The Nova Scotia Railway Heritage Society’s quest to restore the historic railway car “Alexandra” – once the traveling home of a Canadian Governor General and of Prime Ministers – continues. The car was built in 1905 by Rhodes Curry at Amherst, Nova Scotia.
The “Alexandra”, which had been owned by the Town of Amherst, and was destined for either disposal or the scrapper’s torch, was relocated to the Train Station Inn, Tatamagouche, on 20 December 2006, thanks to an agreement reached by the society and inn owner James LeFresne. The car joins LeFresne’s collection of veteran rolling stock that he has converted into a world-renowned hotel, but “Alexandra” will not become just another unique place for a visitor to sleep.
The car will be restored by the society’s volunteers to house a standing display on Nova Scotia’s railway heritage, and will host society functions and other public events.
Built in 1905, the “Alexandra” has been described as the most elegant car ever built by Rhodes Curry in its Amherst plant, with an interior of selected St. Jago mahogany, and a wooden exterior with “GOVERNOR GENERAL’S CAR” on the letterboard. By adapting to steel technology, Rhodes Curry was able to survive in a competitive industry. Today Alexandra is clad in steel symbolizing that resilience.
The car was named in honour of Queen Alexandra (1844-1925) Consort of King Edward VII. She was born Princess Alexandra Carolina Marie Charlotte Louise Julia, in Copenhagen, Denmark, and her father was later King Christian IX of Denmark. She was devoted to her children and her servants and enjoyed activities such as dancing and ice skating. Even after the birth of her first child, Prince Albert Victor (“Eddy”) in 1864, she continued to behave much as before. Self-conscious about a scar on her neck (allegedly the result of a childhood accident, though others suggest a suicide attempt), she tried to hide it by wearing high choker necklaces and dresses. A strikingly attractive woman, “Alix’s” high necklines started a fashion craze.
Sir Albert Henry George Grey (1851-1917), the fourth Earl Grey, was sworn in as Governor General of Canada at Halifax on December 10, 1904, and rode to his residence in Ottawa by way of the Intercolonial Railway. Earl Grey travelled throughout Canada extensively, from the Maritimes to the north and to western Canada. With his desire for social reform and cohesion, Earl Grey was a strong promoter of national unity among French and English Canadians, as well as a supporter of unity within the entire British Empire.
He supported the arts, and established the “Grey Competition for Music and Drama” which was first held in 1907. Today, professional football teams still compete for the Grey Cup, which he donated to the Canadian Football League in 1909.
Lady Grey was very interested in her husband’s role and duties. She sponsored contests for beautiful gardens in Ottawa, known as the “Lady Grey Competitions”, (which continued a tradition begun during the Minto term) and also planted daffodils on the west lawn, which visitors to Rideau Hall can still see today.
The car has since served as the car of prime ministers Laurier, Borden, Meighan and King. It ended its career on the rails as part of Canadian National’s Discovery Train in 1979. The “Alexandra” was then donated to the National Museum of Science & Technology at Ottawa. From there it went to the Town of Amherst where it was displayed in the railway station yard very close to where it was built. The car was then used as the Town’s tourist bureau on Highway 6 and at Fort Lawrence. In 2006 the Town of Amherst decided that the “Alexandra” was surplus to the town’s needs.
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For a timeline of the history associated with the Alexandra click here