Argyle 1879-1926 Records

Administrative History
RG 3
9.50 meters of textual records.
Compiled by: Colin D. Bourque
Compiled: November 1997
HTML Revision: April 29 2001

Municipal Incorporation and Elections

The Municipality of the District of Argyle was incorporated in 1879 and the first municipal election was held on Tuesday 18 November 1879. There were initially five municipal electoral districts and six councilors elected: the Tusket district, being a very large one geographically, elected two councilors.

The first Council was obviously considered an interim one, for municipal elections were held again a year later, on 3 November 1880. The practice of holding municipal elections once every three years seems not to have been instituted for over a decade, as municipal elections were held in 1882, 1884, 1886, 1888, 1890 and 1892. Beginning in 1895, municipal elections began to be held once every three years, and have continued in that manner to the present day.

At the first meeting after the municipal election, which was usually the annual meeting held in January, the Councilors would elect from amongst themselves the Warden who would preside over the Council activities for the three year term. Council was obliged to hold at least two regular meetings each year: the annual meeting, held on the fourth Tuesday of January, and the semi-annual meeting, held on the first Tuesday of May. For many years these were the only meetings Council required to attend to the business of the municipality. Gradually, however, special meetings were held more and more frequently as they proved necessary to deal with the growing responsibilities of local government.

Municipal Clerk and Treasurer

The two most important officials employed by the Municipal Council were the Municipal Clerk and the Municipal Treasurer. The Clerk was responsible for recording the minutes of all the Council meetings and administering the day to day affairs of the municipality. He had many financial responsibilities as well, although the Municipal Treasurer was responsible for the final and formal book-keeping for the municipality. Auditors were appointed at each annual meeting of Council to audit the financial records at the end of the year. In 1913 the positions of Municipal Clerk and Treasurer were combined when the Treasurer resigned due to ill health and the Clerk assumed his responsibilities by a motion of Council.

Although the Council officially made all the administrative decisions for the municipality at their meetings, it is obvious that the Municipal Clerk was the person who carried out all of the day to day business of government. This was (and is) a position of considerable power, as it was the knowledge of the Clerk that Councillors often depended upon to assist them in making informed and responsible decisions. A weak Council and Warden could result in the Municipal Clerk being the person directing most of the business and making most of the decisions for the municipality.

During those years when the Municipal Clerk also held the position of Secretary-Treasurer to the School Board, his power was even greater.

The Municipality of Argyle has a history of long-serving Clerks. From its first meeting in 1880 to 1986, the municipality employed only 5 Clerks. Three of those Clerks, Enos Gardner, 1880-1898; Charles K. Hurlbert, 1898-1923 (he was Clerk-Treasurer from 1913); and Bernard H. Hurlbert (Charles’ son), 1924-1953, were the three Clerks responsible for the administration of the records found in this fonds. For at least a portion of Bernard Hurlbert’s tenure as Clerk, he also served as Secretary-Treasurer to the School Board.

Warden & Council

The primary records generated by the Warden of the Municipality and the Municipal Council are their minutes. During the tenure of the first Warden, O.W. Slocomb, 1879-1898, there also exists a good deal of correspondence from the Warden to the Municipal Clerk on a whole range of municipal business. Towards the end of Slocomb’s tenure as Warden, in 1897 and 1898, an annual address to Council on the part of the Warden was recorded in the minutes. This address usually expounded on concerns and accomplishments of Argyle’s municipal government and often put forward some objectives for the coming term. This tradition was carried forwarded by the second Warden, Anselme O. Pothier, who became Warden in 1899, but he gave only two such addresses, one in 1899 and one in 1900, and then the short-lived tradition was discontinued.

Responsibilities & Activities of Council & Clerk

During the period of 1879-1926 Council operated with a relatively few committees, but did generate a large volume of records pertaining to the various functions which they carried out. Some of the major functions carried out were as follows:

Property Assessment & Tax Collection – This pre-eminent function of municipal government was carried out throughout this period. For practical reasons the assessment and taxation records for both the Township of Argyle (1864-1879) and the Municipality of Argyle (1879-1986) have been combined to form the Municipality of the District of Argyle Taxation Fonds, 1864-1986 [RG1]. A fair number of assessment complaints and tax inquiries also are found in this fonds in the general correspondence of the Clerk & Council.

Financial Management – The management of municipal finances were carried out by the Municipal Clerk & Municipal Treasurer from 1879 until 1913, when the two positions were combined. Auditors were appointed each year to compile an audited statement of the municipality’s finances. These auditors were appointed from the citizenry of Argyle for the duration of time covered by this fonds. It was not until 1930 that professional accounting firms were used as auditors of municipal accounts.

Care of the Poor – The Overseers of the Poor were responsible for determining which residents of the municipality would receive “Municipal Relief” — that is, assistance in paying for any goods or services which they required but could not afford.

From 1879 to 1900 the system employed to provide for the poor was as former Municipal Councillor Jackson Ricker describes in his Historical Sketches of Glenwood and the Argyles (1940): “The practice usually followed was to provide for persons who needed assistance but were not wholly dependent on the district by supplying food, clothing, etc., while allowing them to remain in their homes. Others, who were wholly indigent and dependent, were boarded around the neighbourhood and usually in the home of the person who would take them at the lowest rate of board … A town meeting was held annually at which the cases of the provision for the support of the poor were considered.” In 1898 a movement in various districts throughout the municipality was initiated to unite all of the “poor districts” of the municipality as one, and to build a Poor Asylum or Poor Farm. This was carried out and opened in 1902. The records of the Overseers of the Poor for this period involve both the planning and construction of the Poor Farm for the Municipality of Argyle, and its subsequent operation. Subsequent to the construction of the Poor Farm the Overseers were still responsible for providing relief to other people throughout the municipality, but the method of collecting poor taxes in each district based on the number of poor in that particular district came to an end.

Construction & Maintenance of Roads & Bridges – From 1879 until 1917 the construction and repair of roads and bridges were a municipal responsibility. The municipality was divided up into numerous road districts and officials were appointed on an annual basis to supervise the road work that was to be carried out in the respective districts. An annual provincial road grant was received from the provincial government, and divided up amongst the road districts based on the needs of the different areas. Local tax moneys were also used for road work as well. In addition to the funds spent on road construction and repair, each able male citizen ,over the age of 18 years, was liable for a set number of hours of statutory road labour each year. This labour had to be carried out by the individuals, or other people paid to carry out the work on their behalf. Citizens who did not carry out their road work, or make provisions for same, were fined and had to pay same to the respective road supervisors. The title for road supervisors varied over time – Surveyor of Highways, Highway Supervisor, Commissioner of Highways and Road Commissioner were some of the titles used to describe this position.

The Surveyors of Highways were responsible for submitting annual returns of statute labour performed, fines collected and returns for contracted road work where people were paid for their work and/or use of equipment such as oxen, horses, ploughs and other machinery.

The Municipal Clerk and Treasurer were ultimately responsible for the final administration and coordination of this documentation pertaining to roads and bridges and for the final accounting of funds expended.

Road funds and road work were one of the most important municipal functions during this period and these activities generated a high volume of records. The construction and repair of roads was not only vital to the economic development of the area, but the road funds also provided a much needed injection of cash to the local economy and provided income and seasonal employment to a wide range of people throughout the district.

Public Health Matters – The Board of Public Health from 1879 to 1926 dealt mainly with the prevention and control of contagious diseases. This involved the appointment of Health Inspectors in the various municipal districts who were responsible for the inspection, placarding and in some cases fumigation of homes where contagious disease was present. The Clerk to the Board was usually a medical doctor who presided over these matters in a supervisory and medical capacity and reported to Municipal Council on these matters. The Board also dealt with health inspections for schools, and also established standards for sewage disposal, both for public schools and private dwellings. This mainly took the form of setting standards for the “sanitary privy” at public schools.

The Board also dealt with mental health problems and the expenses involved with transportation of patients to the Nova Scotia Hospital for the Insane in Dartmouth. These expenses were often dealt with in conjunction with the Overseers of the Poor. The Board of Health also dealt with matters pertaining to tuberculosis and the transport of patients to the Kentville Sanatarium, after its establishment in ____.

Dealings with Railway Construction in the Municipality – The construction of railways in the Municipality of Argyle in the 1890s was an important activity. In 1893 two independent railway companies began the construction of railway lines from the Town of Yarmouth to Barrington, through the Municipality of Argyle. The Coast Railway Company began work on laying the bed for a narrow-guage railroad while the South Shore Railway Company began the construction of a railway bed for a broad-guage line. (See N.S. Historical Review, vol.6, no.2, 1986) Both railway companies had considerable dealings with the Municipal Council in terms of dealing with rights-of-way throughout the district. The record books recording these transactions and plans for the two railway lines remain with the records of the municipality. The South Shore Railway venture went into receivership before completion of their line through the municipality, but the Coast Railway Company, which changed its name to the Halifax and Yarmouth Railway Company were successful in running their line and by 1899 the railroad was completed throughout the municipality and functioning. Thereafter the railway company dealt with the municipality on a regular basis paying taxes and filing various requests to Council.

Animal Control – One of the other functions of local government during the period 1879-1926 was both domestic and wild animal control. The Municipal Council responded to various petitions from around the municipality by instituting by-laws and regulations forbidding the roaming at large of domestic animals. They were also involved in the construction animal pounds and the appointment of pound keepers, cattle reeves, hog reeves, sheep valuers, etc. The Council also established regulations regarding the control of certain wild animals that were considered a threat to livestock and paid annual bounties to hunters and trappers who provided proof of their accomplishments with the submissions ears, snouts or other body parts.

Fire Prevention – The Municipal Council was also responsible for fire prevention throughout the municipality. This mainly took the form of passing by-laws and regulations for the control of forest fires in the district, and around 1904, the appointment of a chief fire/forest ranger for the Municipality of Argyle. The only organized fire department within the municipality during this period was the Mayflower Engine Company, established in 1879, which was the fire department for the village of Tusket. This fire department was established largely to protect the large commercial shipbuilding and sawmill interests in the village. When these establishments ceased to function the needs for the Mayflower Engine company decreased, and the fire department was eventually disbanded in the 1930s during the depression. No other fire departments existed within the municipality prior to 1926.

Establishment of Town of Wedgeport and Subsequent Dealings with That Municipal Body – It was during the time period covered by this fonds that citizens and business interests of the village of Tusket Wedge, spearheaded by the large mercantile firm of J.H. Porter & Co., made application to the Municipal Council and to the Provincial Legislature to be incorporated as the Town of Wedgeport. The minutes of Council reveal the discussions carried on at this time and the opposition to incorporation from Municipal Council. In May 1910 the incorporation of the Town of Wedgeport became a reality, and they began to function with their own elected Council and other officials, carried out their own assessment, tax collection and other functions of municipal government. The Town of Wedgeport continued to make use of some facilities owned by the Municipality of Argyle, such as the Poor Asylum. The records pertaining to the Town of Wedgeport in the remainder of this fonds (1910-1926) deal mainly with these joint expenditures, handled by what eventually came to be called the “Arbitration Committee.”

Administration of Justice – The administration of justice in the Municipality of Argyle was an expense and responsibility shared with the provincial government. From 1879 until 1925 the Municipality of Argyle operated and maintained the Argyle Township Court House & Gaol. Supreme court, with a traveling circuit judge, held a sitting of court in this building once a year, with another sitting being held in Yarmouth. The gaol was also maintained and operated, and prisoners serving sentences less than two years were incarcerated. In 1925 the Argyle Township Court House ceased to be used for sittings of Supreme Court and the gaol was closed the same year. After this time Supreme Court sat only in the Town of Yarmouth for the entire county. The Argyle Township Court House continued to be used for sitting of Magistrates Court from 1925-1945.

The Argyle Township Court House & Gaol is Canada’s oldest standing courthouse, having been built in 1805. All surviving court records and gaol records pertaining to the building have been arranged in their own fonds (RG5).

Joint Expenditures with the Municipality of Yarmouth & Town of Yarmouth – From 1879 to 1926 the Municipality of Argyle shared expenditures with the Municipality of Yarmouth and the Town of Yarmouth for certain facilities provided there for the entire county. In the beginning this mainly involved the expenditures associated with the operation and maintenance of the facilities for the Registry of Deeds and Registry of Probate, and the costs of the County Sheriff. After 1925 these joint expenditures also included the expenses associated with the operations of the Yarmouth Court House and the Yarmouth Jail. It was the Arbitration Committee that dealt with these joint expenditures.

Municipal Elections – The administration of municipal elections which began in 1879, involved the appointment of officials to carry out the duties connected with elections such as the revisers of voters lists, presiding officers, poll clerks, agents, etc. The records generated by the election process were ultimately submitted to the Municipal Clerk and retained in the municipal files.

Appointment of Town Officers – The appointment of town officers took place at each annual meeting of Council in January. These appointments are recorded in the minute books as well as in other forms. At the time of municipal incorporation the new Municipality of the District of Argyle made the commitment through legislation to continue to appoint those town officers , in perpetuity, that the former Township of Argyle had appointed. The Municipal Council has adhered to this tradition and continues to make these appointments at each annual meeting.