The Surveyor’s Diary

The first real step in creating the Shubenacadie Canal Waterway

Much like major infrastructure projects today, the area that the Shubenacadie Canal Waterway covers had to be surveyed. This was done in order to determine the viability of the project, and to map the route that the waterway follows. The first study of the waterway was commissioned well over 200 years ago, in 1797. To put that into perspective, the second US president, John Adams, was sworn in on March 4th, 1797. Unfortunately, little is known about this first survey

That first survey was not the only one carried out along the waterway. A second study started in 1814, roughly twelve years before canal construction began. This one was done by a Valentine Gill who, like any good surveyor, kept a diary of his work. Lucky for us, we have excerpts from this diary. The following excerpt illustrates the harshness of the times:

Monday, 20th February, 1815
Continued the survey of Lake William. From this proceeded to Cormers House on side of lake, having walked twenty miles and being much fatigued expected the consolation of a good fire and a good soft plant to stretch upon, but how great our disappointment and surprise on entering the Hut. I found the Old Man John Shane who had been left to take care of the place dead, he was frozen to death I suppose three weeks before that, his face and hands being much eaten by mice. There was no alternative, so I took my abode this night with John, and early next morning Tuesday 21st continued the survey at Lake William.

201 years ago yesterday, June 29th in 1815, Gill began his journey to survey “Grand Shubenacadie Lake”, generally referred to now as just Grand Lake. Grand Lake, which is appropriately named as it is the largest lake in the waterway, is the seventh and final lake in the Shubenacadie Canal Waterway. While the waterway was in use, boats would have come from either Fletcher Lake or the Shubenacadie River into Grand Lake. As one can imagine, this would have been a large job, so Gill stocked up supplies before he left:

Monday, 26th June, 1815
In order to complete the survey of the Shubenacadie River: Bought a small flat bottom boat for twelve dollars. Paid for repairs above 2 dollars
30 lb. Ham and 21 lb. Ham
6 quarts gin
3 lbs. tea
8 gals. Rum
37 lbs. sugar
3 lines
Hooks and spear
Mug, tea pot, and plates

ith provisions taken care of, Gill was ready to depart with his first stop being Fletchers Inn:

Thursday, 29th June, 1815
All things ready for our journey. Two o’clock arrived at Sackville, hired a horse and cart to take our luggage to Fletchers. Overtaken on the road within two miles of Fletchers by a dreadful thunder storm, which lasted better than two hours and did not leave one dry stitch on our backs. Men encamped in woods, man and horse and I went to Fletchers.

Many interesting excerpts from Gill’s diary come from the month of July. Stay tuned for more “on this day in history” pieces from the Shubenacadie Canal Commission.

Thanks for reading!

– Martin Earle