143.
In 1894, the Legislature (c.28) confirmed the settlement of claims against the Western Counties (now Yarmouth and Annapolis) Railway: $70,000 paid in 1892, $85,000 paid in 1893 ($65,000 to the province and $10,000 to each of Annapolis and Digby) with the balance to be paid in 1894. The province could finally stop adding "$13,500 to pay Western Counties Railway interest" to its annual Appropriations Acts.
The last statutory mention of the railway was an authorization to the municipality of Yarmouth to pay off railway claims in part by "a railway poll tax" of $1.00 per person over age 21 (1896, c.79). By this time, future claims for new railways were possible.
[SOURCE: A Legislative History of Nova Scotia Railways, by John R. Cameron, 1999.]