THE STORY OF A 900-YEAR-OLD PINE TREE (February 20/98)

Farmer, author, agricultural pioneer, historical researcher, Mason, teacher: People will remember the late Ernest Eaton in these and other capacities but he was probably best known in the Annapolis Valley as an amateur historian. Mr. Eaton had a lifelong interest in the history of this region and Kings County in particular, devoting his retirement years to researching the Acadian period.

I had the honour of knowing Mr. Eaton personally and had many long talks with him over a 30-year-period. Eaton amazed me again and again with his detailed, intimate knowledge of the dykelands and Acadians and I regret that I hadn’t recorded our conversations.

Recently I heard an Ernest Eaton story and it illustrates his persistence when it came to researching. The story, told to me by a local history buff, goes that workers ditching a piece of Eaton’s dykeland near the Canard River uncovered a massive pine log. Mr. Eaton determined that the log came from an ancient forest now covered by the waters of the Minas Basin. Based on several factors, which are mentioned below, Eaton estimated the age of the pine log to be about 1,500 years.

Mr. Eaton donated a large piece of the pine – perfectly preserved from being buried in fine silt – to the Kings Historical Society. The plaque accompanying it mentions the ancient forest, points out an inaccuracy in local lore regarding the property where the pine was found, and explains Mr. Eaton’s reasoning on determining its age.

“This specimen collected in 1975,” the plaque reads, “was one of many encountered when opening a drainage canal at Upper Canard (on land) then owned by Mr. Kenneth L. Ells.

“It is estimated that the land surface must have at least 10 ft. higher than at present to have matured a forest of this size. The land in question was reclaimed from the sea by the Acadians in 1755, or some 300 years ago. The tree has about 200 annual rings. Adding these three periods together, we have an estimated age of not less than 1,500 years for these trees.”

Mr. Eaton’s estimate of the pine’s age was also based on another factor mentioned in the plaque – evidence that the sea in the Minas Basin has been submerging land at the rate of one foot per century. Mr. Eaton apparently determined where the Acadians started their original dyke work and factoring in the rate of rise of the sea, concluded that a pine forest once stood where the log was unearthed.

Knowing the factors involved, this is a reasonable estimate. However, there is a P.S. to the pine log tale. I’ve been told that a piece of the pine tree was sent to Ottawa for carbon dating. This procedure indicated that the pine tree once stood in a forest with others of its kind some 900 years ago. From what I’ve read, carbon dating is not a precise science and is often off the mark by two, three and four hundred years. Mr. Eaton’s educated guess of the pine log’s age is likely the most accurate estimate.

Where Were They?

An ad in a 1902 directory indicates that H. S. Dodge once ran a dry goods store on Island Road in Kentville. And in 1933 Kentville had a Bell-Air Terrace. Island Road and Bell-Air Terrace as name places have disappeared but someone might know where they were. Any input a reader might have would be appreciated.

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