This Week in History
The Nova Scotia Pony Express
This story was initially published in 2002
On March 8, 1849, rival horsemen galloped across Nova Scotia at top speed in the second run of Nova Scotia's own "Pony Express." More than 10 years ahead of its famous American counterpart, the Nova Scotia Express provided a vital link in news transmission from Great Britain to the United States.
Seeing a window of opportunity, the Associated Press (AP), a co-operative of six New York newspapers, devised a "Pony Express" of men on horseback. Their goal was to race the European news 232 km from the Cunard ships in Halifax harbour to Victoria Beach, at the mouth of Digby Gut, "as fast as horse flesh can do it and live!" To ensure swiftness, horses were changed every 19 km and riders switched at Kentville, approximately halfway along the route. Once the news arrived at Victoria Beach, it was sent by steamship across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John, then telegraphed to Boston and New York. For all these efforts, the AP often published the latest news one full day before its competition.
The first Express run on February 21, 1849, was successful enough to warrant the establishment of at least one rival express. The expresses, running at an unprecedented speed of 29 km per hour, generated great excitement in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and local newspapers enthusiastically reported their weekly runs. Competition for the news was fierce; on one occasion, part of the telegraph line was cut by a group of speculators, preventing the AP's Express from telegraphing the news. Ultimately, the AP's Express prevailed. Despite the expense – each run cost more than $1000 – the AP ran their Express for nine months, until the telegraph's extension into Halifax eliminated the need for a "Pony Express."
For its intriguing role in news transmission, the Nova Scotia Pony Express was designated an event of national historic significance. Sir Samuel Cunard, founder of the Cunard line of steamships, is a person of national historic significance.
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