EARLY ABOITEAUS – DYKEING THE THREE RIVERS (January 14/00)

In a brief dissertation on early dykes and aboiteaus, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton discusses the various failed attempts to harness the tides of the Minas Basin. Unlike the Acadians, who wisely built their first dykes and aboiteaus upstream where tidal forces were less destructive, the settlers that arrived after the expulsion attempted more ambitious schemes. The result was often poorly placed dykes and aboiteaus that lasted a few seasons before the powerful tides of Minas washed them away.

Eaton mentions, for example, an aboiteau that “was built near Borden’s wharf, between Lower Canard and Habitant.” This aboiteau may have had a short existence. Local historians tell me it was washed out by the tides. When Pickett’s Wharf was constructed in 1845 there was no aboiteau in the area mentioned by Eaton, so it must have existed earlier. The aboiteau’s location is deduced by Eaton’s mention of Borden’s Wharf which appeared to be close by; Borden’s Wharf was built near Pickett’s Wharf on the lower part of the Habitant.

Another attempt at building an aboiteau in this area was later made but it never got beyond the proposal stage. In 1857 a group farmers and merchants saw the advantages in having a permanent port at or near the Pickett’s Wharf site and proposed that an aboiteau be constructed in the area. This was met with great resistance by the merchants and craftsmen of Canning who saw the aboiteau as a threat to their livelihood.

In government records is a letter protesting the proposed aboiteau; the unidentified writer argued that the area already was well-served by the merchants of Canning and the aboiteau was unnecessary. In effect, the letter said that Canning was active in shipbuilding and shipping and had several industries, all of which would be hurt if the aboiteau was constructed. The aboiteau was never built, the Canning protest apparently putting the kibosh to it. In the letter, reference was made to an earlier aboiteau that was built in 1819 at the proposed site before Canning had started to boom (perhaps the ill-fated aboiteau referred to by Eaton).

Another proposal to build a magnificent aboiteau on a greater scale also came to nothing; it was a grand scheme that indicates our ancestors were ambitious and thought big.

Imagine a great sea wall and aboiteau stretching between Kingsport and Long Island across the mouths of the Habitant, Canard and Cornwallis Rivers; a great dyke that would tame the tumultuous tides of Minas Basin at a point where they are the most forceful. As I said, it was a grand scheme, that sounds impossible; if it had been accomplished, the landscape and undoubtedly the environment in this area would be vastly different today.

We know little about the plan to build this grand aboiteau or who was behind it, but it was seriously investigated. An editorial in the Wolfville newspaper, The Acadian, on November 29, 1889, gives us a few details on its scope while railing against the idea.

“We hear a great deal these days about the proposed new dyke between Long Island and Kingsport,” the editorial read. “We are not of those who put any great faith in the matter. It means, if accomplished, a reclaiming of about 6,000 acres of land at a cost of $600,000. This would be as much as the land would be worth if it were at once of equal worth with our average dyke. On the other hand, a large quantity of the reclaimed land will never be of much use.”

There will be a “heavy opposition to the undertaking,” the editorial concluded since the “injuries to be sustained by the adjoining country would more than overbalance the benefits.”

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