The name “Shubenacadie” comes from the Mi’kmaw word Sipekne’katik, meaning “where the groundnuts grow”. Sipekne’katik is one of the seven traditional districts of Mi’kma’ki, covering a large portion of what is now central Nova Scotia from Halifax to Truro and beyond.

The Mi’kmaq have used the Shubenacadie River waterway since time immemorial. Archaeological evidence found along the canal waterway shows that the Mi’kmaq were using it as a "main highway" between Halifax Harbour and the Bay of Fundy at least 4,000 years ago. Stone points, an adze, and gouging tools are all evidence of their presence and deep natural connection with the river. Eventually, the Mi’kmaq would introduce Europeans to the ways of the river and assist then in accessing the route.

For the Mi’kmaq, this accessible and vital water highway served as the main route between their summer camps on the shores of Halifax and Dartmouth and their winter camps in Nova Scotia’s forested interior. They traversed the river in birch bark canoes that they could carry easily over land (portages) when required.

The Boat that Explored Canada

It is very likely that the exploration of Canada, or North America for that matter, would have not taken place in quite the way it did had it not been for the canoe. Invented, and first used in North America, by the First Nations, the canoe had a huge impact on early European exploration, trade, and colonization of North America, including Nova Scotia. The canoe allowed access to the interior, and places that could not be reached by foot. Explorer Samuel de Champlain, in particular, admired the Mi’kmaw birch bark canoe for its lightness and as a skilled piece of engineering. 

The Mi’kmaw Canoe

The Mi’kmaq created a unique canoe design and shape that consisted of rounded ends and wide-bottomed interior. Sea canoes were about 20-28 feet in length, while river/lake canoes were 9-16 feet long Everything needed to build the canoe was found in the forest: birch bark, spruce gum, spruce root. Knowledge on how to build these canoes has been passed down through generations of Mi’kmaw canoe builders.