Foundation laid July 13, 1892
Church of the Good Shepherd, Tidnish Crossroads

TIDNISH CROSSROADS — The Isthmus of Chignecto, a 17 mile wide portion of land connecting Nova Scotia to New Brunswick is the site of one of the most ambitious failures in North American history. In 1875, a Fredericton engineer, Henry G.C. Ketchum conceived the idea of transporting ships by rail over the isthmus as opposed to the construction of a canal. (The proper name for the project being Chignecto Marine Transport Railway, it is commonly known as the Ship’s Railway.)

A short cut was sought through the isthmus which had for years presented a barrier to ships travelling between Bay of Fundy ports & those on the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. Ketchum was able to convince financial backers of the feasibility of his proposal and construction began in 1888. By 1892 the railway was three-fourths completed when lack of funds and government opposition ceased production.

Ketchum died in Amherst in 1896, his dream of a Chignecto Marine Transport Railway, unrealized.

Little happens in history whose traces and affects are not felt or evident years later and the Ships Railway is no exception. The abandoned remains of the railway were familiar to most county residents.

As well, three structures constructed during the building of the railway are in use today. These are the Ketchum Cottage at Tidnish Crossroads which Ketchum and his wife Sarah used as a summer home and two Anglican churches; St Alban’s in River Hebert which was built in Fort Lawrence and relocated in pieces to its present site, and the Church of the Good Shepherd at Tidnish Crossroads.

Built by Jacob Baxter, the foundation stone of the Church of the Good Shepherd was laid July 13, 1892 on land donated by R.B. Dickey. The first recorded service was on Aug. 21, 1892. Consecration occurred on Oct. 25 of the same year.

Henry Ketchum’s will made a bequest of $500 to the church to be used in the construction of a tower and a bell to be installed within same. At the time of its construction sans tower, the church would have been almost identical to its sister in Fort Lawrence.

The addition of the tower gives the structure an unsymmetrical configuration. Like the Saint Alban’s Church, it is covered with board and batten siding, an architectural feature which is not common in Nova Scotia.

The church is vernacular in style with a modified gothic influence. The square steeple has an unadorned rectangular open cage style belfry and a pointed belcast roof which adds to the sturdy simplicity of the church.

It is interesting to note that the two Anglican Ship’s Railway churches are similar in style to the church of St. Paul and St. John in Baddeck, Nova Scotia and were constructed in 1877 under the instruction of Simon Gibbins, an Anglican priest who designed a number of churches in Nova Scotia.

It too is covered with board and batten siding and has a steeply pitched gable roof and symmetrical detail with rectangular tower. Perhaps this style of architecture was peculiar to the Anglican religion during the late 1800s.

In 1992 the Church of the Good Shepherd was designated Municipal Heritage Property by the Municipality of the County of Cumberland. It is used today primarily for summer or special Occasion services and is a charming example of a 19th century building capable of useful service to 20th century society.

(More Stately Mansions: Churches of Nova Scotia 1830-1910, by Elizabeth Pacey et al., Lancelot Press, 1983.)
(A History of Fort Lawrence: Times, Tides and Towns, by Gladys Trenholm et al., Sherwood Press Ltd. 1986.)

Individuals and organization with questions or concerns regarding private homes or public buildings constructed in Cumberland County before 1914 or who at interested in Municipal Heritage designation for their building or the Heritage Act in general are welcome to contact Laurie A. Glenn, Historical Researcher at the Municipality of Cumberland, E.B. Fullerton Building, P.O. Box 428 Amherst, Nova Scotia B4H 3Z5. Phone 667-2313 or Fax 667-1352.

(Source: The Citizen, Saturday, July 16, 1994, Page 33 – Cumberland’s Built Heritage, by Laurie A. Glenn – Foundation laid July 13, 1892 – Church of the Good Shepherd, Tidnish Crossroads)

Chignecto Ship Railway

By Pearl MacD. Atkins

Eighty-five years ago this past fall the building of the fantastic Ship Railway across the Chignecto Isthmus was begun, the greatest construction project that the area has ever known, and it created for three years such a bustle of unwanted activity across the narrow fleet of land which prevents Nova Scotia from being an island, that even yet occasional faint echoes of it waft down the years to now.

The echoes have been growing ever more faint with the passing, one by one, of the people who experienced that long ago era. While they yet lived, vivid impressions of the color and excitement of it could he received just by listening to their reminiscences of that time which stirred up such unprecedented commotion on the quiet isthmus. The thousands of outside laborers brought in by the various contractors to off-set the local labor shortage contributed much to its enlivenment, particularly on the Saturday nights when, eager to spend their hard-earned pay, many would congregate at all the rum shops which had, like mushrooms, sprung up practically overnight.

Of late, some interest has been evinced in the story of the long defunct railway, especially by tourists, who noting its few relics in passing, pause to ask questions to which they usually receive but vague answers.

The one tangible remainder today from the tree-grown traces of the high roadbed across the isthmus, is the still substantial, heavy stone culvert to be seen from the river bridge adjacent to the entrance of the highway from New Brunswick at Tidnish.

Yet several years ago, when a memorial ceremony for the Ship Railway was held, a plaque was placed on this, its last relic, but on the Information Bureau at the provincial border!

Begun in October of 1888, this railway was an unique project, designed to be the means of transporting vessels up to one thousand tons across the isthmus from the Bay of Fundy to the Northumberland Strait or vice versa, thus obviating the necessity of sailing the 600-odd miles around Nova Scotia. It was intended to be the alternative to a canal across the isthmus, first suggested in 1686 by the Intendant Jacques de Meulles, while down from Quebec on a tour of inspection of the region, and intermittently by others in the succeeding years until 1822, when Robert Minette, a New Brunswick Provincial Government surveyor made the first actual survey.

Three years later the New Brunswick Government asked a civil engineer to make a report on cost of construction of a canal on the Minette Line. He came up with an estimated cost of $7,100,000. This was a lot of money in those days. Then there was the drawback of the differences between the highest tides in the world at the Bay of Fundy end and the comparatively low ones of the Northumberland Strait end.

So there the matter rested, only periodically stirring, turning over, then resting again, until the early 1880’s when Henry George Clopper Ketchum appeared on the scene with his ship railway scheme as a substitute for a canal.

A native of Fredericton, Mr. Ketchum was a civil engineer who had many years of railroad building behind him, beginning in the 1850’s with the first one built in New Brunswick, the Saint John to Shediac line. Those who knew him described Ketchum as a very large man of commanding manner, boundless energy and enthusiasm and a faculty for inspiring others with his own optimism.

The building of the New Brunswick section of the Inter-colonial Railway in 1868 was another of his jobs. Incidentally, at this time a Sackville, N.B. paper carried his advertisement for a thousand men, to whom he offered wages as high as $1 to $1.10 per day.

In 1860, when Ketchum was at the building of the San Paulo Railway in Brazil, he worked under an eminent British engineer. Sir James Brunlee. It was the latter from whom he got the idea for a ship railway, which he later determined to put into effect.

By 1875 he had his plans on paper, but he lost them in the great fire in Saint John that nearly destroyed that city in 1877. Nothing daunted, Ketchum once more got his plans in order and in 1881 made a personally financed survey of the isthmus; found a line to his satisfaction and then applied, through Sir Charles Tupper, then Minister of Railroads and Canals, for government help.

He offered to form a company to build the railway providing the Government would subsidize the work, at one-third the cost of a canal. He proposed a subsidy form of contribution to the company of $150,000 per year for twenty-five years. Capitalized at four per cent, it would be equal to $2,343,312.

Sir Charles, much interested, referred the matter to the Chief Engineer of his Department, who reported the project as “quite practicable of execution”. Also that “the ship railway as proposed would be a good substitute for the canal originally contemplated.” As to the cost, he added, the advantages would be in favor of the ship railway.

A charter was given and a company duly formed in London, England, to be known as Chignecto Marine Transport Railway Company, incorporated by Special Act of Parliament. The Charter from the Canadian Government guaranteed the subsidy of $150,000 per year for twenty-five years, providing the railroad was in operation within seven years of its starting date.

Subsequently 650,000 pound sterling of capital was raised by subscription in London, 300,000 pound sterling in preferred shares, 35,000 pounds sterling in first mortgage bonds. In those days an English pound was worth more in dollars than now.

The land required for the railway line from Fort Lawrence to Tidnish and for the docks, was donated as a gift by the Municipality of Cumberland, wherein it was to be situated.

The president of the Company was Thomas Wood, with Colonel Pagent Mosley as vice-president. Directors were A.D. Provand, M.P., W. H. Campbell, A.R. Robertson and Arthur Serences. Sir John Fowler, Sir Benjamin Baker and H.G. C. Ketchum were appointed as engineers.

The Engineering Staff under Fowler, Baker and Ketchum was composed of F. F. Kelsy, Resident Engineer; J. S. Armstrong, Principal Assistant; M. Fitzmaurice, Assistant; S. J. Symonds, Inspector, and others on behalf of the company with George Buchanan, Engineer, and Arthur Bateson, Agent for the Chief Contractors. J.B. Dennison and G. F. May were the engineers for the Hydraulic Works and J.F. O’Rourke, the engineer for the sub-contractors. These all became familiar names to the local people, who often referred to them in later years when recalling ship railway building days.

The contract signed by the English representatives on the 4th of March, 1886, was on the ship Oregon when it sank off New York, but it was found in one of the few mailbags brought up by divers. Though blotted and blurred when finally reaching Ottawa, it was signed these as was.

Continued Next Week

(Source: The Citizen, Saturday, October 11, 1986, Page Three – A Touch of Cumberland History – Chignecto Ship Railway)

Chignecto Ship Railway

By Pearl MacD. Atkins

(Continued from last week)

A contract was made between the company and Meigs and Son, of Montreal, for the work, which began in October of 1888. Meigs and Son contracted with other companies for materials for the different phases of the job; with Dobson, Symes and Usher of Niagara Falls, Ont., for the earthwork and masonry for the railway lines and docks; the dredging of entrance channels, and plate-laying and ballasting, and for the erection of the moles, or breakwaters at Tidnish.

Easton and Anderson were to provide the hydraulic machinery and attend to the installation and working of it. Rhodes and Curry, Amherst, got the contract for the building to house the machinery and also for the pine sleepers for Dawson and Company. The rails, made of toughened steel, one-hundred and ten pounds to the yard, came from England, as did the all-steel cradles. Harris and Company of Saint John, supplied the cradle wheels. Heavy tank locomotives were made in Kingston, Ont.

An engineers’ description at the time of the building said that the basin for vessels built at the Fundy end was 500 feet long, 300 feet wide with the gate 60 feet wide and 30 feet high, to enclose water when the tide was out. The inner end of the basin lifting dock was 230 feet by 60 feet, built of first class masonry. The lifting dock had twenty hydraulic presses for lifting vessels with cargo forty feet. When the tide permitted, a vessel would be brought into the basin and admitted to the dock. It would then be floated into position between the hydraulic presses and over a so-called grid iron and cradle, previously sunk to the bottom of the dock. When the vessel was in the proper place, the grid iron and cradle would be gently raised to the bottom of the ship; the cradle to be furnished with blocks at distances of seven or eight feet apart to support the hull, not only on the keel, but on the bilges, too.

The grid iron, with vessels and cradle, would then be raised by the hydraulic lifts until the rails supporting them were brought up to the level of the rails of the railroad. The vessel and cradle which rested on the wheels, would then be hauled off by an hydraulic apparatus to the railroad tracks, the rails of which coincided with those of the grid iron. The extreme weight to be lifted would be 3,500 tons, including the grid iron, cradle and a loaded ship of 200 tons displacement, or 1000 tons registry.

The railway was to be seventeen miles of double track, perfectly straight and on almost a dead level, with the heaviest gradient being one in five hundred, and laid with the extra-heavy, toughened steel rails. A vessel was to be carried on rails by the same cradle which had received her in the lifting dock. She would be carried on a large number of wheels, sixty to a side, so that the weight of the load would be well distributed and each wheel would have to sustain but a small portion of the load.

Vessel and cradle were to be drawn by locomotives, one at each end of the track; which were calculated to move the load easily at the rate of ten miles per hour for the largest vessel to be transported across. After the vessel was transported the locomotives were to be shunted out of the way by a traversing shunter, and the vessel and cradle transported to another hydraulic lift, to be lowered to sufficient depth and floated away. It was expected that the raising, transporting and lowering would all be done in a matter of two hours, more or less, depending upon the vessel’s size, and there would be enough rolling stock and traversers for taking vessels at short intervals, with the charge to be at the rate of fifty cents per ton.

Then the contractors brought in many Italian emigrant navies, and men from Quebec with their horses and dump carts. Though steam shovels were in use, a good deal of the work was done by man-power, using picks, shovels and spades.

With construction methods and machinery of today, it would be a remarkable undertaking. For that time it was stupendous. Carrying the heavily ballasted roadbed, straight as an arrow across the isthmus, through the Tyndal bogs and muskegs, where in one spot a depth of sixty odd feet was reached before striking bottom in the morass, required some doing, but it was done.

At this difficult point, heavy rock fill was dumped into the depth of the bog until it came up to the roadbed level. It was then heaped up for twenty feet above it and left for a space of time, during which it settled down to the bed level, thus forming a firm foundation of the tract. The distance was in the vicinity of a mile.

Operations continued at this rate until the end of July of 1891, when everything came to a standstill, never to start again. The reason for this cessation of all activity was that, owing to the critical state of the money market at that period, it had become impossible to float the remainder of the bonds that the Company still had on hand. (Some 350,000 pound sterling).

By this time the whole line, with exception of one mile, was graded. The track was laid for twelve miles and most of the bottom ballasted with broken stone. There only remained a short length at Tidnish to finish.

Work on the masonry and gate at the Fundy end was about done, as was the masonry of the two lifting docks, and the buildings containing the machinery whereby the ships were to be hydraulically lifted onto the carriages or cradles, hauled across the isthmus and put in the water at the opposite end.

The ships’ steel cables and the locomotives were about ready for delivery. The moles at Tidnish were completed and had passed inspection. Easton and Anderson who had supplied and installed the machinery and the traversers for shunting vessels, had agreed to work and maintain this machinery for one year from the opening date, with the coal to be furnished by the company. Two thirds of the entire work was done and a few more months of fine weather would have seen the undertaking finished.

The, cost of the work and the materials so far, had amounted to 670,894 pound sterling paid in cash, bonds, etc. Other costs, including administration and engineering expenses of the Company were 30,000 pound sterling additional. It was considered that $1,500,000 would have covered fully the cost of finishing the job.

The whole course of the construction had been constantly observed by many interested and outstanding engineers. Had it proved successful a similar railway, on a larger scale, was to have been considered for the Isthmus of Panama. As it turned out, a canal was built there, instead.

At Tidnish the dock was strongly built of large square stone blocks and heavy piles. Where excavation had to be done for the Fort Lawrence docks, here they were built out to sea and a coffer dam was built also, enclosed in a horseshoe form so that the masonry could be kept dry while it was building. The brick buildings for housing the machinery stood nearby, and the exceptionally heavy rails were laid on the solid raised roadbed as far out as the river and were being used for the conveyance of materials to that point.

The building of the stone culvert near the Tidnish River bridge was superintended by the engineers from Scotland, with the keystone for the arch also coming, ready-cut, from there. As told to the writer by a man who witnessed it, so exact was the work that when the keystone was dropped in place, no further adjustment was necessary. It fitted perfectly.

Continued Next Week

(Source: The Citizen, Saturday, October 18, 1986, Page Three – A Touch of Cumberland History – Chignecto Ship Railway – [cont.])

Chignecto Ship Railway

By Pearl MacD. Atkins

(Continued from last week)

The culvert was built for the purpose of diverting the course of the river through it to allow the natural channel to be filled in to form a part of the railroad bed. The completion of this would have allowed the rest of the rails to be laid the remaining distance to the Tidnish dock.

The culvert was finished and the filling of the river channel was going on space, with two-thirds of the fill already in the space between the river banks, and the site was swarming with Italian navies and Quebec men and their horses and carts, when suddenly the whole heap, with men, horses and all settled down into the river, heavy tides having undermined the filling. Instant pandemonium reigned, with horses, carts and men all plunging and wallowing together and excited shrieking and cursing in several languages! Fortunately no one, or horse, was killed or even seriously injured.

It was intended to begin re-filling the space, but at about this point the work on the whole project was stopped and nothing further was ever done. The river gradually washed out the obstructing earth, and once more ran in its normal channel, as it does today, while the big stone culvert stands solidly and idly by in the adjoining marsh, called a fine monument to futility, but a much favored subject for artists and photographers. The ruins of the hoisting machinery buildings at Tidnish were finally knocked down about forty years ago. The square stones of the dock were torn out and taken to Cape Tormentine and used there in the building of the dock for the then new Prince Edward Island ferry, M. V. Abegweit. The heavy rails were taken up and away, leaving the bare roadbed, now much deteriorated. Memories of the promoter Ketchum remain here in his summer cottage, overlooking the dock site and now in the possession of the Anglican Church Diocese, and his memorial window in the local church.

The failure of the Ship Railway seems not to have been from lack of funds, but from lack of government interest, implying adverse political influences. For one thing, Halifax shipping interests were said to have been against it from the first, fearful of losing business by ships crossing the Chignecto Isthmus instead of going around by Halifax.

The time limit set for the giving of the subsidy, seven years from the starting date, had some months yet to go when, in May of 1895, A.D. Provand, the British Member of Parliament who was then the managing director of the Ship Railway Company, was in Ottawa asking the Government for two years extension of the time in order to complete the railway. He showed proof that English stockholders stood ready to provide enough funds to finish the work, if only the time extension could be granted. The Government declined to grant it.

Mr. Ketchum did not long survive the wreck of all his plans and years of work. In September of the next year, 1896, he passed away suddenly at the age of 57, while sitting in front of an Amherst hotel after dinner. His remains, together with those of his wife, repose in Sackville cemetery. Mrs. Ketchum, a sister of the late W.C. Milner, historian and author, of Sackville, survived her husband by many years. The stained glass window in the little Church of the Good Shepherd at Tidnish was given by her in her husband’s memory. In his will he had left funds for the church’s belfry and bell.

In June of 1903, the federal government decided to give $600,000 to the bondholders of the Ship Railway Company as some compensation for their losses. Mr. Provand, representing the shareholders, agreed to accept it as settlement of their claims. The Dominion Government in giving this amount for the benefit of the investors who had lost $400,000 did not admit any legal or moral obligation.

It was said at this time that the right-of-way which had been given to the Ship Railway Company by the County of Cumberland was to be handed over to the Government to be held in trust for the county.

In 1911, the Ship Railway was again in local news when in April, permission was obtained for A.D. Provand to address the County Council. The title of the Ship Railway was then vested in Mr. Provand as managing trustee.

He proposed to build a steam railway from Fort Lawrence Dock to the Tidnish Dock then on through Lorneville to Northport. Also to connect this railway with an electric one from Fort Lawrence to Amherst, and from there to Tidnish. He further proposed using the one set of rails for both railways. He thought that this scheme would open up a fine area of agricultural country. Further, Provand and associates were considering a line of vessels between Tidnish and Prince Edward Island, in which produce from the Island would be carried to Tidnish, thence by rail to Fort Lawrence and from there by water to the markets of Saint John, Portland, in Maine and Boston, They were not asking for financial help, he said, but only for a committee to be appointed to go over the proposition with him after he had the details worked out. Nothing ever resulted.

By fall of 1911, at Fort Lawrence, the Ship Railway dock embankment, which had shut out the sea from it, was completely carried away and the dock was rapidly filling up, with the stonework buried beneath debris washed in and down by tidal action and the banks were much eroded by the water. It was expected that a few more heavy tides would undermine the powerhouse.

But it was there for quite a few more years. In the early 1920’s, it stood, minus doors and windows but still containing the well-greased machinery. This was later removed, presumably for junk, but the building remained for years as a shelter for cattle pasturing on the surrounding marsh, its tall chimney a landmark until it was finally taken down as a menace to the children who persisted in climbing up inside it. Eventually the ruined powerhouse also disappeared.

The wooden buildings housing supplies having, of course, gone long before, many barrel-shaped hunks of hardened cement from which the barrels had long since dropped away, lay in the open in mounds. Piles of unused squared stones, left so many years before, vanished in later times. To people who believe that the building materials were better put to use than just lying around, grass-grown, these abandoned supply depots of the Ship Railway were convenient sources of building needs.

Some time later even the stones of the great docks were dredged up out of their deep mud covering and taken away. Now nothing remains to show where once so much was, and so much more was expected to be. Nothing but a sea of grass waving in the marsh wind.

(Source: The Citizen, Saturday, October 25, 1986, Page Three – A Touch of Cumberland History – Chignecto Ship Railway – [cont.])