In July 2010, Davis MacIntyre & Associates Limited was contracted by the St. Mary's Trail Association to conduct an archaeological resource impact assessment of the proposed St Mary's Trail between Aspen and Cameron Lakes in Guysborough County. A background study and a field reconnaissance of the proposed trail corridor, lying on the rail bed of the unfinished Guysborough Railway, were conducted.


The St Mary's Trail Association proposes to create a 6.4km trail on an existing abandoned railbed. The 6.4km of railbed runs between Aspen and Cameron Lakes in Guysborough County, and is heavily forested. The proposed work consists of updating and re-grading the railbed where necessary to create a uniform trail for public recreation.


Investigative Stage


Background Research:

By the mid-nineteenth century, most of the business transactions for the residents of the St Mary's area still took place in Guysborough, some 45 miles (72km) distant. Residents of the area were well aware that a rail line would strongly boost commerce. It would provide speedy shipment of goods and people between the northeastern coast of the mainland and the mainstream commercial locations of Truro and Halifax.


Although the installation of a railroad was discussed in 1877 and possibly earlier, a formal proposal did not come until 1896, when two possible routes were presented. The first would travel from Milford Station near Halifax to Musquodoboit, the west branch of the St. Mary's River, Country Harbour Crossroads, past a line of known iron deposits along Salmon River, to Guysborough and Canso in the northeast. The alternate route was known as the "Sunny Brae Scheme" put forward by the Dominion Eastern Railway. It would have commenced at Sunny Brae near New Glasgow, running southerly across the province via Pictou and Guysborough counties, meeting the Atlantic at Country Harbour, which would be transformed into a shipping port for coal mined in Pictou. The line would pass through a great deal of unsettled forest.


But the Guysborough Railway was still decades away from construction. It was not until 1929 that the proposed "Guysboro Line," a branch of the Canadian National Railway, was brought before the House of Parliament in Ottawa for approval. The plan was part of 691 miles (1,112km) of new track to be laid in six different provinces, the Nova Scotian line consisting of 63 miles (101km) and running from Sunny Brae to Guysborough at a cost of over $3,000,000. The project was given approval and by October of 1930 construction was progressing. The rail bed had been completed, and most of the concrete abutments and trestles for the rail bridges were in place.


In July of 1931 construction of the Guysborough Line ceased. The bonds that had been issued to fund the project were reportedly insufficient to complete the railway. The Halifax Herald reported that "[t]he act authorizing the construction of the line provided for the expenditure of $3,500,000 plus 15 percent., or a total of $4,025,000 but the act did not, at the same time, provide the money."


Field Reconnaissance:

Archaeological reconnaissance of the Guysborough Line between Aspen and Cameron Lake suggested that no archaeological sites would be disturbed by trail upgrades during conversion to the St Mary's Trail. The project is steadily progressing and will soon be open for public use. 

The wooded trail, looking towards abandoned bridge abutments on a steep ravine.

Some sections of the trail have been used as logging trails for heavy equipment.

An 1893 geological survey map shows little activity along the rail bed, which has been overlaid in red for the purposes of this study.

Two concrete bridge abutments abandoned in 1931. No bridges on this section were finished.

An impressed date of 1931 is still clear on a smaller set of bridge abutments.

A modern map shows the modern and historic culverts and water crossings present in 2010.

A concrete box culvert allowed smaller streams to pass beneath the rail bed.

This smaller bridge has been completed nearly 80 years after the concrete was poured.