The brook, initially called a river, ran from what is now near the corner of St. Albans Street and Clifton Street in north-end Halifax, across the peninsula, through the Halifax Public Gardens, Victoria Park, past Fenwick towers and the Sobeys parking lot on Queen Street to the confluence of Barrington and Inglis streets.Some 130 years ago, the waterway was piped underground and the only part of it that remains visible today is Griffins Pond in the public gardens.
Peggy Cameron and her group Friends of Halifax Common say more of the natural waterway should be exposed.
The recent break in the old rock-and-mortar pipe during an archeological excavation near the Museum of Natural History related to the proposed hospital parkade is evidence that the parkade project should be rethought, she said.
“Nothing’s permanent,” Cameron said of the planned 500-vehicle parkade on Summer Street near the museum to facilitate the $2-billion QEII hospital redevelopment.
“Making stupid mistakes doesn’t mean they can’t be rectified in the future,” she said.
“The city should have insisted that the province locate the parking garages on the footprint of the lot consolidation that the province has already made. They have something like 22 acres of Halifax Common taken as Capital Health land. They acquired the CBC TV site, they acquired the Queen Elizabeth high school site and they should have made room on those locations for what their needs are.”
Cameron said it was “unexpected & unnecessary,” to have a parkade on Summer street, along with a 1,000-stall parking garage at the former CBC site.
“That (CBC site) should be where they have their first build. That’s a choice they are making, I think it’s the wrong choice.” Pointing to a 2006 HRM policy regarding daylighting of underground waterways, Cameron said the pipe exposure also exposes faulty QEII decisions.
“The city should have insisted that the province locate the parking garages on the footprint of the lot consolidation that the province has already made. … They acquired the CBC TV site, they acquired the Queen Elizabeth high school site and they should have made room on those locations for what their needs are.”
Peggy Cameron, Friends of the Halifax Common
The 2006 policy states that HRM staff strongly agree that “prevention of piping or enclosing watercourses is the priority, and will prevent the need for subsequent rehabilitation through daylighting,” a process that it described as rehabilitating to a more natural state a stream or river that has been enclosed within a pipe or culvert structure.
Part of the policy would have the municipality encouraging the provincial Environment Department not to permit piping of watercourses and for the municipality to consider watercourse daylighting as an option when existing stormwater collection infrastructure must undergo considerable repair or replacement.
“Consideration will include the feasibility of daylighting in relation to the surrounding environment, land use and ownership, adequacy of space, drainage and potential flooding issues, safety and other practical or other considerations as appropriate,” the policy reads.
Waye Mason, the member of regional council for the site of the hospital redevelopment, could not be reached for comment Wednesday and a spokeswoman with the provincial Environment Department said questions about the exposed pipe would be best answered by the municipality or Halifax Water.
“We’d only get involved if they were doing something to alter some sort of watercourse,” Barbara MacLean said.
James Campbell, communications manager at Halifax Water, said the section of the pipe uncovered is on provincial land near the museum.
Campbell said he hadn’t heard discussion about daylighting any part of Freshwater Brook.
“We daylighted a section of Sawmill River, which is over in Dartmouth, near Sullivans Pond, a couple of years back, which was a great success,” Campbell said. “But we haven’t been involved in any discussions about daylighting any sections of Freshwater Brook. I’m not an historian but my understanding is that Freshwater Brook used to start at the Commons and made its way down to the south end of Halifax near Barrington and Inglis streets. The only exposed section you can see now is the pond at the public gardens.”
Piped for sewage
Campbell said Halifax Water did some work in 2008 on Freshwater Brook and provided a copy of information concerning that work that ran in The Chronicle Herald at the time.
Halifax Water ran a public service announcement about the $10-million project to start in May 2008 to install large diameter concrete storm sewer and storm sewer laterals and to replace some catch basins.
The location of the work was listed as South Park, Fenwick, Queen and Inglis streets and Victoria Road.
An accompanying article with Bob Harvey, then a councillor and a local historian, had Harvey describe the Freshwater River as a place ships in the harbour would take on fresh water.
Harvey said the water course began west of the North Commons and made its way through the peninsula.
The first section of the brook was piped for sewage in the late 1880s, which may have been due to development pressures to provide more land in the area.
Harvey said in the Fenwick Street area, the stream ran in a deep ravine that had a bridge over it and filling in the brook and piping it would have changed the landscape dramatically and allowed for more development.
History aside, Cameron said consultation and imagination are lacking in the plan to build a parkade on Summer Street. She said the municipality should have had an undertaking with the province to daylight sections of Freshwater Brook, where feasible.
“It’s not going to be feasible if there are buildings built on it,” Cameron said. “But the majority of it (Freshwater Brook) is on the Commons and that’s where a lot of the green space still remains.”