The Dutch Village Omnibus Line

Submitted by Devonna Edwards

The Omnibus was a large, enclose wheeled vehicle that was horse powered. It was used for passenger transport before the introduction of motor vehicles. The bus was described as having two wooden benches along the sides of the passenger cabin with the passengers facing each other. The driver sat on a separate, front-facing elevated bench outside the passenger enclosed cabin. Many Omnibuses were double-decker buses which had an upper deck that was uncovered and they contained long benches that were arranged back to back. They were overcrowded most of the time with people, products and all sorts of material.

William H. Deal will be remembered for his association with the old omnibus line, which for years connected Dutch Village Road with the city of Halifax. Prior to the 1860s public transportation in Halifax relied on horse-drawn cabs and coaches.

Early in the 1870s Col. B. H. Hornby, an American who had served in the Confederate Army and who had come to Halifax at the close of the Civil War, had established a line from Willow Park. Mr. Fry was the driver of Hornby’s bus for a year or so before George Weaver, a tall, burly, red faced man then conducted it until 1895. His Omnibus was a yellowish colour and had a diagram of horses’ heads on the curved side-panels and on the door-apron which protected the rear steps. The driver sat at the front of the roof, with a foot-strap to keep the door closed and powerful foot-brake. Behind him, in the fare-opening was a gong with a mallet (made a sound like a loud bell) which the passengers could signal when they wanted him to stop. A pair of stout horses drew the heavy vehicle but when travelling, a heavy third or lead-horse was required to ascend steep hills.

In winter a sleigh-bus was often used but frequently overturned in the deep snow. William Deal, conducted the Dutch Village Omnibus line from 1875 to about 1892. He stored his Omnibus in a barn on his property.

William’s house was located on the west side of Dutch Village Road (today known as Westerwald Street), near the bottom of what was to become Melrose Avenue in Fairview. William’s property also contained a large barn yard, barn and other out-buildings. It was situated on the Dutch Village Lot No. 6 originally assigned to a German settler named Gottlieb Schermuller by the general land grant dated April 28, 1763. William’s house was 35 feet long, 1 ½ storeys in front and 2 ½ storeys in the rear. The house now standing on the site may have contained the frame of an earlier dwelling, but the outward form no doubt dated from the time of William H. Deal who was born in 1831. Today the house on that site, may possibility be William’s old homestead and if so, it would make the house the oldest in the Fairview area.

In February 1875 a company, with a capital of $2,000, was formed to operate a line from the Dutch Village. The Omnibus made its first appearance on April 29, 1875, running three trips a day to the Halifax post office (Cheapside), via Dutch Village Road, Quinpool Road, Cunard and Cogswell Street.

William Deal operated the bus line for seventeen years before he retired in 1892. William Deal died on May 24, 1904. On May 3, 1892 Thomas Robinson (with Harry Innis as driver) started a new bus line which ran from W.H. Webb’s gate (Ashburn Golf Club) via Dutch Village, Quinpool and Bell Roads, South Park Street, Spring Garden Road, Blowers and Granville Streets to Kenny’s Corner (corner of Granville and George Streets) at the Kenny-Dennis Building.

The conveyance left the Dutch Village at 8.15 A.M., 1.45 P.M and 7 P.M. and Halifax city at 1 P.M. and 6 P.M., special trips were made on Sundays. The Dutch Village line after operating for several years, went out of operation as the tram-lines extended their routes.

The Great Epizootic also known as the “Canadian horse distemper”

In September 1872 horses in Toronto came down with a disease of the respiratory organs that quickly spread throughout Canada and the United States. The highly contagious disease later was called Equine Influenza (horse flu). Horses suffered with a dry hacking cough, nasal discharge, and fatigue that kept them from working.

The epidemic in Halifax was not as severe as it was in other cities of Canada but the street cars and Omnibuses had to stop running for a while. The streets of Halifax became eerie quiet during that time with no horses, wagons, buggies, carts or other horse run vehicles.

There was no means of transportation for pedestrians other than by foot. Freight could not be moved to the ships in the harbour, local deliveries were at a stand-still. Mail service was disrupted. There was a temporary shortage of food and other supplies. This didn’t deter one baker who was seen dragging his own bread wagon along the Halifax Streets.