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Downtown Dartmouth
Shubenacadie Canal
Self-guided walk

The walking trail you will be following on this self-guided tour will introduce you to the beginning or harbour section of the Shubenacadie Canal, Nova Scotia's 115km long inland waterway, which once links Halifax Harbour and the Bay of Fundy. This water corridor is composed of seven lakes and the Shubenacadie River, a legacy of the last ice age. The waterway has been the defining feature of Dartmouth since its inception.

Your walk begins at the Ferry Terminal

As you leave the Terminal you will follow the walkway to your right (South). Follow the redbrick walkway which runs to the left of the railway track. You will see "Canal" signs which mark the way. The first stop is about 100 meters along the trail where you will see several wooden benches.

Imagine the year is 1862, the second year of the Canal's operation. What remains of that period? What would you have seen if you were to have walked this route over a century and a quarter ago?

Across the harbour you can see a small section of the grassy slope of the Citadel. The Citadel would have been the most prominent feature at that time. Less prominent but still of importance is George's Island (the island closest to you) which housed fortifications to complement those of the Citadel and others at Fort Clarence which was located on the site of the Esso Refinery which you can see further out the harbour. Further to the South is McNabs Island where the remains of three forts are still standing.

Imagine a harbour bustling with craft of many descriptions. By the 1860's steam power was common but sails would still have been abundant.

Follow the trail to the East. As the trail turns you will see the Dartmouth Marine Slips and the Coast Guard facilities (the red and white vessels on the far side of the cove). You are entering the area known as Dartmouth Cove. Much of this area has been filled in and where you are presently standing would have been water.

It was here, in this cove, that small vessels, such as barges and scows, gathered in preparation for their entry to the Shubenacadie Canal and an inland journey to communities such as Waverly, Enfield, Shubenacadie, and Maitland. They would likely be carrying supplies for merchants to stock their stores with or tools for the many mills along the Canal. You might also have seen other barges laden with wood, gypsum, gravel, or bricks which had just arrived via the Canal from one or more of the inland communities. These cargoes would likely be bound for one of the wharves on the Halifax side.

Follow the trail past the Dartmouth Marine Slips and along the paved parking lot along the stream and around the back of the white and green Canal Interpretive Center. Now cross the small bridge over the stream and make your way along the gravel path around the Curling Club to Mill Lane. Mill Lane existed during the time the Shubenacadie Canal was in operation but there are no buildings remaining from that time, and the grist mill is long since gone.

Turn left on Canal St. and make your way to St. James Church which is directly ahead. St. James Church is a key landmark which stood while the Canal was operating. This is, in fact, the second St. James building. The foundation for the first one was constructed by the stone masons working during the first construction period of the Canal in the late 1820's.

The stone wall at the front of the Church is constructed of stone blocks from one or more of the five locks which were constructed during the first phase of construction but were never put to use. On some of the stones you will be able to make out the marks made by the masons indication who had prepared the stone. You will also notice a photograph mounted on a wooden post. Using this larger image locate the position of the bridge which crossed Portland St.

When the Canal was in operation a Marine Railway ran under the bridge extending out to deeper water in Dartmouth Cove. The purpose of the marine railway was to transport vessels from Dartmouth Cove to Sullivan's Pond (you will see the pond in a few minutes) a distance of about 500 meters (1250 yards). Such a marine rail system was referred to by Canal workers as an Inclined Plane or simply a Plane.

Leaving St. James Church you will proceed along Prince Albert Rd. Immediately on your left is the path of the inclined plane, the route which would have been followed by the vessels as they were hauled from the Cove on their journey to Sullivan's Pond. The last of these structures is known as the Starr building and was in existence at the time of the Canal and it was here the famous Starr skates were manufactured.

To get a better sense of the Inclined Plane and the route followed by the vessels, cross Prince Albert Rd. and walk to a point where you are able to view the lands in back of the low-rise buildings. From this point the slope of the Inclined Plane is clearly visible. Imagine it is 1862 and you are viewing a set of tracks running up the slope and a vessel on a wheeled carriage making its way along the route. To assist in this musing you will see a silhouette of the famed steam powered tug, Avery in the distance.

Midway up the Plane there would have been a Wheelhouse. This small building sat on top of a round stone underground chamber at the bottom of which was a metal turbine. This turbine was powered by water which flowed from Sullivan's Pond through a wooden chute called a penstock. The action of the turbine turned a metal drum on which a wire cable was wound. It was this cable which pulled the carriage and the vessel secured to it. The Inclined Plane was based on a design in use at the time on the Morris Canal in New Jersey.

While not visible, the remains of the stone turbine chamber lie intact beneath ground. Segments of the Wheelhouse structure have also been found.

Make your way along the sidewalk to Sullivan's Pond. Once you have reached the upper end of the Incline. Imagine the elevated wooden penstock running down the route from the pond which is hidden from view by the service station.

Just before you reach the intersection of Prince Albert Rd. and Ochterloney St. you will see the pond named after a Mr. Sullivan, a Canal Navie who worked on the waterway during the early period 1826-1831.

Make your way across Ochterloney St. to the sidewalk which is part of the HRM multi-use trail bordering Sullivan's Pond. You are now standing on top of the remains of the Great Circular Dam built by Sullivan and his co-workers to form the Pond by backing up the stream which flowed from Lake Banook. You may also be interested to know that at this point as the vessel floated off the carriage and the Inclined Plane into Sullivan's Pond it had ascended 17 meters (55ft.) above the level of the water in the Harbour.

To your left (North West) you will see that the land rises up from the Pond. Above the Pond was the site of Irishtown, a cluster of log and stone huts where the Irish canal workers lived during the late 1820's.

Follow the trail around the far side of the Pond. At the North end of Sullivan's Pond you will see two interesting stone structures known as "guide pylons". These served to guide vessels towards Lock One and Lake Banook. There were a number of sets of these pylons along the Canal system and remnants of one are still visible in Lake Charles.

At this point you have reached Hawthorne St. Cross the street and enter Findlay Park named after the lock keeper, Henry Findlay, who assisted vessels on their passage from the harbour to Waverly, a distance of about 20km (12 miles). Findlay St. and the Findlay Center not far from here are named after the same family.

This small park is the site of a seasonal Mi'kmaq encampment which was used for years prior to, and even following the Canal construction. Passersby at that time would have seen one or more birch bark wigwams as well as birch bark canoes in which the Mi'kmaqs journeyed to and from the provinces's hinterland.

Lock One is now visible. Make your way along the cut which in 1862 would have had a minimum depth of 1.2 meters (4ft.). This lock was required to lift the vessel approximately 3.4 meters (11ft.) to the level of Lake Banook.

Standing at the downstream end of the Lock you will notice the opening is now filled in and the lock serves as a water control gate for the lake. When in operation you would have seen two wooden doors hinged to allow them to be opened and closed. As our imaginary vessel approaches the Lock the doors are open and the vessel is able to make its way inside. Once inside the Lock Chamber the doors are closed. This would have been done by Findlay with assistance from one or more of the crew.

Now continue around the Lock to the small bridge which serves as an excellent viewing platform. Let's again imagine our vessel inside the Lock, water from Lake Banook has filled the chamber and thus raised the vessel to the level of the lake. Now the upper gate is lowered and our vessel can journey into the lake on its way North.

Buried on either side of Lock One is a smaller version of the Great Circular Dam at Sullivan's Pond. Prior to the installation of the dam the level of Lake Banook would have been several feet lower than it is today.

This is the end of the self-guided trail. During your walk from the harbour you, along with your imaginary vessel have ascended approximately 19 meters (65ft.). At the end of Lake MicMac two more locks (Locks Two & Three) are required to lift vessels the remaining 8 meters (25ft.) to Lake Charles which is the highest of the lakes in the system. On the downward journey from Lake Charles a second, but smaller, Inclined Plane and six additional locks served to lower vessels to the level of the tidal waters of the Shubenacadie and the Bay of Fundy.

We invite you to visit the Shubenacadie Canal park where you can see the Locks Two and Three, the remains of the Canal Workers Camp and a wealth of additional resources.

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