Corduroy road likely one of Waterloo's first-ever European built roads

A corduroy road unearthed by construction crews on King Street in Uptown Waterloo dates back two centuries and is likely one of the first ever roads built by Euro-Canadian settlers in the region, according to a senior archaeologist.

Archaeologist says discovery shows "King Street has been an economic thoroughfare for 200 years"

A dig site showing the corduroy road made from cedar and elm, which were abundant in the swampy area that once made up Waterloo's Uptown and still are today along the banks of Laurel Creek. (Region of Waterloo)

A corduroy road unearthed by construction crews on King Street in Uptown Waterloo dates back two centuries and is likely one of the first ever roads built by Euro-Canadian settlers in the region, according to a senior archeologist. 

Charlton Carscallen said over the last two weeks, his team has been able to plot the route of the corduroy road, which he says runs north along King from William Street to the railroad tracks near Waterloo Town Square.

Charlton Carscallen is the senior archaeologist tasked with pinpointing the exact location and historic significance of the corduroy road found under King Street in Uptown Waterloo. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"We suspect it was the Mennonites who built the road," Carscallen said, noting the white settlers who built it likely adopted the technology from their former home in Lancaster County Pennsylvania and brought it to Waterloo after the American Revolution. 

"This particular corduroy road we believe was built somewhere between the late 1790s and 1816," Carscallen said. 

Mud route

Centuries ago, corduroy roads were a typical means for early European settlers to avoid horses, wagons and people getting stuck in the mud.

They were built by first cutting a pathway through through a forest and laying the timbers perpendicular to the route in order to provide a surface for wagons to travel over low-lying or soggy areas. 

The corduroy road discovered along King Street was a low-lying area where Laurel Creek would have once flowed through what is now Waterloo's central business district. 

"King Street has been a commercial thoroughfare for 200 years," Carscallen said, noting that today just as then, the route remains a critical link for the region's economy, as illustrated by the LRT project. 

"There's some symmetry there," he said. "You have a transportation corridor that's serviced the region for 200 years and is going to continue to."

"The urgency of the project has been impressed upon me," said Carscallen, who notes the corduroy road itself will be documented and, with approval from the province, eventually removed from the path of the new LRT. 

"The city museum has asked for some pieces for their displays," he said. "But we are talking about logs that have been sitting wet for 200 years, so most of them will be removed and disposed of."

Construction on the LRT has been halted in uptown Waterloo after a section of corduroy road was discovered under King Street. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC News)

Expect delays

What's good for history buffs isn't necessarily good for the bottom line of neighbourhood businesses. Provincial law requires construction to grind to a halt any time workers suspect they've found a site of historical significance, so that the find can be properly inspected. 

The unexpected bureaucratic hurdle could push the construction schedule past its November deadline and into the busy Christmas holiday shopping season, according to Avril Fisken, spokeswoman for the construction consortium in charge of building the LRT. 

"We don't know the date we can proceed with construction," Fisken said, noting archeologists are going as fast as they can. "They're working long hours, they're working through the weekends and working directly with the ministry to expedite the review request."

Fisken said the discovery has led Grandlinq to juggle its crews and shift the work focus to the Caroline Street and Allen Street area, which is outside the archeologically senstive zone. 

Grandlinq is also seeking an exemption to noise by-laws, Fisken said, so that construction crews can work longer hours to make up for any delays caused by the historical find.