Public pathway proposed for Sydney flood zone

The proposed two-kilometre Wash Brook Greenway project is expected to be built to withstand water.

Coalition of community groups raising funds for active transportation design study

David Gabriel of the Baille Ard Recreation Association and Wayne McKay of the Southend Public Gardens Society are working on a plan to build a two-kilometre pathway through Sydney's Wash Brook flood zone. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A coalition of community groups is planning to build a walkway through Sydney's flood zone.

The Wash Brook Greenway proposal is in its early stages, but organizers say it will be built to withstand water.

Wayne McKay, president of the Southend Public Gardens Society, which grew out of the Thanksgiving flood of 2016, said funds are being raised for a study to determine the pathway's cost.

He said the project will benefit people of all ages and abilities.

"We'd really be connecting the community in a real way and providing all kinds of opportunities for active transportation, kids to walk and bike to school, for outdoor learning, easy access to the trails, etc.," he said. "There's all kinds of benefits to it."

If built, the Wash Brook pathway would connect five kilometres of walkways in the Cossitt Heights subdivision on Sydney's outskirts, the Baille Ard trail system, the Ashby neighbourhood near downtown and, eventually, the boardwalk on Sydney Harbour.

Water rushes into the Wash Brook over Whitney Avenue during the 2016 Thanksgiving Day flood. (Lachlan MacKinnon)

The Wash Brook Greenway would follow the brook from the Baille Ard trails at Sherwood Park Education Centre to Whitney Avenue.

McKay said the two-kilometre path will likely be made of gravel suitable for walking, cycling or wheelchairs. It may also require some raised sections and bridges, being in a flood zone.

It will cross mostly municipal and some provincial land. There are two private parcels of land along the Wash Brook route, but one is undeveloped and has been donated to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality for the path. The other is behind a residential development near Whitney Avenue, but the landowner is working out the details with the coalition to provide access for the pathway.

The municipality approved the pathway in principle last week, as long as the community builds and maintains it.

Lessons learned

McKay said the groups are aware of the flooding issue and it shouldn't pose a problem for the proposed pathway. The Southend community garden was flooded a couple of weeks ago after a spring storm, and it easily survived.

McKay said community members involved in the garden project have learned a lot from the 2016 flood and are prepared for sudden wet spells.

Wash Brook in Sydney was overflowing its banks after a storm brought heavy rain to Cape Breton in January 2014. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

And the new pathway will be designed to withstand water.

"We're going to build it as durably as possible," McKay said. "The designer's going to take into account the fact that it floods, and he has a lot of experience with dealing with water on trails. We anticipate that we're going to have to do some maintenance, of course, on it over time as it floods."

Baille Ard trails group to offer experience

David Gabriel, president of the Baille Ard Recreation Association, is part of the coalition. He said many local community organizations and all three levels of government have supported the Baille Ard trail system in the past and they will also be asked to help the new Wash Brook Greenway.

Gabriel said the Baille Ard trails were also hit hard by the 2016 flood, but the group has since flood-proofed the trails.

"We came out of the whole thing stronger as a group and better equipped to sustain our trails, and, as we solved problems, we got better at doing what we were doing.

"When we come into this partnership with the Southend Public Gardens, we bring a lot of experience. We also bring a lot of equipment and we bring volunteers that are much more capable now."

McKay and Gabriel said a flood mitigation study being done by the municipality should also help mitigate some of the problems with the Wash Brook in future.

CBRM officials say an engineering study by CBCL is expected to be made public at a council meeting later this month.

About the Author

Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 32 years. He has spent the last 14 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at