The Dartmouth marine railway was completed in April 1861. It was the last link in the Shubenacadie Canal, finally fulfilling the nearly 100-year-old dream of a navigable waterway across the province.

The first Shubenacadie Canal Company had intended to build between five and seven locks between Halifax Harbour and Lake Banook, as well as a holding pond that later became known as Sullivan’s Pond. The high cost of this plan contributed to the company becoming insolvent in 1831, causing the mostly-finished canal project to collapse. This marine railway was conceived in 1854 as a significantly cheaper alternative to the Dartmouth lock system. The resulting cost savings helped the canal finally become a reality seven years later.

Instead of navigating boats through water, the marine railway carried them over land between Halifax Harbour and Sullivan’s Pond. A wooden cradle sitting on the rails would be lowered into the water, allowing a boat to float on top of it. The cradle would then be pulled out of the water using a cable system (like a cable car), lifting the boat out of the water and carrying it up the inclined plane. After about 12 to 15 minutes, the cradle would enter the water at the other end of the railway and the boat would be able to set sail once more. This whole system was powered by water collected from Sullivan’s Pond, which was used to drive a turbine at the flume house.

Below, you can watch a fully animated video showing how the system worked, including the turbine and gears in the flume house. It was prepared by Warwick Lambert and features narration by Allan Billard, both volunteers with the Shubenacadie Canal Commission.