The Cycling Craze in West Hants

In the late nineteenth century, the bicycle craze hit Windsor, Nova Scotia. Bicycles not only offered people a new way to get around but a new kind of community too.

Though the bicycle got its start in Europe, it quickly arrived in Nova Scotia in the hands of the son of Mr. Poole, the owner of the Caledonia Mine. By 1868, cycling had made its mark on the province, largely thanks to the Hanlon Brothers of New York and their travelling bicycle show. The kind of bicycles that rapidly gained popularity, called velocipedes, were very different from the bicycles of today. The velocipede’s design was heavy, rigid, and had no pedals, meaning it was difficult and uncomfortable to ride, aptly gaining the nickname “boneshaker” in North America. 

As these contraptions became more and more popular, their design evolved. First, the crossbar was sloped to accommodate larger wheels, then pedals were added, which was likely the most important and transformative addition to the design. That being said, the next major change was the most recognizable: the introduction of the high wheel. The infamous penny-farthing design was adapted to make the bicycle easier to move quickly. The name came from British coins of the time – the penny was a larger than the farthing, and side-by-side, they looked like the high and short wheels of a bicycle. Because the penny-farthing lacked a chain system, pedaling meant pulling yourself forward by a wheel far in front of your center of gravity rather than using your weight to propel yourself along.

These high-wheel bicycles swept both Halifax and Windsor, and their sudden popularity gave rise to several cycling clubs such as the Avonian Cycle Club in Windsor. Bicycles were new, exciting, dangerous, interesting to look at, and fast – the perfect recipe for a new craze in town. Among the Windsorites who jumped on board was Clifford Shand, owner of the historic house that would become Shand House Museum and a cycling legend at the height of the craze in 1890. Shand dominated the Avonian’s cycling competitions, winning the majority of races in which he participated and acting as a core proprietor of local cycle culture. 

As the bicycle’s popularity continued to grow in Windsor so did the evolution of the contraption itself. By the 1890s, the safety bicycle had arrived in Nova Scotia, the precursor to the modern bicycle. Not only were safety bicycles safer and easier to ride for avid cyclers, but the new design made cycling accessible to many who didn’t have the privilege before. Because of a penny-farthing’s cost and design, cycling was a hobby reserved mainly for young, fit, well-off men. The safety bicycle allowed women, children, and those who were less physically ambitious to join in the fun. This marked a significant milestone in women’s liberation: cycling provided an independent way for women to get around, which in turn, allowed them to have their own social gatherings and agendas outside of the home. The invention also prompted modifications to stuffy Victorian dress that restricted women’s movement and lifestyles.

The bicycle began by inspiring excitement, but as the invention gained momentum, bicycles inspired community too. One of the most remarkable parts of Windsor’s cycling history is how it brought people together. The bicycle was more than just a mode of transportation, it was a lifestyle for many. Cycling thrives in Windsor to this day, thanks in large part to the family-owned small business, Spoke and Note. So, next time you're headed out for a walk or to run errands, consider following in path of more than 100 years of local history by hopping on your bike!



Shand House Museum,389 Avon St, Windsor, NS