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Halifax and Southwestern Railway Reporting mark: HSW

The Halifax and Southwestern Railway (H&SW) was created by William Mackenzie and Donald Mann in their quest to expand the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR). It began in 1901, when the two men approached the provincial government with a plan to complete a line along the south shore from Yarmouth to Halifax. The company was provincially incorporated as the Halifax & South Western Railway but the railway was better known as the Halifax and Southwestern and known locally as the "Southwestern."

Mackenzie and Mann were highly experienced railway builders who got their start in Manitoba back in the early 1890s. Like most of their earlier efforts, this one was planned well and moved at breathtaking speed.

Picture of travel brochure
Travel brochure, 1916 Source: www.archive.org

The H&SW was pieced together from a number of smaller railways and charters. They included the Nova Scotia Central Railway (NSCR), the Liverpool and Milton Railway (L&MR) and the Halifax and Yarmouth Railway (H&YR). Also included was the charter for the Nova Scotia Southern Railway (NSSR) which had no trackage and the Middleton and Victoria Beach Railway (M&VBR) which had been started but was still incomplete.

The NSCR was purchased in 1902 followed by the NSSR charter in 1903. By 1904, the NSCR was completed from Bridgewater to Halifax and the 22-mile NSSR was running from New Germany to the rich timberlands in Caledonia.

The following year they picked up the L&MR, the M&VBR and the H&YR. The H&YR was a troubled line, first chartered in 1893. Construction had been moving at a snail's pace. In 1899 the company was re-chartered to build as far east as Halifax, however little progress had been made. By the end of the year, a new section had been added from Bridgewater to Barrington. As well a 39-mile line was opened on the M&VBR to provide connections between the mines at Trobrook and Nictaux and the ocean-bound port facilities at Port Wade.

By December 1906 the railway was complete. Trains from Yarmouth began rumbling in along the Intercolonial Railway (IRC) mainline to the IRC's North Street Station in Halifax.

Mackenzie and Mann were highly regarded as cost-effective railway builders. Unfortunately, their methods sometimes led to undesirable results. Due to the rugged terrain along the south shore, the line curved significantly and the journey was rough. As a result, H&SW became a new acronym for "Hellish Slow & Wobbly."

The H&SW was merged into the CNoR. That lasted until 1918 when the CNoR fell to bankruptcy. The CNoR, along with the IRC and several other government-owned railways, became part of the newly formed Canadian National Railways (CN). Under CN ownership and operations, the H&SW began to see major improvements.

One of the first areas they tackled was the stretch of line along the south shore. Once completed, the line was still rough however upgrades to the infrastructure led to better speed and reliability.

With the old CNoR and IRC now under the same umbrella, CN began to merge operations and shut down duplicate services and lines. A temporary south-end terminal and station was opened in Halifax in 1920. That lasted until 1928 when a new Union Terminal, shared with the Dominion Atlantic Railway, was opened.

In 1925 CN abandoned a portion of the former M&VBR line between Granville Centre and Port Wade. The mines had closed and it was no longer economical to continue providing rail service.

Abandonment of the railway continued gradually and in small stages. Passenger service between Bridgewater and Middleton ended in 1959. Passenger service on the south shore survived 10 years longer.

By the 1980s, rail service throughout the province was in a steep decline. In 1982 CN abandoned a portion of the mainline from Liverpool to Yarmouth and the former NSCR line. By 1993 all service on the South Shore had ended.

Today very little exists of the former H&SW. All that remains of CN's once extensive mainline is a section running south from New Brunswick through the centre of the province to Halifax. CN continues to maintain a large terminal in Halifax for ocean-bound and intermodal shipping. The Halifax station, now a designated heritage structure, remains in use by VIA Rail, as well as for bus service and other commercial ventures.