RUM AND SWEAT – BUILDING THE WELLINGTON DYKE (February 18/00)

The Acadians built the first dykes and aboiteaus in Hants and Kings County, a fact well documented in history books.

But what the history books don’t tell you is that after the expulsion, the people who came here built dykes and aboiteaus on an even grander scale than the Acadians. One example is the Wellington Dyke, a magnificent sea wall and aboiteau constructed by the Planters over a five, ten year period. Completed in 1812 and nearly a mile long, the Wellington Dyke stands guard over some 3,000 acres of prime agricultural land, in effect determining the agrarian character of eastern Kings County.

A number of papers and books have been written on the Wellington Dyke and the dykes of the Acadians; the most definitive work, in my opinion, is a study by Advertiser columnist Brent Fox. A history major while attending Acadia University, Fox completed his Masters degree in 1985. Later, while employed at the Old Kings Courthouse Museum as a researcher, Fox wrote a history of the Wellington Dyke and the Canard River dyke system. His bound manuscript was available for a time at the Museum but it’s nearly impossible to purchase a copy today.

Fox’s work on the Wellington Dyke appropriately begins with the Acadians. The Acadians began dykeing on a modest scale, their first attempts taking place well up the Canard River at Steam Mill. Gradually moving downstream, the Acadians built a second aboiteau where the highway crosses the Canard River at Upper Dyke; a third aboiteau was constructed near the highway bridge on Middle Dyke Road. Moving downriver again, the Acadians placed a fourth aboiteau in the vicinity of the bridge on the highway running between Port Williams and Canning.

By the time of the expulsion the Acadians had reclaimed nearly 2000 acres of land from the sea and were undoubtedly eyeing the area near the mouth of the Canard River. Summing up the achievement of the Acadians, Fox writes that they had claimed almost two-thirds of the Canard River flood plain from the sea. This area, Fox said, remains “the only memorial to the miracles worked by those anonymous farming folk.”

Spurred on by the example set by the Acadians, the Planters were to perform another miracle, the building of the Wellington Dyke. The Planters began serious discussions on building a great dyke and aboiteau on the Canard River in 1809. Tenders were let three years later but actual work didn’t begin until 1817. The Wellington Dyke was completed in 1825 after “fifteen years of trial, error, washed away materials, hard toil and hitherto unheard of expenses.”

Fox documents the Planters’ struggle to complete the Wellington Dyke from the first meeting of dykeholders in 1809 to the controversy over surveying expenses at the Dyke’s completion. A great storm with high tides washed out a partially completed dyke in 1822, and there were periods when work lagged because the labour force was called away to maintain and repair the old Acadian dykes.

Wellington Dyke was built in an age when there was no machinery and the tons of material that went into it were moved by man and beast. It can be said, literally, that Wellington Dyke was built with rum and sweat. Fox has amusing references to the amount of rum required to grease the labour force. “Rum was included among the many necessities during construction” Fox writes. “The body of dykeland proprietors had to provide (rum) to the workers, usually twice a day.”

The New Englanders who became Cornwallis Planters had inherited a solid tradition of rum consumption, Fox writes, a habit “dutifully carried on in Kings County… on the dykes.”

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