The NICHOLSONs of Spryfield, Halifax County, Nova Scotia, Canada; Keepers of the Dam(s)

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Nova Scotia NICHOLSONs of Spryfield

The NICHOLSONs of Spryfield, Halifax County, Nova Scotia, Canada

Scottish Nicholson Crest

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[ Descendants of William NICHOLSON of Spryfield, Halifax County, Nova Scotia ]
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This page was last updated Sunday, September 21, 2003 7:43 PM CT
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The Story of the Nicholsons of Spryfield

Thank you to Iris V. Shea of the Mainland South Heritage Society and Karl A. Robinson for information contained on this page.

The NICHOLSONs of Spryfield¹, Halifax County, Nova Scotia were in charge of the water supply for the City of Halifax for almost a century, starting in 1848 when the dam at Long Lake was built. William Nicholson, Sr. was probably the first Dam Keeper. There were Nicholsons associated with the dam until World War II. William’s sons, George and Charles Jonah, were Keepers of the Dam in subsequent years. Charles Jonah was at the Chain Lakes Dam as caretaker until his death on September 07, 1923, and George was at Spryfield (Long Lake) as caretaker. Charles Jonah was also a cabinetmaker and carpenter and seemed to follow that trade until he became Keeper of the Dam at Chain Lakes. George Hartlen, farther-in-law of Agnes Nicholson (granddaughter of William Nicholson, Sr.), was the Keeper of the Dam at Spruce Hill Lake.

Chain Lake Dam Charles Jonah’s son, Charles Edward, took over as caretaker at Chain Lakes Dam after his father had the job for 40 years, and George’s son, Charles W.² continued as the Keeper of Long Lake in Spryfield until the duty was taken over by the military in response to a perceived sabotage threat in circa 1940. In the 1930s, Charles W., also looked after Spruce Hill Lake and would go on horseback to take the water samples. He was living in a small cottage about ¼ mile from the Spryfield site at the time of his death in 1961.

City workers now look after the water supply¹. They check for the buildup of any algae, or anything that might affect the quality of the water. No one person is stationed at the site any more. The dams on the lakes where the Nicholsons worked, are no longer part of the Halifax water supply, but Chain Lake is still protected by the city, in case it ever has to be used as a backup. There is a “pump house” there. If you get to Halifax for a visit, there is still evidence of the dam and the operation that was carried out at the Spruce Hill site, which the Hartlens managed. The Keeper had to do periodic checks of the water, and would open the dam to allow water out, if the lake became too high. Nobody was permitted to use those lakes for swimming. Long Lake, where the original Nicholson family lived, was no longer used as “watershed” (that’s the term they used for the lakes that were used to supply Halifax with water) after 1965-66. There were pipelines built as early as 1848, and so the Keeper would have to inspect them as well for damage or leaks.

Ted Nicholson, August 1947 with his plumbing truck My grandfather, Edgar Wellesley “Ted” Nicholson, grandson of Charles Jonah, was a plumber all his life in Woburn, Massachusetts, immigrating in 1906 from Halifax, Nova Scotia. During 1943³, he worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 20 miles west of Knoxville, for Stone & Webster Engineering Corp. on the Tennessee Valley Project; a project that covered about 41,000 square miles, including parts of 7 states, and constructed 27 dams in all. He was employed as a piping supervisor in the construction of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where “the wartime role of the Laboratory was to find a way to produce and separate gram quantities of plutonium for use in the development of the bomb.” Although he was not a “Keeper of the Dam,” my grandfather continued in the “family business” by helping to build the dams of the TVA.

¹Iris V. Shea, Mainland South Heritage Society
²Karl A. Robinson
³ Edgar Wellesley Nicholson, Letter to the Editor, James D. Haggerty of the Woburn Daily Times, October 12, 1943
Photo of dam courtesy of Gerry MacLeod
Photo of Ted Nicholson courtesy of William E. Nicholson

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