Shubenacadie Canal History
We would like to begin by acknowledging that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) People first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.
Did you know that Shubie Campground is located on the beautiful Shubenacadie Canal Waterway?
A waterway with an incredible history.
The Shubenacadie Canal system starts almost 100 kms away in Grand Lake, which is in the land of the Sipekne’katik First Nation. Shubenacadie was a French interpretation of Sipekne’katik, meaning “where wild potatoes grow”. Those living in Sipekne’katik are of the Mi’kmaq people, the wider nation that spans across the Canadian Maritimes and reaches the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. This area has been their home for over 10,000 years and there is evidence that they have been using this waterway for at least 4000 years!
We know how useful the Shubenacadie Canal was during the 1800s for the transport of gold, however that waterway was one of the most important in Nova Scotia even before the canal was built.
When the Shubenacadie River was still referred to as the Sipekne’katik River, the Mi’kmaq First Nation used the river as a source of food and medicines. It also acted as the main transportation corridor between their summer camps on the Halifax and Dartmouth Shores and their winter camps in the wooded central areas of the province.
It is a huge part of the Mi’kmaq cultural identity. Though the French changed the name of the river to Shubenacadie, and their settlement to “Indian Brooke”, the Mi’kmaq communities had that name changed back to Sipekne’katik in 2013.
The history of the Sipekne’katik and Mi’kmaq people is rich and long and we encourage you to learn more about them as they are a part of this community and their stories are worth listening to.
In the 1600’s the first European settlers learned of this important waterway from their Mi’kmaw allies and started to form settlements along its banks.
1754, Captain Matthew Floyer led an expedition on the Shubenacadie River with the help of an Acadian guide named Deschamps. Floyer described it as a waterway lined with prime land for agriculture and forestry, but did not specifically evaluate it as a navigational route.
As the new city of Halifax grew in population, its merchants and leaders began to look to the Shubenacadie River as a possible link between the capital and the Bay of Fundy. In 1767, Captain Willia m Owen and his team set out to determine the suitability of the river and lake system for these purposes. Another Acadian guide, Pierre Coperon, served as the wayfinder for this mission. “Owen’s Safari” succeeded in taking measurements, making maps, and recording information about the area. While it did not lead to immediate development, it was a major factor in promoting interest in a canal in later decades.
In 1754 a British Captain named Matthew Floyer hired an Acadian guide to lead an expedition up the river to explore its possibilities. It wasn’t until 1767 when Captain William Owen set out on a second expedition that the area was properly mapped and considered as a viable route to connect the Bay of Fundy to the newly formed military fortress of Halifax.
The first step toward officially making the Shubenacadie Canal a reality came in 1796, when the provincial legislature ordered a survey to formally cost out construction. It was deemed to be too costly at the time and the idea was shelved.
In 1824, Michael Walllace and Francis Hall brought it back to life and started preparing plans for the canal, the construction started two years later. Though the construction paused for a period due to bankruptcy, it was eventually completed in 1861. The canal was primarily used as a supple route for gold in the 1860s when gold was discovered in Waverly, Nova Scotia. This discovery brought miners to Nova Scotia from all over the world and increased Nova Scotia’s population from approximately 200 to over 2000 people.
In 1871, the Shubenacadie Canal was decommissioned when the City of Dartmouth started using the Dartmouth Lakes as a water supply, cutting off the canal’s route to Halifax and the Shubenacadie Canal Commission was formed to maintain and restore the locks. As of right now, three locks have been restored and the lock between Fletchers Lake and Shubenacadie Grand Lake is operational.
Within walking distance from our campground stands the Fairbanks Center, the headquarters for the Shubenacadie Canal Commission, where they explain the history behind the canal in much greater detail, and how the locks operate. As well, right beside the center is one of the locks that has been maintained.
If you’re interested in how these locks operate, check out their website (https://www.shubenacadiecanal.ca/how-the-canal-worked), or take a walk down the road and take a look around the center.
History is literally at our doorstep - Explore and Enjoy!