By Devonna Edwards, Columnist
Yes, if you are thinking cattle, you are correct, lots of cattle and right here in North End (Richmond) Halifax. A little-known fact is Nova Scotia’s participation, on a large scale, in long distance livestock trade. Cattle arrived by the hundreds, at first from farms throughout Nova Scotia, then later from western Canada. They were rounded up and transported to Halifax by the railway, then shipped to the British market.
Richmond in the North End of Halifax got its name from the Gun and Company Milling Plant, who imported large amounts of grain from Richmond, Virginia. Richmond was a suburb located between Duffus Street and Young Street, on the slopes of Needham Hill. Richmond Terminals, originally called the Richmond Yards, are located along the waterfront at the foot of Duffus Street.
When the Nova Scotia Railway was constructed in 1854, it began at Richmond and quickly continued to Truro and to Windsor then expanded all over Nova Scotia. After Confederation, the building of the railway grew rapidly, integrating counties of the province more fully with central Canada and steamships all over Canada. As transportation improved during the 1880s and 1890s, Richmond’s Yards became extremely busy with freight arriving and departing both from the railway and by ship. It became a big part in a long-distance livestock trade. In 1885 Cattle exports to Great Britain was 417,328; to Newfoundland 104,754; to the United States 100; and to British West Indies 1,766. Cattle exports from both Ontario and the Maritimes increased after Britain placed a trade embargo on American cattle in 1879. Britain replaced Newfoundland as the principal market for Nova Scotia livestock and the number of animals shipped from Nova Scotia tripled between 1875 and 1885. Local farmers responded quickly to the new market because farmers from Nova Scotia had been raising cattle for a long time. Raising cattle on a large scale was just beginning on the Canadian plains and at that time, the farmers, and dealers there had not yet forged the necessary international trading connections to take part in this trade.
Hundreds of cattle arrived at Richmond by rail, herded into the cattle yards, branded, and then driven onto ships waiting at Pier 9, to take them to England and elsewhere. The yards sometimes became a place of danger and excitement. In July 1897 one vicious looking steer had just arrived at the railway depot with his drovers, when he made a mad dash for freedom as he was taken from the railway car. A drover attempted to stop him, but the large and powerful steer knocked him down and almost trampled him to death. The wild steer then tossed a dog with his horns because he was in his way and ran up a small flight of stairs in the cattle yard then jumped a fence. As the run- away continued his journey he scattered frightened spectators in every direction, before making a dash for Campbell Road now Barrington Street. Finally, the drovers caught up with the steer and tried to catch him resulting in the animal attacking causing them to disband. The people of Africville tried to help and soon after drove the run-away into an enclosure surrounded by a five barred fence. Again, the steer jumped the high fence and sped-off and was last seen running into the woods of Fairview, never to be seen again. Rumour has it that certain unknown Fairview residents had no want for lack of steak on their dinner plates that winter.
On December 6, 1917, when the Halifax Explosion happened, the Richmond yard Station and all the buildings there, including the cattle pens, were blown to pieces, but later rebuilt.
There was still hustle and bustle in the Richmond Cattle Shed in January 1927 when five hundred head of cattle were transferred from the railway freight cars and shipped to England.
In February 1927, the busy Richmond Cattle Yards received 820 head of cattle from the west by train. All the pens were clean, neat, and ready for them. After they were removed from the cars to the pens, inspected and branded, they were herded on the ship Devonian and sailed for England. The cattle yards of Richmond looked like the wild west! Imaging that in our own back yard!
Once large numbers of western cattle began entering domestic and international market in the 1890s, the trade in Nova Scotia slowed down tremendously, and when shipping and quarantine regulations were tightened in the late 1890s, British preferences for Canadian Cattle subsided, and some farmer then begin to supply cattle for export, shipping their livestock to the closer markets of Newfoundland and St. Pierre & Miquelon, others changed to commercial dairying. In later years, dairy farming grew in Nova Scotia and by 1941 almost 60 percent of all livestock were “milk cows”.
Today Richmond Terminals Pier 9 consists of A, B, and C Sheds, all used for various purposes.