Remembering when the “superb” Bluenose flew along rails, not over water

Three decades before the iconic schooner Bluenose sailed Nova Scotia waters, the Flying Bluenose train ferried passengers between Yarmouth and Halifax in style.

The Summer Luxury Train began its run in 1891, being part of the Dominion Atlantic Railway’s fleet when the company was formed in 1894 by the merger of two regional railway companies.

At the time of the company’s inception, Nova Scotian businesses in the Annapolis Valley were capitalizing on the North American fascination with Acadian culture sparked by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s hugely popular poem. Evangeline, An Acadian Tale.

The poem tells the fictional story of Evangeline, who searches for her love, Gabriel, at the time of the expulsion of the Acadians from their idyllic rural lands.

Well-heeled tourists

Gary Ness is professor emeritus at Acadia University and has written on the Flying Bluenose. (Janet Ness)

As well-heeled American tourists flocked to Nova Scotia to see the scenery and villages depicted in the poem, Nova Scotian businesses wasted no time in meeting their needs.

This included bringing them to the site of the Grand Pré settlement, which was then abandoned. It will later be developed into a first theme park by the DAR.

Tourists boarded steamers in Boston and disembarked in Yarmouth. They would then head to Evangeline Country, to Halifax, by steam locomotive.

Passengers making the trip could choose the regular train or the express train – the Flying Bluenose.

The regular train was slower and made many stops. But the Flying Bluenose had far fewer stops, was luxuriously appointed, and could cover the 400 kilometers from Yarmouth to Halifax in about eight hours.

Detail from a 1900 Dominion Atlantic Railway brochure promoting the Evangeline route. (Dominion Atlantic Railway/John Polhemus Printing Company, NY, NY)

Despite the train’s luxurious amenities, a 1900 company brochure listed the cost of a one-way trip from Boston to Halifax by steamboat and train to be $8.50, or about $300 today.

Quite exclusive

According to Gary Ness, professor emeritus at Acadia University and author of The Dominion Atlantic Railway: 1894-1994, descriptions of luxury in railway brochures at the time were not just marketing hyperbole.

“If you walked inside you would find carpet made by the most exclusive company in England, which at the time had been in business for a few hundred years and still exists,” he said. he declares.

“The panels inside were stunning…and people could sit at the back of the train on an observation deck and watch the scenery go by. They were quite exclusive.”

Ness said the tight integration of ferries and trains was aimed at promoting tourism and making the region a tourist destination.

A page from the 1895 book Beautiful Nova Scotia, the Tourist’s Eden, with an illustration of the train and a photo of the lounge car interior. (Yarmouth Steamship Company 1895)

The Flying Bluenose had the first Pullman cars in Canada, Ness said, with the Haligonian and Mayflower in the 1890s and two others, the Annapolis Royal and the Grand Pré, added in 1921.

The Canadian Pacific Railway took over the Dominion Atlantic Railway in 1911, but did not rename it, allowing it to retain its identity.

“It was extraordinary, to be honest with you,” Ness said.

“I think the fact that CP took it over and then started running it as part of their system, said a lot about that. CP was, of course, invested in the tourism business in the West and saw him as a big money maker.”

Railway stories

As with any iconic railway, there are stories attached to this once awesome train.

Some people arriving from the United States at the time were condescending to locals and treated them as “country bumpkins,” Ness said.

Sometimes the locals took revenge.

Ness said he heard an unverifiable story from retired railway workers he interviewed in the 1980s about an American tourist who was rude to Yarmouth station workers.

The tourist demanded to know where the express train was and the worker directed him to the train which left about 20 minutes after the Flying Bluenose.

“The express train was called the Express Mail, that was sort of its official name, and of course it stopped at all the stations between Yarmouth and Halifax,” Ness chuckled.

“It put them on the milk lane, stopping at every doghouse and chicken coop along the way.”

A colorized photo shows the Flying Bluenose at Digby station circa 1903. (MCoy Printing, Moncton, NB)

The development of the highways and the Great Depression marked the “dead end” of the Flying Bluenose and passenger rail travel in general, Ness said.

People stopped traveling for pleasure during the Great Depression, Ness said, and highways allowed people to use their own cars to get around Nova Scotia.

End of an era

The era of sophisticated passenger trains came to an end and the Flying Bluenose was retired in 1936.

Passenger service on the road continued until 1989, when the federal government made major budget cuts to the rail network, Ness said.

In the 1910 travel guide Nova Scotia vacation dayswritten by Thomas F. Anderson and published by the Dominion Atlantic Railway, the train is described as a household name across the United States and Canada.

“Each of these trains is as luxurious a flyer as modern science can make, and in the Pullman Palace Cars the traveler will find everything that makes train travel a pleasure,” the author wrote.

Although the description of the train’s fame in the book may have been exaggerated, Ness said the train would certainly have been well known and recognized as an important “crown jewel” of the railway and of Nova Scotia in that time.

Comments are closed.