Nova Scotia·Photos

Old Shubenacadie Canal route in Dartmouth to house interpretive park

For the first time in more than a decade, a key piece of Nova Scotia's industrial history is being opened for public viewing.

150 years of industrial history exposed in one Dartmouth site

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      For the first time in more than a decade, a key piece of Nova Scotia's industrial history is being opened for public viewing.

      The parcel of land is in downtown Dartmouth and used to house Starr Manufacturing, one of the world's first skate manufacturing plants.

      Before that, it was a key part of the Shubenacadie Canal system. The canal connected Halifax Harbour to the Minas Basin and followed a Mi'kmaq canoe route that had been used for thousands of years.

      The canal operated for a little more than a decade, from 1860 to 1871. It was built on the remnants of an earlier canal construction project that went bankrupt before carrying a single boat.

      The successful canal used an innovative marine railway to lift boats from Halifax Harbour to Sullivan's Pond — the first step on its journey.

      "There was a cradle that would be lowered down into Dartmouth Cove, the canal vessel would be positioned onto that cradle, latched down and then it would have been a switch thrown here and the turbine would have been activated," said Bruce Stewart, the president of Cultural Resource Management Group, the archeologists hired by the city to explore the Starr site.

      "That power would have been used to draw the cradle with its load, the canal boat, up an inclined plane which was fitted with a pair of rails, iron rails. And it would have drawn up past the power house here, past the flume house up to Sullivan's Pond."

      'There's international recognition'

      Stewart and his team have uncovered the turbine chamber, which powered the marine railway. It has been covered since Starr Manufacturing was badly damaged by fire in 1998.

      "The Shubenacadie Canal system has been recognized for its engineering feat," Stewart said during a recent interview inside the turbine chamber.

      "There's international recognition for that.

      "Unfortunately, the early system, because it never operated, it doesn't really get as much attention. The second system from 1860 to 1871, that's the one that operated that is really acknowledged and is best preserved along the full route between here and the Minas Basin."

      The turbine chamber was built inside an old lock from the failed canal construction of 1826. Two walls of the chamber are from the original canal system.

      The Halifax Regional Municipality plans to turn the entire site into an interpretive park, highlighting the area's industrial history.

      Construction on a replica of the original flume house is scheduled to begin in the fall. Water was drawn from Sullivan's Pond into the flume house, then dropped seven metres into the turbine chamber.

      Wanted: photo of canal boat

      "The water comes in underneath it, fills the turbine and there are four jets positioned around the circumference of the turbine and the water starts spraying out those jets, spraying against the walls of the chamber here and that would have started a spin," Steward said.

      "That would have a gear or shaft that ran up to the surface into a gear that would have been directed over to provide the power to draw canal vessels in their cradle up and down the inclined plane."

      When the canal ceased operating, Starr Manufacturing expanded into the site and appropriated the turbine system to power the machinery in its factories. Water power was converted through a series of gears and belts to the factory on the surface.

      While Stewart and his team have been able to piece together how things operated, there's one key element missing: photographs.

      "Nobody has come forward with a picture of a canal boat being raised up from Dartmouth Cove to Sullivan's Pond," he said.

      "If anyone thinks they may have those kinds of things hanging around in their attic or in a chest in the basement, please, get in touch with the Shubenacadie Canal Commission and they'd be overjoyed to see some of that photographic evidence."

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