"History of Truro in a Nutshell"
By Nan Harvey, Archivist/Librarian,
Colchester Historical Society Archives
September 23, 2003
Truro is located on the Salmon River east of the head of Cobequid Bay in central Nova Scotia. No one knows for sure where the name "Truro" originated. The name Truro has been given to the Township by 1759 before any English settlement had occurred.
Before Europeans came to Nova Scotia the Mi'kmaq had been in the province for thousands of years. In the Truro area they camped along the shores of the Salmon River in the 17 and 1800's. When this land was sold to the School of Agriculture in the 1880's, the Mi'kmaq were given land in the vicinity of St. Mary's School on King Street, near the railroad crossing. This became known as Christmas Crossing, after their leader of the time. As Truro grew the Mi'kmaq realized more woodland was necessary for them to continue to have enough wood for fuel, and for making baskets and axe handles as well as enough land for hunting and fishing for food. Arrangements were made by the Federal Government for the Mi'kmaq to exchange their land at Christmas Crossing for land on the Halifax Road. This became the Millbrook Reserve. By 1897 a Roman Catholic church and a one-room school had been built by the Mi'kmaq. At various times since then land has been bought by the Federal Government for the reserve.
In 1689, Mathieu Martin "the first born Frenchman in Acadia" secured a seigneury along the Wecobequitk River at the site of present-day Truro. He founded the Acadian settlement of Cobequit. Families named as Bourg, Blanchard, Aucoin, Benoit and others followed Martin and settled around Cobequit. By 1748 there were 142 families in the Cobequit district. In 1755, at the time of the expulsion of the Acadians by the English, the Acadians left their homes at Cobequit to avoid deportation and the villages were eventually burned by the English, discouraging the Acadians' return.
In 1758, the Governor of Nova Scotia Charles Lawrence, issued a proclamation which was circulated in the New England colonies offering free land to settlers who would come to Nova Scotia. Captain Alexander McNutt applied for land for himself and others from New Hampshire. These people were of Scots-Irish descent, often referred to as Ulster Scots. In 1761, about 60 families came to settle Truro Township on the south side of the bay.
Early Division of Land
"Township" did not refer to a town but rather a large area of land approximately 100,000 acres. Grantees received shares that included marshland, house lots, farm land and wood lots. Truro was divided into 200 shares of 500 acres each. Lots were also put aside for a church, burial ground, school and a common for "parade" purposes. Victoria Square in Truro was the original common in Truro Township. The first meeting house was erected in 1768 beside the burying ground which is now Robie Street Cemetery. In 1854 this original meeting house was abandoned and a new Presbyterian church was built on Lorne Street. This building was destroyed by fire in 1913 and what is now First United Church was erected. The second church to be built in Truro was the wooden Church of England structure in 1821-25. The new Church of England was erected between 1873 and 1887 and still stands today.
About 1775 a school was opened near the corner of Walker and Queen Streets. Early in 1800, a Grammar School was established. In June 1841, the Colchester Academy opened in the old Grammar School. In 1857, the Colchester Academy was closed and all the schools in Truro were organized as a Model School in affiliation with the Provincial Normal School. In 1864, the free School Act was passed and at the end of that school year the system of voluntary support came to an end. In 1875 a new Model School was built to hold the ever increasing enrollment. The cornerstone for a new Academy was laid in 1902 and formally opened in 1903. The Willow Street School was built in 1915 , Alice Street school was constructed about 1922, and Central School was opened in 1939 on the site of the Model School. Princess Margaret Rose School opened in 1944, St. Mary’s Parochial school opened 1956 and Douglas Street school opened 1967. The Cobequid Educational Centre was opened in 1970. The Academy built in 1902 was demolished in 1996 to make way for a new police station.
The Provincial Normal School for education of teachers was established by the Legislature in 1854 and opened in Truro in 1855 with 64 students. A new and much larger Normal School was opened on November 14, 1877. In 1900, a new science building for the Normal School was erected and is now the Colchester Historical Society Museum and Archives. A new Teachers College was opened on Arthur Street in 1962 and the old Normal School housed the YMCA for many years and now is the home of the Town Hall. The Teachers College closed and the site houses the Nova Scotia Community College - Truro Campus.
The year 1858 can be considered the turning point in the history of Truro. In this year, the railway opened between Truro and Halifax. No other single factor in Truro’s history had such a profound effect on the life and growth of the community. It brought new people, and more employment which increased commerce and business. It also had the effect of changing the former centre of the community from around the “Common” to one closer to the railway service. The railway line, with its potential to expand in several directions, gave rise to Truro’s nickname, “The Hub of Nova Scotia”. In 1873, the Intercolonial Railway was opened from Truro to Amherst. The Midland Railway which ran from Windsor to Truro was completed in 1901. In 1872 a new railway station took the place of the first small wooden structure located next to the ICR roundhouse. In 1906, a new round house was constructed on east Prince Street where the trains were repaired. In 1911, the station was gutted by fire and it was replaced by a large sandstone structure which served Truro well until it was demolished in 1972. Another railway station was built into a strip mall to take the place of the sandstone structure.
After the coming of the railway to Truro in 1858 the dangers of fire were even more possible from the sparks of wood-burning train engines. George Jones, Truro’s first barber and an early African Nova Scotian resident of the town, suggested that a public meeting be held to discuss the situation. From this meeting which was held 13 February 1860, it was decided to form a “Bucket and Ladder Company”. In 1868, with a grant from the county supported by donations from residents, an engine house was constructed on Lorne St. and the first fire engine “Honeyman Tub” was imported from Boston. In those days the bell of the First Presbyterian Church was used as a fire alarm. A new fire hall was built on Young Street in 1889, on the site where the Museum is now located. The present day fire hall was constructed in 1899 with an addition in 1915.
On 18 June 1875, the town of Truro was incorporated. Charles B. Archibald was elected as Truro’s first Mayor. Many of the newest and most valuable commercial businesses had been built close to the railway and the owners were anxious to have a steady supply of water at hand if fire broke out. At that time there was no domestic water supply system serving the residents of the town.
In the same year the Truro Band was organized and over the years gave many concerts using the old bandstand at the “common”. New streets were being opened, many new homes were being built and a number of small industries were active, including a foundry, a sawmill, a couple of tanneries, a hat factory, a woolen mill, a furniture plant, a soap manufacturer, a carriage business, and wooden products factory. In 1882, Charles Stanfield moved his Union Manufacturing Company from Farnham Mill Pond in Bible Hill to where the present Stanfield’s is located.
Sylvester Graham Chambers opened a small electrical generating plant near Prince and Walker Streets in 1888. In 1889, most businesses and some dwellings had incandescent light and Truro was the first town in the province to adopt the system. The streets were lighted by electricity instead of oil. When Sylvester Chambers died in 1916, the town of Truro purchased the company from his executors to operate as a municipal service.
Truro is very fortunate to have a natural park. Victoria Park came into being in 1887 when twenty-five acres of land were given Susan wife of Rev. L. G. Stevens, and the daughter of Dr. John Waddell, for the creation of a public park. A Board of Trustees, with Sir Adams G. Archibald as chairman, was formed. The following year six donations of land were received. Since then, gifts and purchases of other lots of land have increased the area of the park to a thousand acres. In 1901, the trustees were incorporated and by-laws for the park written. This lovely area of woodland and picnic grounds includes waterfalls, one of which is named for Joseph Howe. The addition of a swimming pool, tennis courts and playgrounds have made the park not just a place of natural beauty, but a real recreation area.
The first telephone system was on Queen Street in the home of H. Gladwin in 1888. Truro quickly became the second largest exchange in the Province. The exchange was moved to Prince Street in 1905. The first issue of the Truro Daily News began in January 1891. In 1912, there were seven newspapers being published in Truro.
In 1836, Truro’s first post office was located on the corner of Church and Prince Streets. In 1878, it moved to the approximate site of St. James Presbyterian church. A new three story brick building with sandstone trim was built on the corner of Prince and Lorne Streets and served as the community’s post office for 77 years. The post office moved in to the new federal building across the street in 1961. The Nova Scotia Power Corporation had its head quarters in the old post office building until 1968. Truro purchased the building in this year and it’s first floor became the home of the Truro Police Department and the Truro Boys and Girls Club occupied the second and third floors. Before this time the Police had its headquarters in the Town Hall until 1962 when they moved to 21 Young Street.
World War II
World War II brought the development of Camp Debert as a training center for the Canadian Army. This camp was designed to hold 15,000 men. Over 4000 men were employed in the construction and operation of the camp and many carpenters, electricians, drivers, painters and laborers earned from 35 cents to 65 cents an hour, better than many places in Truro were offering. In addition to the employment benefit, a Truro-Debert and Londonderry-Debert bus service was initiated in 1940, which had a direct benefit to the town. When the Truro Electric Commission was called upon to supply electrical power to the camp, $60,000 worth of new equipment was installed in the Walker Street plant.
Truro continues to grow at a steady pace. Trucks have taken over from trains for hauling goods and there are many fewer trains going through Truro than 40-50 years ago. A number of factories such as Stanfield’s Ltd, Crossley Carpet Mills Ltd., and Polymer International continue to operate within the Town limits. More than 12,000 people regard Truro be a good town to grow up and live.