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That time a Nova Scotia town threatened Mahatma Gandhi with lawyers and tax collectors (3 photos)

Gandhi owned land in Bridgewater and shares of a Grand Banks schooner

Mohandas Gandhi was admired the world over as a marvelous mahatma.

But in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia he was treated like a downeast deadbeat.

Ten acres of Bridgewater land was gifted to Gandhi by one of his followers, Tarabon Hindibut, who was actually a Bridgewater native named Mary Chesley.

During an ill-fated pilgrimage to the Himalayas in 1936, Mary succumbed to what her Indian friend called “spasmodic fever.”

As she lay dying in a rented car near Rishikesh, Mary signed off on her final wishes, simply writing, “I leave all my property to Bapu (Gandhi).”

Gandhi inherited Mary’s estate which included a 30 percent share in a large pasture along St. Phillips Street. The land was co-owned by a Reverend James McKean of Truro.

By September of 1936, the Mahatma still hadn’t paid his property tax on the land. But Reverend McKean had remitted his share of the tax bill.

With Gandhi’s past due notice in hand, Bridgewater bureaucrats went to work on a campaign of harassment that stretched all the way to India.

A town solicitor fired off a letter to Gandhi explaining the dire consequences of not paying your taxes in Lunenburg County.

The September 16th, 1936 Bridgewater Bulletin reported, “The Town of Bridgewater is planning to sell out Mahatma Gandhi for unpaid taxes.”

Turns out the town was threatening to put Gandhi’s real estate up for auction.

The citizens of Bridgewater had little sympathy for Gandhi. He’d also been willed shares in a Grand Banks schooner so they believed he was flush with cash.

Meanwhile, Reverend McKean had become worried his reputation was being tarnished by Mahatma Gandhi. In a letter to council, the reverend authorized the town to sell Gandhi’s share of the land for taxes.

Mercifully, Gandhi was spared any further Bridgewater hostilities due to a technicality.

While writing her last will and gasping for her final breaths, Mary Chesley had recruited only one witness. Her will was deemed null and void because it hadn’t been signed by two witnesses.

This prompted another letter from the town of Bridgewater to Gandhi’s personal secretary, Mahadev Desai, telling him the Mahatma could no longer lay claim to the property.

With the Bridgewater bullies finally off his back, the malaria-stricken Gandhi continued spreading his message of non-violence across India.

Mahatma Gandhi’s former land is now a Bridgewater subdivision and home to a butcher shop celebrated for its delicious Lunenburg pudding.




About the Author: Bruce MacNab

Bruce MacNab is the author of the award-winning biography The Metamorphosis: the apprenticeship of Harry Houdini. Raised in Dartmouth, he attended NSCAD and the Nova Scotia Institute of Technology. He now lives alongside Nova Scotia’s Cobequid Mountains
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