Thursday, 5 June 2014

"Saw Mill River" Talk

Tonight (June 4, 2014), I checked out a nifty and well-attended screening of a film on lost (buried) rivers that have been (or are in the process of becoming) day lighted.

Lost Rivers Radio Canada website:

Following the showing of the documentary, there were two presentations (concerning the day-lighting of the "Saw Mill River" in Dartmouth) and a public questions session. The event was held in the Patterson bar room of the Micmac A.A.C. on Prince Albert Road, Dartmouth and was hosted by the Ecology Action Centre. Here is the link to their event page: According to the sign-up sheet, 81 people were in attendance. Although apparently invited, no current City Councilors, Members of the Legislative Assembly or Members of Parliament were in attendance. Since politicians run very busy schedules, they can check out this blog post and the included links for concise information on this interesting issue!

Shubenacadie Canal looking up towards Portland Street and the culvert. Photo: David Jones, May 28, 2014.

Shubenacadie Canal waters opening up into Dartmouth Cove. Photo: David Jones, May 28, 2014.

This is where "Saw Mill River" goes underground at Sullivan's Pond. Photo: David Jones, sometime in May 2014.

Here are three separate Chronicle Herald (our provincial newspaper) articles discussing tonight's event and the broader issue of dismantling the culverts that currently channel the waters of the Shubenacadie River system through subterranean downtown Dartmouth:

I am glad that I attended tonight's presentation. I enjoyed the film (shown in conjunction with Oceans Week), especially the part about Brescia, Italy where a group of "drainers" are mapping the underwater rivers of their northern city. As an archaeologist, I was fascinated by the Roman bridges that were in plain sight (ironic when you are underground...) beneath their streets. Check out the website of the Associazione Brescia Underground: I also appreciated the interesting speeches from representatives of the EAC and the Sackville Rivers Association. Now, let's tackle some historical points:

  • Lake Banook and Lake Micmac existed before the building of the Shubenacadie Canal. Although these two lakes were altered during canal construction, it was Sullivan's Pond that was artificially created (through dam building).
  • The name "Saw Mill River" comes from a 1749 map of Halifax by Moses Harris and refers to the poorly managed sawmill at Dartmouth Cove which was operated alternately by Major Ezekiel Gilman and Captain William Clapham from 1749 to the early to mid 1750s.  
  • The name "Saw Mill River" is not commonly used to describe the much-altered  water course running from Lake Banook to Halifax Harbour. The Mill Stream is the name most used in John Martin's Story of Dartmouth and this underground water course is part of the Shubenacadie system.
  • The name "Saw Mill River" does not acknowledge the thousands of years of First Nations occupation along the banks of the streams and lakes of what is now called Dartmouth.
Although an open waterway through downtown Dartmouth would be beautiful and attractive, it has to be done right and needs to properly take into consideration the history, archaeology and ecology of the city. Please read my earlier blog posts, and, for more information, pictures and links relevant to this waterway.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Good info to share. Sorry I missed the meeting (this is the first I heard of it).

    When you say that "underground water course is part of the Shubenacadie system", this is certainly true in terms of the Shubenacadie Canal System, but not the Shubenacadie River System, since the Saw Mill River and the Shubenacadie River are in different watersheds. The dividing line is at Lake Charles, which flows out at both ends (north and south).