What is a Canal?

A canal is an artificial waterway built to move vessels carrying goods inland. A canal works using a system of locks and other structures to change elevations. Canals such as the Shubenacadie, changed the land they were carved through, and the lives of people who lived along them.

What is a lock?

A lock is a short, confined, watertight chamber, in which the water level can be changed by the use of gates and sluices so vessels can be lowered or raised and travel either upstream or downstream. Locks made the Shubenacadie Canal easy to navigate for smaller sailing and steam vessel, and barges carrying goods.

the canal in action

The Shubenacadie Canal, consisted of seven lakes, nine locks and two marine railways, on inclined planes. The inclined planes were used in place of locks to make raising boats faster and easier. They were powered by water turbines, and used a boat cradle to lift and support the boats up the inclined plane, while the flume house held the gears that made everything work.

  • A boat arrived at Dartmouth cove and materials would be loaded onto a barge.
  • The barge would be floated onto the cradle.
  • The cradle would be hauled up the inclined plane and dropped into Sullivan’s Pond.
  • Water that came from Sullivan’s Pond, through an overhead wooden flume, dropped water 45 feet down to the turbine chamber, spinning the turbine which rotated a shaft connected to gears. The gears controlled the power for a drum around which a cable was wound that connected to the boat cradle, thus supplying mechanical power to move the cradle up and down the inclined plane.
  • The barge would be towed across Sullivan’s Pond to the first lock, the lock doors would open, the barge would enter the lock, and the lock gates would close behind it.
  • Water was then fed into the lock which raised the boat to the level of the next body of water.
  • The upper gates would be opened allowing the boat to sail out. 

Video description of the workings of a Canal Lock. By Warwick Lambert