Along the Burdon Canal, and the Camel Back Bridge, long ago
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July 3, 2022

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Along the Burdon Canal, and the Camel Back Bridge, long ago

The Burdon Canal Nature Reserve in Belize is a low-lying basin, comprising the backswamps of the Belize River/Haulover Creek delta. It is permanently waterlogged, with a gradient of saline to fresh water arising from regular tidal inundation at the seaward fringe and freshwater flooding from inland. During the dry season, parts of the reserve may become hypersaline. The site's elevation is generally sea level, but rises to approximately 4 ft (1.2 m) along river banks. It receives approximately 75 inches (1,900 mm) to 80 inches (2,000 mm) of rain per year. The tide in the Canal is semi-diurnal, and the water level at the Canal Bridge lags about 2-3 hours behind the centre of Belize City.

Located at 6 miles on the George Price Highway. The man made Burdon Canal starts from its junction with the Sibun River some 6.3 miles from Belize City. The canal was named after the man who was Governor of British Honduras, Sir John Adler Burdon (1925 and 1932). He also wrote the "Brief Sketch of British Honduras." The canal was originally built in the 1920ís with the use of a grab dredge. The surveying and engineering layout was largely done by a Scottish engineer by the name of Cuthbert Nairn Fraser. He was an engineer who came to Belize and laid a lot of the old logging railways. He was Neil Fraser's dad. The prisoners worked on the canal as well.

The canal is 20 feet wide and 5 1/2 feet deep. The main purpose of the first 1.5 miles starting at the Sibun River was to obtain material to create a bed for a road to be used to go to El Cayo. The second was to drain the swamp outside of the city. A benefit that was realized after the construction was that farmers from the Manatee and Sibun areas were able to use it as a safer alternative route to bring their crops to market. The route to the Belize City market was via Sibun & Manatee Bar. It was a shorter route from the Haulover Creek to the sea without having to go all the way into and around Belize City. The remains of the dredge that dug the canal are on the bank of the Haulover Creek at the mouth of the canal. It was a steam dredge so the fuel (wood & water) was available on site.

We use this water way on the way to Northern Manatee Lagoon. The bars at Sibun and Manatee were more dangerous to pass especially for smaller boats. Sudden storms via the Sea Route caused a lot of loss (life & produce). These days, the canal still helps with drainage, but it is used more as a tourist attraction where there is a wealth of flora and fauna.

Note the old wooden bridge on the left. This was the Camel Back Bridge that spanned the Burden Canal below the present one, by Jones Lagoon. The Cayo Road passed near Schnarr Beach and passed where the New Cemmetery is located by Mile 7 1/2. The old trail is still there. Some of the pilings for this bridge are still in place. The Camel Back Bridge burned down.

There is a marcopolo of a man who pioneered distribution of Belikin n Coca Cola from the early 1980s through Burdon Canal to Gales Point, Manatee. His name is Mr Gentle. Chicago Slim had a house at the mouth by Belama.

Benjamin E Bul: Way back in the mid 90's I personally drove an Avon Sea Rider up Burdon Canal through those thick Mangrove. Lovely scenery. Now when I got in the lagoon prior to reaching Gales Point Manatee it was drama for me. There existed shoals but when you have good crew, Seamen, you have all you need. We made it through. Our return was by the coast which then was riding a bit rough due to sea condition. My first and last experience. And yes good people live there. God bless.

Douglas Bowen: When the service men returned from WW1 they came back to Belize and there were no jobs for them. In an effort to spur the workforce, the new governor Sir John Burdon commissioned the building of the canal. The crown agents responsible for works in the colonies chose the location because in the surveys that were conducted, it showed the natural propensity to a ďshallow stream running in that general location out to the seaĒ. It may have been the remnants of a prehistoric canal. When it was dug, it stopped at the Haulover creek, but if it had continued to the sea, it would have crossed into what today is around Belama in the area around where Luke Espatís North End Estates is located (and we can now see the difficult sub structures in that area causing all those homes to sink) and across the northern highway to around where the current Mehiaís Construction is located. Note that in that area the northern Highway has a difficult substructure also causing the highway to always be sinking despite what is done in that area. I can recall that from I was a young man going to my dadís farm in Ladyville when the road was just a single lane with passing bays, the road in that area was alway waved. A more recent member of crown agents gave me this piece of history and said that when the first Burton Bridge at 5 miles on the western highway was being built, it was a challenge because the crown agents contractors were bringing in large boulders from Gracie Rock quarry for the approaches of the bridge and a large quantity was required because the seismic test showed no solid substructure in which to make the approaches of the bridge. Donít know all the accuracy of all of this, just repeating what was told to me by an old senior crown agent engineer.

Marguerite Miles: The area that crosses to the where the sinking houses are was the natural area for water to flow. That area is very deep with a form of mulch and a under ground flow of water. It will always continue to sink. They need to see how the roads tbrough the everglades were built or they can put the road back to the other side of the highway which would bring it back to the new airport bridge.

Alan Usher: There was a wooden bridge nearer to Jones lagoon that crossed to the exServices area where the Homeland Security cemetery is today. When the new bridge (now the abandoned bridge north of the recent new bridge) was built the wooden one was destroyed and the road fell into disuse. The exServices never worked the area as it was either unsuited for agriculture or swampy.

Suzette Zayden: Itís a man made canal built under Governor Burdonís tenure to connect Belize River to Sibun river in order to provide an inland route between Belize city and Stann creek (presumably to aid commerce). This way boats could travel the calmer rivers rather than travel via the sea and bigger waves. I believe the new government complex being built on the road between Chetumal st. Bridge and the George Price highway will end with a promenade overlooking the Burdon canal.

Photograph by Avery

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