Nova Scotia

Halifax parkade construction provides rare glimpse of historic hidden watercourse

A historic culvert uncovered in Halifax is providing a rare reminder of a waterway that flows underground across the city. A concrete and stone drain for the Freshwater Brook was uncovered on the future site of a hospital parkade.

Freshwater Brook was once an important resource for sailors, but is now largely buried

Excavations reveal a portion of what is believed to be Freshwater Brook. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

A historic culvert uncovered on the Halifax Common is providing a rare reminder of a waterway that flows underground across the city.

A concrete and stone drain was uncovered on the future site of a hospital parkade at the corner of Bell Road and Summer Street.

"I went, wow, look at that! That's so old, that's amazing ... that must be Freshwater Brook," said Peggy Cameron of the Friends of the Halifax Common.

In an email, Transportation and Infrastructure renewal spokesperson Jasmine Flemming confirmed the culvert is "likely" part of the Freshwater Brook.

A future above ground?

Cameron said Freshwater Brook, with its headwaters on the Halifax Common, was once an important resource for ships in Halifax harbour.

"It was used for fresh water for sailors. They would fill up ... when they were going to sea," she said.

Today, only a small section of Freshwater Brook can be seen above ground in the Public Gardens.

An 1842 painting of Freshwater Brook from Bell Road by Alexander Cavalié Mercer. (Library and Archives Canada)

But Cameron would like to see more of Freshwater Brook brought to the surface.

"I think that we really need to follow the lead of many other cities all around the world. Even in Dartmouth, they've daylighted [Sawmill River]. And I think it would be very, very opportune to take this moment to reconsider," she said.

Cameron said most of the path of Freshwater Brook remains unbuilt upon, including parts of the Common, the Public Gardens and Victoria Park.

She said creating natural areas in urban settings is good for public mental health.

Cameron said uncovering natural drainage is important as Nova Scotia faces more extreme weather due to climate change, including intense bursts of heavy rainfall.

"We need these kinds of free services from the environment to cope with all of the things we're going to deal with," she said.

Peggy Cameron of Friends of Halifax Common would like to see more of the historic watercourse daylighted. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

"We know we're going to have a lot of extreme weather, a lot of need for water to be able to be absorbed naturally, We're never going to put it all in pipes."

It's unclear to Cameron if the historic culvert is still carrying any flow from Freshwater Brook.

The Natural History Museum, which is directly to the south, is built below the level of the drain.

The culvert's future is unknown.

"The archaeology team thoroughly documented the culvert and will supervise any removal. At this time, options for the culvert are still being considered," Flemming said.

The province would not allow the archeologist to be interviewed by CBC News.

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About the Author

Jack Julian

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Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

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