From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin:
The hopes of our citizens for a branch railway were greatly stimulated early in 1881 when information came from Ottawa that lengthy correspondence between Sir Charles Tupper, the Minister of Railways, and Sir Hugh Allan had been tabled in the House of Commons. The letters revealed that the Allan Line had proposed to the Government that if the latter extended the Intercolonial railway from Windsor Junction and erected the necessary terminus and depot at Dartmouth, then the Allan Line would spend about $250,000 on our side of the harbor. The Company agreed to construct a grain elevator and build wharves suitable for large shipping traffic if the Government would guarantee the Allan Line a certain percentage of ocean freight carried by the railway to and from this port, together with a 20-year contract for the English mails.
The Town Council alerted themselves to this opportunity and at once delegated John F. Stairs and W. S. Symonds to interview Sir Charles Tupper at Ottawa in behalf of the Allan Line project Upon their return the delegates reported at a town meeting that Sir Charles had asked what aid Dartmouth would give in the way of providing terminal facilities. They further reported that Railway Manager Pottinger was not favorable to the plan. At Montreal Sir Hugh Allan told Mr. Symonds that there was not sufficient space available an Halifax waterfront, and if his Company spent any money in this port, it would be on Dartmouth side.
The Dartmouth meeting thereupon passed a resolution in favor of making a grant of land or of money to the value of $25,000 for railway purposes. At a subsequent meeting of ratepayers in April, a standing offer of $4,000 per year for 20 years was made available to any Government or any Company who would build a railway line from Windsor Junction to Dartmouth.
Dartmouth lost its School Principal in January when Alexander McKay resigned to accept a position at the Halifax County Academy. L. D. Robinson was appointed as Mr. McKay’s successor. The Town Council paid a tribute to the latter’s long and progressive service. He was then about 38 years of age.
The first known instance of high-priced blackmail in Dartmouth happened early in 1881 when an unsigned letter written in pencil, and postmarked at Halifax, Friday, January 21st, reached the local Post Office, then located at the southwest corner of Portland and King Streets. It was addressed to John P. Mott, the wealthy manufacturer, and read as follows:
I am in urgent need of six hundred dollars which I must have before Tuesday or I will be ruined and as I have an old grudge against you an know you to have plenty I am forced to demand it of you and if you ignore the proposition that I am about to make or place it in the hands of Detectives I will shoot you dead before the expiration of a month. Just as sure as you are born I will do it get six $600.00 hundred dollars in gold pieces and bring it over in the eight o’clock boat on Monday night next and take it in the smoking room and put it behind the door on the floor do not tell anyone about it or have anyone watching or by the earth that is under me I swear you will repent it, roll it up well in some old rags and shove it well in the corner and mind no one sees you put it there.
Mr. Mott subsequently showed the letter to the Halifax Chief of Police, and as a result Detective Power was put on the case. It was decided to follow the instructions in the blackmailer’s letter except that copper coins should be enclosed in the package of money instead of the specified gold pieces. (The one-cent coin was then about as large as a 25-cent piece of today.)
On the appointed Monday night as John P. Mott was approaching the steamboat wharf at Dartmouth, he noticed a rather well-dressed stranger who seemed to be following him at a distance.
He then boarded the boat and entered the smoking-cabin where the only occupant was an unkempt drunken-looking fellow with a ragged potato sack by his side, slumped sleepily over a seat in a darkened corner near the door. In the designated spot near the middle of the steamer, Mr. Mott deposited the package, and continued through to the far end of the boat. At Halifax he proceeded uptown. The well-dressed stranger also disembarked, but after a few minutes went back on board for the return trip.
When the steamer docked at Dartmouth, the stranger lagged behind the few other passengers nearly up to the ferry gates. Then all at once he retraced his steps, and headed straight back to the hiding place in the smoking-cabin where he quickly scooped up the money package.
He had just gotten outside the exit door when the drunken-looking fellow in the corner sprang into action and grasped the culprit by the shoulder. It was Detective Nicholas Power!
The prisoner gave his occupation as that of a seaman. Court records reveal that he was later acquitted of any charge.
John Cleverdon’s old mine pit was re-opened that spring. Much of the quartz and rock excavation heaped upon the ground 40 years previously had since been used to bed the swampy street near the Common. However from the remaining pieces in the vicinity, several rich specimens of gold were now being extracted. (The swampy street was probably the level section of Park Ave.)
Prominent Dartmouth men headed by Councillor John Markle then eagerly staked out claims, fenced-in the surrounding area, and had the Cleverdon shaft mined to a depth of 100 feet. Evidently their hopes and their prospects soon petered out, for they abandoned the undertaking in July. The shaft was then partly refilled and converted into a public well for fire and domestic purposes.
Dartmouth experienced a bad smallpox scare that summer. In June a Chezzetcook man named Richard living on Pine Street contracted the disease, it was said, from handling discarded mattresses and wearing clothing which occasionally drifted ashore probably from ships at the quarantine grounds in the harbor.
In less than 24 hours the Board of Health had John T. Walker erect a temporary hospital on the Common Field whither the sick man and his family were removed. Soon the wife and children were
stricken. Then another case broke out near First Lake. This patient was a man who had previously lived in the Pine Street house. Richard did not improve and died within a week. The others gradually recovered, however, and by the end of August were able to return home to Chezzetcook. The expense of this short-lived epidemic amounted to about $800.
In October 1881 Halifax harbor was spanned over the surface. The spanning was done with a rope, but it marked the beginnings of the first bridge. Railway engineers who made the experiment, had been provided with a lengthy rope by John F. Stairs, Manager of Dartmouth Ropeworks. The line was stretched from shore to shore across the Narrows in the vicinity of Tufts’ Cove.
Construction work in 1881 included a two-storey bowling alley and billiard hall for George Craig adjoining his premises on Water Street. A three-storey tinsmith shop and stove store was erected for John Ritchie & Co., at the southeast corner of Dundas and Portland Streets.
George Misener made the first piano in Dartmouth at his woodworking plant opposite the school on Quarrell St. The first telephone cable was laid across the Narrows to Dartmouth. John T. Walker erected for E. M. Walker a new residence at the southwest corner of Edward and Ochterloney Streets. It was equipped with modern electric bells, and cost about $4,000.