What is a lock?

A lock is a short, confined, and watertight chamber, or section of a canal, in which the water level can be changed by the use of gates and sluices so vessels can be lowered or raised between two gates and travel either upstream or downstream on the canal.

It is believed that the first canal locks were built by the Chinese sometime in the tenth century AD, and were later modified by Leonardo da Vinci’s v-shaped miter lock that created stronger walls to hold against more water pressure. This design can still be found in most canals and waterways today.

By the nineteenth century, locks were simple to operate but were complicated to build. Valves and gates had to function easily while not allowing too much water through. Lock walls and gates had to be strong and large enough to withstand the water pressure exerted upon them by tonnes of water.

Locks made the Shubenacadie Canal easy to navigate for smaller sailing and steam vessels and barges carrying goods.

The Shubenacadie Canal Waterway Locks

The nineteenth century locks of the Shubenacadie Canal Waterway are very unique. From Halifax Harbour, to Lake Charles, you can see a variety of engineer building styles and how these locks changed over time. Locks 1, 2 and 3, are the best examples and show the different styles used between the original British construction period of 1826-1831, and the canal’s completion as a Marine Railway in 1861 in the American building style. The original 1820s stone lock located underneath the Shubenacadie Canal Marine Railway in Dartmouth is an excellent example of how the original and newer canal structures worked together. 


marine railways

The area between Sullivan’s Pond and Halifax Harbour was the site of a Marine Railway when the Canal operated between 1861 and 1871. During that time barges on a wooden boat cradle were pulled up the slope to the Pond. The equipment in the flume house controlled the flow of water from the wooden flume as well as the cable attached to the cradle. Life-size replicas of each of these features – the boat cradle, flume house and flume are currently on site at the Canal Greenway.