The Shelburne River valley is a product of the natural processes of the earth. Repeatedly scraped bare by glaciers and burned by fire, the underlying granite of the area is exposed, leaving little soil but many boulders, erratics and eskers. The bogs, barrens, and wetlands of this slow-moving waterway are a result of this underlying geology and natural history.
The watershed is home to some of Nova Scotia’s most barren areas as well as to some of its only remaining old growth pine and hemlock forests. The Shelburne River International Biological Program site was established between Sand Lake and Lake Rossignol in such a stand of old growth eastern hemlock, where trees reach 125 cm in diameter.
The Shelburne is Nova Scotia’s most remote watershed. Its barrenness contributed to its protection since a lack of productive soil, thick barrens and wetlands deterred both settlement and development. As a result, the area provides an excellent habitat for moose, bear, and birds, particularly for species that require large, remote, undisturbed areas to thrive.
Humans arrived in the Shelburne region on the heels of the retreating glaciers, leaving evidence of 5,000 year-old stone artifacts. The Mi’kmaq First Nations travelled throughout the region via canoe, using the Shelburne as a key transportation link inland, and as a source of food. When the Europeans arrived, they followed these same routes inland to explore, hunt, fish and trap. Throughout its human history, the Shelburne has been accessed by canoe, still the most practical and popular way to travel this heritage river.
The Shelburne was also a log driving river in the 19th century. Logs harvested from upstream sources were driven downstream to sawmills, and temporary dams were constructed at points along the stream to store water for the drive.
Canoes remain the best way to experience the Shelburne and its extended network of rivers and lakes. Paddling is best when water levels are higher, as the waters are fed by run off. Although the water is warmer in July and August, paddlers are often faced with longer portages. The entire region is remote and while much of the paddling is on slow-moving water, intermediate paddling skills and experience in remote wilderness travel are essential.
From the Shelburne, paddlers can access the Tusket, Sissiboo, Roseway and upper Mersey Rivers, as well as a series of lakes leading into Kejimkujik National Park. The “Tent Dwellers” loop trip, popularized by the 1908 book by Albert Bigelow Paine, is still a favourite five-day route. For more information, see Parks Canada.
Who Manages the River?
The Shelburne is managed by the Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment and local river stewardship groups.
Canoeing the Shelburne as part of a loop trip was first popularised in the 1908 book, “The Tent Dwellers”, by Albert Bigelow Paine. In this humorous account, Paine describes a month-long fishing trip with a fishing companion and two Mi’kmaq guides.