DROUGHTS, NATURAL DISASTERS NOT UNCOMMON (July 23/99)

When 15 millimeters of rain fell on the second weekend in July, there was hope that the long spell of dry weather was over. A few days later newspapers were calling the rainfall a “drop in the bucket” and predicting possible disaster for berry and apple crops. And there was talk that the second dry season in a row was a portent of drastic climatic changes.

While it is of little or no consolation for drought-stricken Annapolis valley farmers, droughts and other natural disasters are not uncommon in the province. Just before the expulsion of the Acadians, for example, a major forest fire destroyed vast areas of woodland. Herbin and other historical writers refer to periods of drought and ravaging fires during the Acadian period.

There are at least two references to decimating forest fires in A Natural History of Kings County that likely occurred during drought conditions. In Kings County a fire destroyed old timber grow in the Acadian period. Another fire of province-wide proportions in the early 1900s contributed to the decline and eventual extinction of the caribou herd.

A few years after the Acadians were deported a storm, what we’d call a hurricane today, destroyed many of the dykes in this area, a set back for the fledgling Planter colony. In 1815 Nova Scotia farmers were nearly wiped out by a province-wide plague of mice. Through spring, summer and fall, hordes of mice swept through vast areas of the province, eating everything edible in their path. Only the advent of cold weather stopped what likely would have been the greatest natural disaster to strike Nova Scotia since it was first settled by Europeans.

In September 1930, after a summer of no rain, emergency conditions were declared in the Annapolis Valley. “Water famine becomes severe,” the Advertiser said in the headline to its drought story. Hardest hit were towns up and down the Valley which were running out of water.

“The past months of drought … has exacted its toll throughout the provincial towns, causing strict economy in the use of water,” the Advertiser said. Berwick, Canning and Wolfville are “virtually without water,” the Advertiser reported, warning readers that inspections would be made to ensure that no one used water to wash cars, windows “and the like.” There was no mention in the Advertiser story on the state of agriculture in the Valley during the drought. If town reservoirs were low due to lack of rain, the 1930 drought must have hurt farmers as much then as the dry spell is today. Another case of history repeating itself.

Mystery Solved

In a recent column on the discovery of a stone documenting the 1831 schooner Caroline tragedy, I observed that a final mystery remains:

When and by who was the memorial plaque erected on the Bay of Fundy shore.

Thanks to a reader who suggested that the Leonard Sarsfield family of North Medford might have been involved with placing the plaque, this mystery has been solved. The Sarsfields tell me that the idea for the plaque originated with the late John Bigelow. Mr. Bigelow did the research on the Caroline and had the plaque prepared. Two years ago, with the assistance of Leonard Sarsfield and Tom Taylor, Mr. Bigelow placed the plaque in the cove where the Caroline washed ashore.

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