Why this man wants to swim 115 km along a 19th-century canal

A Nova Scotia long-distance swimmer plans to swim the entire length of the Shubenacadie Canal from the Halifax harbour to the Bay of Fundy.

Nick Russell plans to swim Shubenacadie Canal from Halifax harbour to Bay of Fundy

Nick Russell plans to swim the Shubenacadie Canal in seven days (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

When the Shubenacadie canal was completed in the 19th century, it only briefly fulfilled its purpose of transporting goods across Nova Scotia.

Over the next week, it will serve as transportation once again, this time for a Nova Scotia long-distance swimmer who plans to navigate the canal's 115 kilometres. 

Nick Russell is from Dartmouth and started open-water swimming with an event in the Northumberland Strait where he swam from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island.

Having completed that challenge, he began looking for a new goal and landed on the old canal connecting Halifax harbour with the Minas Basin in the Bay of Fundy.

"I was looking at waterways I didn't know a lot about and wanted to explore," Russell told CBC's Information Morning. "The Shubie Canal being in my backyard growing up in Dartmouth, it seemed like an obvious choice."

Portaging part of the way

The canal was opened in 1850s and was used by steamboats and barges. But it was operational for just 14 years, closed due to financial issues and the building of a railway.

It recent decades there's been resurgent interest in the canal. It's used by canoeists and kayakers, and efforts have been made to restore locks and other historic features.

Russell said he'll be able to swim most of the way, starting in the harbour, although there are places that he'll have to portage, walking around the locks and sections that are too shallow or too polluted for swimming.

He said he's aiming to cover about 17 kilometres a day over seven days. He'll be accompanied by paddlers and will camp along the way.

The Shubenacadie Canal runs from the Halifax harbour to the Minas Basin. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

As the direction of the flow in the canal is dictated by the tides, Russell needs to plan his days around the times when the tide is going out and the current is flowing towards the Bay of Fundy. 

Russell said when he started planning the trip he thought he'd only have six hours of swimming time a day, starting from a full tide. But once he started researching, he realized he had more time that expected. 

"Something interesting that I learned, it takes three and a half hours for the tide to come in, and nine hours for it to go out, so our thinking this whole time was that we'd actually only have six hours of swim time to get this mileage in, which was going to be pretty pressing."

With a nine-hour window, Russell said the journey, which will probably entail roughly five to six hours of actual swimming a day, will leave plenty of time for fishing and exploring the canal. 

Pumpkin the shark

Russell said that open-water swimming gives him a new perspective on familiar environments.

His journey will end near Maitland, in the Minas Basin — currently the home of a 300-kilogram great white shark named Pumpkin. 

"A few ducks and a great white shark," said Russell. "It's going to be lots of exciting things, I'm sure, along the way."

With files from CBC's Information Morning