Nova Scotia Archives

Woolford's Surveys: The Roads from Halifax to Windsor and Truro, 1817-18

Background Reading

John Elliott Woolford (1778-1866) and George Ramsay (1770-1838), the 9th Earl of Dalhousie, were two men who spent a brief time in Nova Scotia nearly two hundred years ago, but left behind a significant legacy for us to explore and enjoy today.

Dalhousie came to Nova Scotia in 1816, appointed by the British Government to serve as Lieutenant-Governor for the colony. He remained until 1820, and while here kept regular journals of his daily activities and his many travels through the colony, describing the communities he visited and the individuals he encountered.

Years before coming to Nova Scotia, Dalhousie had served in Egypt with his regiment during the Napoleonic Wars. There he encountered Woolford, working as a landscape artist and sketcher, possibly with the Royal Artillery or Royal Engineers. Dalhousie was impressed with the younger man's ability to capture and record the world around him — a valuable skill in the days before photography — and soon added Woolford to his military staff. He also became Woolford's patron, supporting and promoting him as an artist, topographical draughtsman and occasional architect.

When Dalhousie came to Nova Scotia, Woolford came with him as 'landscape and portrait painter and Draughtsman to His Excellency.' When the governor travelled through the colony, Woolford usually accompanied him, sketching and drawing along the way. A significant body of artwork was created during the four years they were in Nova Scotia together. Much of it survives in the province today, held by the Nova Scotia Archives, the Nova Scotia Museum, or the University Archives and Special Collections, Killam Memorial Library, Dalhousie University.

Woolford's specialty was line-and-wash drawings in sepia. His best-known works are probably his view of Province House (1819) and two of Government House; both buildings had recently been completed when he captured them for posterity. A lesser-known production is his 'Survey of the Roads from Halifax to Windsor and from Halifax to Truro,' prepared in 1817-18. It is held today by the Nova Scotia Archives, and is presented here online in its entirety.

When Lord Dalhousie was governor, there were two principal roads in the colony — one from Halifax to Windsor, and another from Halifax to Truro. Both followed the same route out of the city as far as Fultz's Inn in Sackville, where the road forked. The traveller went left for Windsor or right for Truro.

Both roads shown in the map sheets presented here were wide enough and sufficiently cleared to accommodate stagecoaches, large carriages, and transport wagons. Inns were located every few miles, so that horses could be watered and cooled, especially on the uphill stretches; the larger inns also had stables, in case teams needed to be changed or rested. Both Halifax to Windsor (44 miles) and Halifax to Truro (63 miles) were a long and tiring day's ride.

Woolford's ambitious and beautifully rendered series of seventeen watercolour strip maps captures in detail the topographical features to be expected when travelling both roads. Each map sheet notes the mileage from Halifax and identifies by name, the sequence of inns, houses, properties and other notable buildings encountered along the way. Make sure you click on the individual map images, in order to find the rich descriptive notes added beneath each, including excerpts from Dalhousie's journals recounting his experiences along both routes.

How does the Nova Scotia Archives come to hold this cartographic gem? The plates somehow came into the possession of Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Stephen Gore (1793-1869), who served in Nova Scotia on two separate occasions. From 1820 to 1822 he was aide-de-camp to Major-General Sir James Kempt, Dalhousie's immediate successor as governor (and a great builder of provincial roads). Gore returned in 1852 to spend three years as resident commander of the British forces.

As inscribed on the frontispiece, Gore presented the Woolford album to his friend 'Mr. Wallace' in 1855, likely as he (Gore) prepared to return to England, and a descendant of the family donated the album to Archives in 1950.

Many buildings or locales which Woolford identified and Dalhousie described along these two roads were still in existence in the early twentieth century, and some of them remain today. A number of historical photographs, artworks and related documents have been added in a separate virtual exhibit to complement Woolford's maps.

Lord Dalhousie's journal entry of 7 February 1817 notes that "the weather is still so fine as to tempt me to go up to Windsor tomorrow, stay Sunday and return on Monday, for no purpose but to see the Country just now in its complete winter, and to try the travelling in sleighs." We hope you'll be tempted likewise to be an 'armchair traveller' and share the experiences of Woolford and Dalhousie, both remarkable men, through their maps and words.

Further Reading

Marjory Whitelaw, ed., The Dalhousie Journals (Oberon, 1981), 2 vols.
Joan Dawson, Nova Scotia's Lost Highways: The Early Roads that Shaped the Province (Nimbus, 2009), 134 pp.
René Villeneuve, Lord Dalhousie: Patron and Collector (ABC Art Books, 2008), 200 pp.