'It didn't feel like Nova Scotia': Man swims 115 km in Shubenacadie canal

Nick Russell says he hopes his adventure from the Halifax Harbour to the Bay of Fundy encourages more people to get out on the canal.

'You've never seen someone swim so quick...When we saw this unidentified fin'

Nick Russell swam 115 km from Halifax Harbour to the Bay of Fundy last week. (Chris Surette/A For Adventure)

Nick Russell is taking a well-deserved rest this weekend after completing a week-long, 115-kilometre swim along Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie canal on Friday.

Over eight days, Russell swam from the Halifax Harbour to the Bay of Fundy, averaging between 15 and 20 kilometres a day.

"The week flew by. There were times when I thought, 'Holy moly, what's going on here.' But once you're kind of towards the end you just think, 'Wow I can't believe that was a week,'" Russell said on Saturday afternoon.

"It was really exciting just that unknown each day."

Chris Surette, who travelled alongside Russell in a canoe for most of the journey, said it was an amazing feat to witness.

"It was something no one had ever done before," Surette said. "When he finally got out of the water, we were all pretty proud."

New interest in 19th-century canal

The Shubenacadie canal opened in the 1850s as a way to transport goods across Nova Scotia, but closed after only 14 years. (Chris Surette/A For Adventure)

The Shubenacadie canal opened in the 1850s as a way to transport goods across Nova Scotia. But after only 14 years it closed, due to financial reasons and a new railway.

Recently, canoeists, kayakers and swimmers have been bringing life back to the canal — and a project was started to restore locks and other features.

Nick Russell said he was blown away by the beautiful, differing landscapes along the canal. (Chris Surette/A For Adventure)

Russell said he was blown away by the differing landscapes, both above and below the water, along his route.

One of his highlights, he said, was swimming near East Milford.

"There were these rolling, grassy mountains, with a backdrop of gypsum cliffs, and every corner we went around there was an eagle on the point, there was striped bass on the water, and it was extremely clear. It was just like swimming in an aquarium," he said.

"It didn't feel like Nova Scotia."

Challenging winds, tides and water levels

Nick Russell poses by the seventh lock in the Shubenacadie canal. (Chris Surette/A For Adventure)

But the swim wasn't without challenges, which included low water levels, strong winds and intense tides.

On Thursday morning, Surette, Russell's girlfriend Maureen O'Neill and Russell were approaching the heavy tidal waters around Shubenacadie.

"We weren't 100 per cent sure when it would be full tide and when was the right time to get in the water...The second I got in, I got a face full of water," Russell said.

"But we went up a little bit further and sure enough, it turned in about five minutes ... I don't even know how to describe the sheer power of that tide. It was really impressive."

Fin sighting

The group saw lots of wildlife, like a seal in Grand Lake, dozens of eagles and sea birds, and plenty of fish. Russell said he was wary of running into the 300-kilogram great white shark, Pumpkin, which has been swimming in the Minas Basin this summer.

Russell was concentrating on swimming when he heard Surette and O'Neill yelling from the canoe: "Fin! Fin!"

"I put my head out of the water and there was a fin going up and down, up and down," he said, noting it was about six metres away. "You've never seen someone swim so quick in their life to get out of the water...When we saw this unidentified fin."

Maureen O'Neill, pictured here, and Chris Surette spotted the unidentified fin from the canoe. (Chris Surette/A For Adventure)

But once on shore, they noticed the fin was rounded.

"It turned out to be a porpoise. It was feeding," Russell said, adding with a laugh, "No sign of Pumpkin at all, thankfully Pumpkin was busy."

When he finally came around the bend towards Maitland on Friday as he finished his swim, Russell said there was a small party of family and friends waiting to cheer him on to the finish.

"Even someone brought a bottle of champagne which was nice, so we popped that on the beach," he said.

Nick Russell swims along the Shubenacadie Canal. He averaged between 15 kilometres and 20 kilometres a day on his week-long journey. (Chris Surette/A For Adventure)

Russell said he started this journey because he was looking for a challenge, but now he hopes people will follow his example and take to the canal on canoes, kayaks, paddle boards or even just to swim.

"We didn't see many people on the water, which is too bad, because it's beautiful and right in our backyard. It's a great way to see this part of the province," he said.

"Get out there and do it. It's certainly achieveable."