One can only imagine the hardships the early explorers, pioneer and settlers encountered when coming to Canada. The voyage by ship was dangerous and early travel on land would have been by foot and canoe. Those fortunate enough to have brought a horse with them would have had an easier time.
As the country opened to newcomers, rudimentary roads were built. The first were no more than foot paths. As they became more traveled and accommodated horse drawn carts and buggies, issues arose with mud, ruts, rocks and other obstacles. Some roads had planks placed where wagon wheels would travel. These caused issues of their own as the wagons reached the end of the planks the weight would cause the plank to rise like a teeter totter. In some cases, the wheels would slide off the side of the planks. Other roads would have traversed wet lands. The solution was to place cedar trunks perpendicular across the road. Cedar was the material of choice as it withstood the water. This type of road was called a corduroy road as it resembled the ribs of corduroy. While effective in providing access across wetlands, the trunks made the travel very unpleasant and bumpy. All of this contributed to many breakdowns as the joints of the vehicles stressed. Travellers also had to alight regularly to give the horses a rest or when steep hills and other obstacles had to be negotiated.
It is amazing to imagine the number of people who travelled in the 19th Century. There were many guides published that described routes, timetables and other practical information. Many of the routes were tied into the steamboats that came up the St. Lawrence to the interior of Canada.
In the Kilbride area, there were such corduroy roads. One was located in the area of what is now Derry Road and McNiven. Another such road was further north west on Milburough Line near the 10th concession. No doubt, there were others.
As roads become more plentiful, stagecoaches came into the mainstream. One of the first notices of stage travel appeared in an ad in the Upper Canada Gazette on May 26, 1798.
The Canadian Encyclopedia describes the stagecoach as “the principal means of public overland transportation in Canada and the US in the first half of the 19th century, the stagecoach was a 4-wheeled vehicle pulled by 4 or more horses. Six or more passengers sat in the suspended carriage protected from the elements; parcels were fastened to racks on its roof; and the driver sat in an exposed, forward position. Regular routes were travelled which took passengers and mail by stages from station to station. Developed in England in the 17th century, the stagecoach was displaced by the railway coach in the 1840s. Today it is principally associated with the Western movie and the Wild West”.
In the early days of Kilbide, a stagecoach passed through the village. Often a stop would be the hotel, the Fountain Hotel, located at the T-intersection of what is now Kilbride Street and Cedar Springs Road (Thomas Street and Rebecca Street). Horses could be watered at two locations. Just east of the village where Kilbride Street (Baker Street) made a turn at Twiss Road there was a trough on the south west corner of that T-intersection. There was also a trough on the west side of Rebecca Street near the hotel location. This trough was used until the recent past when the City of Burlington removed it citing poor water quality. This was an issue as many people would come to take the water home in jugs. Many came from the city claiming that the water tasted good and did not contain fluoride or chlorine.
The stage served more functions that just the transportation of people. Goods and mail were also very common. Often the stagecoach owners served in multiple roles as drivers, postmasters and hotel or inn owners. Prior to the mail travelling from location to location by stage, mail was moved ‘by kindness’ or ‘by favour’. The writer would ask someone travelling to carry a letter to someone else along the way or at the end of the journey.
With time, the horse drawn stagecoach was replaced by motor vehicles. The following recollections were submitted by Pansie V. Macdonald (nee Robertson) to the Kilbride Chronicles. They were dated February 12, 1997.
What was it?
It was the vehicle used by the mail carrier.
The mail carrier was contracted by the federal government to carry mail to and from designated post offices.
The carrier provided and kept serviced the vehicle used on the route.
The term “stage” began in earlier years with the horse drawn stagecoaches which travelled the main roads between pioneer settlements. The ‘stage’ offered transportation for mail and people.
In the 1920s and 1930s the ‘stage’, a motor vehicle carried mail from the post office in Kilbride, Carlisle, Flamboro Centre and Waterdown to the main post office in Hamilton, Ontario.
The mail, in locked postal bags was picked up six days a week in the early morning in each post office mentioned and delivered to Hamilton. By mid-afternoon mail was ready to be loaded to be delivered to each post office on the return trip.
The ‘stage’ on its daily trip provided other community services; a shipping trip in the city; a visit to relatives living along the route; a trip to Hamilton market. Neighbours would request items that were available only in the city, be purchased and delivered the same day by ‘stage’.
The ‘stage’ provided a newspaper ‘throw off’ service for subscribers of the Hamilton Spectator who loved along the Snake and Centre Roads. The mail carrier picked up the first edition newspapers at the Spectator building in the early afternoon.
By September 1930, the ‘stage’ had become a seven-passenger Studebaker sedan to accommodate Kilbride students and others along the route that required transportation to school. This service enabled students to live at home and attend high school in Waterdown. The ‘stage’ was operated until the end of the thirties or thereabout.
As a student, I travelled by train 1928 – 1930, by ‘stage’ 1930 – 1934. During that span of years, I graduated from Waterdown High School and Hamilton Normal School.
The mail carrier, the ‘stage’ operator was my father, J. C. Robertson.
Contributing Author: Helen Callaway