Flooding of the Fairview Underpass – Today known as the Fairview Overpass
Submitted by Devonna Edwards
The Fairview Underpass and surrounding area endured many years of flooding. The Underpass formerly referred to as the Fairview Bottleneck was one of two entrance to and exit from the City of Halifax.
A culvert diverted brook water along the railroad tracks, under Kempt Road, and under the Department of Highways building (which at one time stood on the shore of the Bedford Basin where the container Terminal now stands) before it emptied into the Bedford Basin.
After a rain storm, the drain beneath the Underpass would become obstructed and flood, bringing cars and trains to a full stop and causing several stranded engines to be left sitting on the track.
In September 1942, the province of Nova Scotia was hit by torrential rains that caused severe flooding, blocking main railway lines, and highways as well as flooding basements and causing three deaths. It looked like Niagara Falls with a 40 foot cascade of water spilling down tons of water onto the railway tracks south of Bayers Road before flowing down to the Fairview “Bottleneck” blocking it completely. The water also flooded the railway tracks near there and washed out the roads disrupting all means of transportation there.
Here is an article in the Halifax Herald, dated September 28, 1942.
Buses ran only from Halifax to Fairview until sometime after 10 o’clock in the morning according to Charles A. Pender of Penders Bus Ltd. Two buses were then sent from Halifax across the ferry to Dartmouth and around to Bedford. These buses then traveled as far as Fairview and passengers walked over the railway tracks and were transferred to buses on the other side of the Underpass. At 4 o’clock buses were able to get through the Department of Highway property and onto the Emergency Overpass. At 7 P.M. an official of the firm stated that buses were travelling one way via the Emergency Overpass and the other by means of the Underpass.
Workmen were still at work clearing debris from the other side of the road beneath the Underpass. A tremendous amount of sand and dirt had been deposited there by the torrents which at 6 P.M. were reported to be covering the railway tracks above the Underpass and gradually subsided until at 4 P.M., four feet of water still covered the road beneath the bridge.
The Mayor W.E. Donovan said that the menace of the Fairview Bottleneck to the safety and welfare of the citizens of Halifax now has been conclusively demonstrated. Last week’s storm blockaded the Bottleneck area and isolated the city for a period of twelve hours. At the same time and for a much longer period railway traffic was at a complete standstill, thus cutting off Halifax almost completely from all main centers of this province. He also said that there is an urgent need for prompt remedial measures.
Alderman J. E. Ahern said that Tuesday’s flood with water running down from all the hills into the Underpass showed what might happen. This “Bottleneck” could be easily eliminated with a little co-operation from the C.N.R. A serious situation such as this, where for a time there is no exit from the city, should not be allowed to exist.
J.R. Rutledge, MLA for Halifax Center, said that the situation at Fairview is very bad. Here we have 100,000 people on a peninsula, almost an island, with but two roads out of it and into it and these roads head in divergent directions. Block the Bedford Road at Fairview and you have to go clear to the Head of the Bay through the Hammond’s Plains Road to get back onto the highway that leads to the rest of Canada.
Block the St. Margaret’s Bay Road and it will take alike journey of 40 miles or so to get back on it from the Bedford Road.
A worse situation obtains with railways. As a partial means of relief there should be built, right away, a highway north from the Fairview Garage over Geizer’s Hill to join the Bedford Road north of Rockingham. This is more urgent than an improved entrance.
The storm unaccompanied by any wind, flooded streets, cellars in hundreds of homes, damaged store stocks, seriously curtailed milk supplies and put out of operation more than 1600 telephones in the west end of Halifax. The water supply was contaminated and health authorities insisted that for safety the water should be boiled before use.
Apparently Halifax was the hardest hit in Nova Scotia where it was estimated that almost a billion gallons of water fell in 24 hours.
Quinpool Road was like a Venetian Canal, citizens being treated to the novelty of a boat ride on this thoroughfare. The road was impassable from the Public Baths to the Arm Bridge, the water at one time running over the stone-wall. So great was the flow of water into the North West Arm from the precipitous Western Shore that citizens reported swimming in fresh water in the North West Arm three days after the storm.
At Melville Cove (south of Melville Island) tons of earth and stone washed away from Martin’s Hill, and tumbled down the hill all the way to the North West Arm.
Fourteen Tram Cars were put out of commission while attempting to ‘navigate’ the flooded streets. Trams coming across the commons were delayed by floods more than a foot in depth. Mail piled up in the Halifax Post Office, while many sections of the province were without mail deliveries for days after the storm. Bridges rendered unsafe and washouts all along the line played their part in disrupting train communications and making their resumption difficult.
The highway was reported to be washed out to a depth of ten feet at Boutilier’s Point, while other washouts were reported at Nine Mile River, Head of St. Margaret’s Bay and on the road near Chester.
The worst damage to the highways, according to report from the Highways Department, was in the Halifax area. There were three or four washouts between Bedford and Fairview which had to be repaired. The Department of Highway’s office and garage near the “Bottleneck” Underpass received one of the greatest drenching. The raging torrents inundated the whole ground floor of one part of the building as high almost as the ceiling. Furniture floated in the office. A quantity of cement was destroyed in the garage and Air Raid warden’s outfits, in a shed to the rear of the garage, was damaged. Not many feet away water swirled in the “Bottleneck” and even blocked the entrance to the Emergency Overpass.
Children floated on rafts in swollen streams and swam in the road near the “Bottleneck”.
Citizens took off their shoes and stockings and waded through the floods to get to their destination, some who had rubber boots carried those who hadn’t “piggyback” across the floods. People walked across the tracks south of the Underpass on improvised planks, jumping precariously I spots to bridge the gaps over the turbulent waters which flowed in gullies worn deep in spots between the tracks. Water flowing with great force beneath the tracks washed out the support from beneath the main line in some spots so that tracks and ties sagged and swayed in the rushing water.
Kaye Street above Isleville Street in the north end was a lake. In some homes around the corner of Wright Avenue and Morris Street the water was over the main floors and furniture floated around.
One citizen reported that the water was deep enough for dingy races on the common.
It was reported that a number of Chinese were sleeping in bunks in the basement of a Chinese Laundry in the north end of Halifax when the water flooding the basement caught them by surprise. Unable to put on their clothes, they made their way to the ground floor without them. One man was up to his neck in the water before he made his way to safety.
The pond near the home of Reginald Piercey, Dutch Village Road (today that part of Dutch Village Road is called Joseph Howe Drive and his home, now demolished, stood where a street called Glen Eagle Way now stands) swelled up and overflowed into Mount Olivet Cemetery, inundating the graves and washed out bridges. Cellars all around Dutch Village, Armdale and Spryfield sections were reported to be flooded. Air Raid Patrol (A.R.P.) pumps were used to pump out the cellars. Agricola and Robie Streets were badly flooded in spots.
The streets were just floods, one north end resident said, “I was afraid a submarine would show up!”
Manhole covers were found off Cornwallis Street and carried down the hill. One tram car caught a manhole cover and dragged it quite a ways causing damage to the tram’s equipment. On South Park Street water spurted up about five feet into the air. The Birney made its way to the turning point at Simpson’s (Chebucto Road) but on the city bound trip a manhole covering that was moved by the force of the water became entangled in the wheels.
An Army Camp near Bedford “fish” for belongings. Gold, silver dollars, army tents were under water and a number collapsed in Bedford, almost two days after the rain had stopped. The banks of the Sackville River rose without warning while the men slept. There was no time to save all their belongings and equipment. Men stated money, watches, and other valuables were lost in the flood. Sapper Malcolm Parnell of Bridgewater, in a dory and Sergeant C.A. Munroe of Halifax, on a raft “fished for lost belongings and equipment.
A Dartmouth man drowned in the flood. Charlie Marshall Sr. who lived at 102 Victoria Road was drowned while attempting to rescue a companion who had fallen into a raging torrent on Jamieson Street.
In Stewiacke, the Canadian Lumber Company’s Mill and Camps at the Eastville district report two deaths. When the torrents of water changed the river’s course, tore through the banks and over the land where the mill and camps were situated, seven buildings were carried away, some battered into debris at once, others to be turned over and over by the flood waters and later shattered.
Rubin McCave, who lived in Stewiacke and Robie Lively, who lived in Shubenacadie were carried to their deaths as fellow mill workers looked on in horror when the small building and its occupants were carried away by the flood. Many mill crew waded to a lumber pile, fortunately quite near the buildings, while others took to trees and clung there, fearing that the powerful draw of the waters might pull them out by the roots or some charging obstruction tear them away. Fred Matthews, of Stewiacke is thankful that he took the warning to get out of the cabin which he occupied with MaCabe and Lively. The water came down in a wave of destruction. The gates in the two dams, above campsite had been raised to allow the water to pour through without destruction but due to the heavy rains it appeared to have been released in great bulk. There were about forty men in this camp. The men were marooned for hours.