Save Sawmill River | Ecology Action Centre

Save Sawmill River

After 46 years of being buried underground, the Sawmill River can see daylight again! You can now visit the river, which is back flowing above ground at Sullivan’s Pond in Dartmouth. This is an important step in reviving fish passage between Halifax Harbour and the Shubenacadie River system for species such as gaspereaux.

The Sawmill River is a historic river that once flowed through downtown Dartmouth. In 1972, after extensive flooding caused by Hurricane Beth, the river was buried into a stormwater sewer. The City of Halifax is now embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expose and restore Sawmill River.  Halifax Water is in the process of replacing the aging culvert in which the Sawmill River now flows between Sullivan's Pond and the Halifax Harbour.  

Daylighting, the practice of exposing streams from buried conditions, will allow for all or parts of the river to flow above ground adjacent to the Canal Greenway Park.  It will have many benefits for Dartmouth residents and visitors alike, including improved land value, recreation and amenity space, flood risk management, fish habitat improvement, urban-heat-island cooling, and wellbeing.  

Phase one of this project is complete, and parts of the Sawmill River can see daylight once again. While we’re pleased that the river is flowing above ground, it is contained in an engineered channel. This channel, however, is complete with a fish ladder so that the fish will be able to move from the ocean to the many lakes upstream. This phase ends in the temporary holding pond behind the Lock 9 Condos. 

Canal Greenway Phase II: Coordinated Open Space Development Plan


Project Timeline:

2006 - Feasibility Report
The Canal Greenway Phase II report prepared by a team of consultants in 2006 and commissioned by HRM shows that daylighting Sawmill River is feasible (see image above)!

November 2014 - Sawmill River Petition Launches
We launched a petition asking Halifax Regional Council and Halifax Water to support daylighting the maximum portion of Sawmill River between Sullivan's Pond and the Halifax Harbour. The petition garnered more than 500 signatures.

January 20, 2015 - Town Hall Meeting 
Approximately 280 people were in attendance for a town hall meeting on daylighting the Sawmill River. Many thoughtful and insightful questions were posed from the audience. 

April 19, 2015 - Human River Walk
Over 200 Dartmouth residents took part in the Human River Walk to celebrate the historic Sawmill River. 

May 7, 2015 - Staff Report
Halifax staff released an information report on daylighting Sawmill River.  Click here to access the staff report.  The report was requested by Councillor Gloria McCluskey following a presentation by the Ecology Action Centre to the Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council on November 13, 2014. 


Click here to read the Ecology Action Centre commentary on the Halifax staff report on daylighting Sawmill River.

July 2015 - CBCL Report
A report commissioned by Halifax Water to explore and analyze options for replacing Sullivan's Pond storm sewer was made available through a freedom of information request by the Chronicle Herald.  The report recommended a combination of a concrete box culvert (4 m x 4.3 m) and an open channel located on Halifax Water's existing storm sewer easement.  Both the culvert and the open channel would provide fish passage.

Part 1a of 4: Executive Summary, Introduction, Condition Assessment of Existing Sewer, Archaeology, Geotechnical and Environmental, Hydrology and Hydraulics


Part 1b of 4: Hydrology and Hydraulics (cont'd), Fish Passage


Part 1c of 4: Fish Passage (cont'd), Coordination Opportunities with Nearby Construction Projects, Design Option Comparison


Part 2 of 4: Design Option Comparison (cont'd), Discussions and Recommendations, List of Figures, Appendices


Part 3 of 4: Appendices (cont'd)


Part 4a of 4: Appendices (incl. Fish Passage Background and DFO Letters)


Part 4b of 4: Appendices (incl. Preliminary Design Drawings) 


August 2016 - Funding from the Federal Government
The federal government announced funding under the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund for a number of projects including the project which involves Daylighting the Sawmill River, the Sullivan’s Pond storm sewer renewal. The province committed over $2.1 million to this project and the federal government allocated over $4.2 million. 

Spring 2018 - Phase One
This spring, Halifax Water completed phase one of the project. In February, the Sawmill River saw the light of day for the first time in 46 years! The partial daylighting will allow for parts of the river to flow above ground adjacent to the Canal Greenway Park. The city is also landscaping beside the river (spring 2018) to add grassy areas (perfect for picnics), as well as some trees. 

Letters of Support:

Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, June, 2016


Clean Foundation, February 24th 2015


King's Wharf, November 28th 2014


Canoe Kayak Nova Scotia, November 13th 2014


Mr. Peter Stoffer, M.P. for Sackville - Eastern Shore, November 4th 2014



Remember This? Daylighting Punmakati: The story of Dartmouth’s Sawmill River - March 19, 2018


Segment of Sawmill River on verge of seeing daylight Local Xpress - by Paul Schneidereit, May 8th, 2017


There'll be much more daylight at end of tunnel for Sawmill River if city takes charge Local Xpress - by Paul Schneidereit, June 26th, 2016


Will the Sawmill River see the light of day? Yes. Will it look like a river? Maybe. Halifax Examiner – By Erica Butler, June 24th, 2016 (Behind a pay wall)


Sawmill River daylighting project revived by possible Dartmouth intersection changes CBC News – by Stephanie van Kampen, June 24th, 2016


Daylighting Sawmill River: New Hope Spacing Atlantic – by Sam Austin, June 22nd, 2016


How much of Dartmouth's Sawmill River will rise from the dust? Local Xpress - by Paul Schneidereit, March 14th 2016


Interview on the Rick Howe Show, News 95.7 FM, July 29th 2015 (Sawmill River interview starts at 13:40


It's defective, it's flawed: Sawmill River advocates frustrated with latest staff report Metro Halifac, May 15th 2015


Bureaucrats hurting effort to uncover river, local MP says Chronicle Herald, May 14th 2015


Daylighting Sawmill River: Rebutting the Staff Report Spacing Atlantic - by Sam Austin, May 13th 2015


Interview on the Rick Howe Show, News 95.7 FM, May 12th 2015 (Sawmill River interview sarts at 14:00)


HRM Report Casts Shadow on Daylighting Sawmill River Chronicle Herald, May 11th 2015


Interview on the Rick Howe Show, News 95.7 FM, April 20th 2015 (Sawmill River interview starts at 14:00)


Human River Walk Celebrates Historic Sawmill River News 95.7, April 20th 2015


Dartmouth Marchers Push for Sawmill River to see Light of Day Chronicle Herald, April 19th 2015


Human River Walk Follows Path of Dartmouth Underground River CBC News, April 19th 2015


Human River Walk Aims to Shine Light on Hidden Dartmouth Stream Chronicle Herald, April 18th 2015 


A River Runs Under It Chronicle Herald - by Brett Bundale, March 21st 2015


L'héritage et le futur de la rivière Sawmill à Dartmouth N-É Tout un samedi, Radio-Canada, January 24th 2015


A Watered-Down Vision: Dartmouth's Canal Greenway Spacing Atlantic - by Sam Austin, January 20th 2015


Sawmill River Town Hall Meeting Planned for Tonight CBC News, January 20th 2015


Rivière Sawmill: plus de 300 appuis Le Courrier de la Nouvelle-Écosse - by Marie-Claude Huot, January 16th 2015


Daylighting Sawmill River would benefit wildlife Chronicle Herald - by Paul Schneidereit, January 13th 2015 


Will Halifax city council see wisdom of daylighting river? Chronicle Herald - by Paul Schneidereit, January 6th 2015


Buried Alive: The Sawmill River interview for Hello Dartmouth, December 12th, 2014


Daylighting Sawmill River mentioned in the House of Commons, November 27th 2014


Interview on the Rick Howe Show - News 95.7 FM, November 28th 2014 (Sawmill River interview starts at 39:50)


'Daylighting' Sawmill River is the right (water) course The Chronicle Herald, Opinions, Walter N. Regan, November 26th 2014 


Shining Light on Sawmill River Dartmouth Tribune, Chronicle Herald - by Colin Chisholm, November 18th 2014


Interview on the Rick Howe Show - News 95.7 FM, November 14th 2014 (Sawmill River interview starts at 37:00)


It's Now or Never: Community Groups Ask For Help to Daylight Sawmill River Metro Halifax - by Braedon Clark, November 13th 2014


Ecology Action Centre Pushes for Sawmill River Daylighting CBC News, November 13th 2014


A River Runs Under It: Daylighting Sawmill River Spacing Atlantic - by Sam Austin, November 10th 2014


The Time is Now: Daylight the Sawmill River Hello Dartmouth - by Kate Watson, November 2nd 2014


Time to Uncover Dartmouth's Sawmill River, groups say The Chronicle Herald - by Davene Jeffrey, June 4th 2014


Sawmill River Daylighting Momentum has Strong Current The Chronicle Herald - by Colin Chisholm


Additional Background and History:

Click here for a detailed description on the case for daylighting Sawmill River


"Daylighting in Halifax’s Urban Core: A case study-based analysis of the proposed daylighting of Sawmill River in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia" by Darryl McGrath, Masters of Planning student, Dalhousie University.  

Daylighting brings buried waterways back to life by uncovering and restoring them.  Daylighting rivers can reduce polluted runoff, improve fish habitat and revitalize our urban spaces.  This practice has been done around the world and many cost-effective examples exist in the USA, click here to read a report by the Rocky Mountain Institute entitled "Daylighting: New Life for Buried Streams"

Prior to the founding of Dartmouth in 1749 the waterways that became Sawmill River were used by the Mi'kmaq for navigation between the Harbour via the Shubenacadie River to the Minas Basin.  A series of locks were built in the 1820s that allowed for larger ships to travel between the Minas Basin and the Halifax Harbour.  Saw Mill River was buried in 1972 after Hurricane Beth dumped over 235 mm of rain in 30 hours and caused localised flooding. 


Today, the corrugated steep pipe in which Saw Mill River flows is undersized for the area of land that drains into it and needs to be upgraded.  Several opportunities exist that can be leveraged in favour of daylighting:

  1. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has required that Halifax Water provide fish passage.  Fish are more successful at swimming up a sun-lit channel than a long, dark pipe. 
  2. HRM's policy on River Daylighting was approved by Regional Council in 2006.
  3. New development planned in downtown Dartmouth will require associated greenspace in the form of parks and walking trails.  A daylighted river would be an aesthetically pleasing amenity to these parks.

(Top Image: The Canal Greenway Phase II report prepared by a team of consultants in 2006 and commissioned by HRM shows that daylighting Sawmill River is feasible)


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