WHEN IS A DYKE NOT A DYKE? (July 19/96)

Local writer Eileen Harris called with some interesting comments after the column on aboiteau. Ms. Harris tells me that where she grew up in the eastern end of Kings County, aboiteau was always pronounced “abatoe”, (abba-toe) with even emphasis on the syllables. This was the standard, accepted pronunciation, she said. She had never heard aboiteau spoken with the “R” sound, (ar-ba-toe), which I said was probably the most common usage.

Anyway, arbatoe or abatoe, natives know what we mean when we use the word and this is what counts. What the locals may not know is what people mean when they talk about the dykes. As Ms. Harris pointed out when she called, it’s common for natives to confuse dyke with dyked land, that is, calling the seawalls and reclaimed land behind the walls “the dyke”, and making no distinction between the two.

Correctly, speaking, the dyke is the sea wall that contains rivers and ocean, while the land behind the walls is the dyked lands. So to answer the question posed in the heading of this column, a dyke is not a dyke when it’s the land the walls protect from ocean and river.

As I said, most locals make no distinction between dyke and dyked land. Even farm families who, for generations, have been farming the dykes make no distinction. Esther Clark Wright makes note of this in her wonderful book, Blomidon Rose. “If a neighbour reports that her husband is down on the dyke,” Ms. Wright says, “she probably means that he is haying on the dyked lands, or ploughing or tending the cattle pastured there.”

Ms. Wright notes that only here in this area of the Valley do we generally fail to make a distinction between the dyke and dyked land. Where there are dykes elsewhere in the province, Wright says, the dyked land is generally called marshland.

Growing up within a stone’s throw of the dykes and dyked land, I learned early that “the dyke” meant everything – the wall and the dyked land. When local waterfowl hunters speak of hunting on the dykes, the common meaning is the arable land, not the walls. Marshlands are the wet, swampy areas behind the sea walls. Hunters, and most people in fact make a distinction between marshland and the dykes.

It is my experience that people will occasionally establish a difference between the sea walls and dyked land by referring to the “dyke wall.” I’ve heard people mention bird watching on the dyke wall, walking on the dyke wall and hunting ducks on the dyke wall. People use “dyke wall” only to indicate the section of dyke they are using, however. This usage to me is a clear indication that people take the dyke to mean the sea wall and the dyked land. Why else would they call it the “dyke wall?”

Another distinction rarely made is the difference between the two types of dykes we have here – running dykes and cross dykes. The former “runs” along rivers, by the way, and can be seen on major and minor streams in this area. The latter were generally built across rivers with a gate or aboiteau. Another mystery is why we spell dyke with a “y.” Does it have something to do with the possibility that the ancestors of the Acadians learned the art of dykemaking from the Dutch?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s