From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin:
The winter of 1875 was the coldest in half a century. The season was vividly remembered by old residents of the present century as the year that the harbor was frozen for the longest period within memory. According to their oral accounts, nearly everybody in Dartmouth and multitudes in Halifax took advantage of the solid surface to cross and re-cross the ice-bridge, either on foot or on runners. Even children in arms were transported, perhaps for the sake of saying in after years that they had gone through the experience.
The sub-zero weather came early in February. On Monday the 8th when the ferry was forced to stop after making only one trip, the tugboat “A.C. Whitney” plowed a channel to Commercial wharf, and carried passengers back and forth at 50 cents a head. By Wednesday the entire harbor was sealed to shipping, with the ferries frozen-in solidly.
A Halifax newspaper’s account of this unusual situation said that “there is no mistake about it. The harbor presents an unbroken sheet of ice with snowdrifts piled fantastically over the whole harbor giving the surroundings a frigid appearance. Dogs are capering wildly over the salty surface. Through the swirls of snowflakes Dartmouth can be seen looming up in the distance nestling in an enormous mass of snow.”
After a day or two, Halifax shipping merchants engaged tugs to cut a channel from their south-end wharves to the outer harbor, but the larger area of ice farther northward grew firmer and thicker, especially after a bitter cold snap over the week-end.
On Monday a newspaper report stated that, “a spectacle of very rare occurrence was witnessed yesterday when thousands of people crossed to and from Dartmouth, some of them skating. During the whole afternoon the harbor was crowded from one side to the other with what seemed a stationary mass of people, and the columns of pedestrians coming and going seemed to be almost endless.”
On Wednesday the 16th, the thermometer dropped to 12 degrees below zero. Hackmen were now conveying Dartmouth passengers from a convenient spot on the shore behind Greene’s stables, a little north of the present Queen Street. At Halifax they made land just south of the Dockyard boundary where a temporary stage had been constructed. On one of these trips from Dartmouth, a bay mare of W. H. Greene’s driven by George Murray, suddenly became frightened and threw all occupants out of the sleigh as it dashed away on a wild gallop down to George’s Island. The horse-sense of the animal must have warned her of open water ahead, for at that point she circled round and galloped homeward again. On another day “Ned” Bowes, driving a heavy sleigh of Lawlor’s Grocery with three men on top of several bags of middlings, went through a weakened spot on the way to Dartmouth. Willing hands tugged the team up again to the solid surface.
On Monday, February 22nd, the massive field of ice was jarred by the arrival of the English mail steamer “Hibernian”. All the skaters hastened towards George’s Island at the familiar sound of the ship’s fire-rocket which used to announce the approach of a mail boat in those days. The big liner butted the pack again and again until she crunched a channel up to Cunard’s dock. Hundreds of men and boys followed her progress, at times skating almost up to the steamer’s bow. On the same day, one of Chittick’s teams laden with lake ice, driven by a well-known colored man named “Shed” Flint, broke through when half-way to Halifax. After a two-hour struggle, horse and sleigh were extricated.
By the 27th, mild weather and northwest winds had driven much of the ice sheet from the lower harbor, enabling tugs to resume ferry transportation but they were obliged to land Dartmouth passengers on the ice-bridge running off from the shore, because the docks were all sealed to a depth of ten or twelve inches. Experienced ice-cutters like William and John Glendenning, along with Captain Coleman, Mate Alexander Marks, George Shiels and others labored unceasingly at the hazardous task of sawing out the frozen ferryboats. The uncertain footing occasionally precipitated these workmen into the freezing brine.
Finally on Sunday, February 28th, one of the boats was cut clear and steamed across to Halifax. It was the first trip of a ferry for 16 days. Then she was not able to get back, owing to the action of a southwest wind jamming the whole eastern side with a field that extended 100 yards from our shore. On Monday, March 1st, the boat made intermittent trips to Symonds’ wharf.
During the succeeding days the weather became mild enough to honeycomb and loosen the slobbed ice-pans so that they drifted or were blown out of the lower part of the harbor. “All this portion was now free,” said a newspaper report of this most welcome liberation, “and it looked strangely refreshing to ferry patrons who were glad indeed to see the blue waters and the familiar waves rolling again” (Navigation had been interrupted for nearly a month.)
In May 1875 W. S. Symonds retired as Warden and was succeeded by George J. Troop. Councillor William T. Murray died in office that spring, and the vacant seat was filled by the election of George Adams. John McDonald was appointed Police Constable No. 2, in place of George Grono. Irregularities were discovered in the accounts of the Town Clerk, and he was released from his duties. Alfred Elliot, son of Henry Elliot and grandson of Charlotte Collins then took over the position. (He remained in office for exactly half a century, and died in harness Feb. 1925.)
Civil Engineer Henry A. Gray, after exploring Lakes Lamont, Topsail, Loon, Clifford, Oathill and Albro at the request of the Town Council, reported that the two first-named were most favorable for furnishing a water supply. He estimated the cost of a water system at about $82,000. The approximate cost from Oathill Lake would be around $36,000. Approval of a resolution to borrow $25,000 for the work was sanctioned at the annual town meeting that spring.
Meantime the Council made provision for further supplies of water for fire fighting. That summer Contractor John McBain excavated the swampy oval on Park Ave. The resulting reservoir measured 250 by 50 feet and was deep enough for a capacity of 175,000 gallons. (This is the green spot on Park Ave. at King.)
For some time past the operations of the Starr Manufacturing Company were not as favorable as formerly. Thomas A. Ritchie, a heavy shareholder from Halifax, had now replaced John Starr in the Presidency. The annual report for May 1875 showed a deficit of about $7,000. The minute book of the meeting noted that some 30,000 pairs of Acme skates had been sold that year, but the margin of profit was smaller than heretofore. However, the Directors entertained hopes “of retrieving the position of the Company”. Recently they had received an encouraging order from the Government railway to supply 200 coal cars, besides a quantity of railroad spikes.
The employees of Dartmouth Ropeworks held a regatta on a Saturday afternoon in August, carrying out a series of boat races over a course from Stairs’ wharf to Scarfe’s Mill, foot of Mott St.
The Dartmouth Rowing Club was another aquatic organization formed that year. They built a combined two-storey club-house on the shore where they stored boats below and entertained upstairs. Under the auspices of this club, four lapstreak crews of Dartmouth held an exciting race in September over a four-mile course from Black Rock around George’s Island and return. The names of the lapstreaks and those of the oarsmen were:
“G. J. TROOP”—John McKay, Henry Baker, Judson Baker, John Young.
“CROWN PRINCE”—Nat. Keddy, John Lennerton, D. Keddy, Wm. Patterson.
“J. WILLIAMS”—Edward Williams, Wm. Williams, Jas. Williams Chas Tufts
“PRINCESS”—T. Crowell, Wm. Hooper, Robert Hooper, Robert Henderson.
The last named crew were all boys under 18 years. The “G. J. Troop” won the first prize of $70, and the Williams crew took second money of $40. McKay later became internationally famous as an oarsman. The Baker cousins, originally from Tancook Island, were then living at Mount Edward. John Young was a son of Francis, the shipbuilder.
The Home for Inebriates was formally opened at the “Grove” in August in the presence of Lieutenant-Governor Archibald, Premier P. C. Hill, Hon. Dr. Parker and others. It was to be supported by a Government grant, by subscription and by income from patients.
A large block of Canal property in Dartmouth was up for Sheriff’s sale that year. It was purchased for $10,000 by the Nova Scotia Building Society who had been the plaintiffs in a recent lawsuit.
There were extremes of heat and cold during 1875. In August the thermometer hovered around the 90s for a day or two. The cold came to freeze the lakes earlier than usual. On December 3rd, Miss Louise Sterns, 19 year old daughter of Luther Sterns, and a young man named Doull, went through the ice off Carter’s Corner. They were rescued by, Joseph Findlay and Michael McDonald. Both were suitably rewarded. (A coined-silver Waltham watch presented on this occasion by Mr. Sterns to Mr. Findlay is still preserved by the latter’s son Ronald Findlay of 96 Hawthorne Street.)