CORNWALLIS ABOITEAU WAS NEVER COMPLETED (May 11/01)

It was a grand scheme involving leading citizens of the day and all landholders along the Cornwallis River from Port Williams west to Kentville and several miles beyond. The plan was simple. Remove the bridge spanning the Cornwallis at Port Williams and replace it with a permanent aboiteau, a sea wall that would control the river’s twice daily tides and reclaim many acres of upriver dykeland.

The plan never came to fruition, however, and looking back almost 90 years it is difficult to determine why. Perhaps the obvious answer is that when costs were determined, the acreage reclaimed along the Cornwallis wouldn’t be enough to make building an aboiteau worthwhile. A simpler, perhaps less costly alternative to controlling the Cornwallis tides was available. Looking upriver from the bridge at Port Williams you can see what that alternative was – the running dykes.

But let’s look at that old proposal to tame the Cornwallis. In government records, the sessional papers of the General Assembly for 1912, there is an “Act to Incorporate the Cornwallis Aboiteau Company” that was passed on the third of May. Named as officers of the Company were Amos N. Griffen, Burpee L. Bishop, Thomas J. Borden, Clayton C. Cogswell, Eugene Roy, Ernest H. Johnson, Leonard Bishop, Adelbert Bishop and Frederick S. Mitchell, who are noted as being residents of Kings County.

The Act stated the “general object and purpose” of the Cornwallis Aboiteau Company, which was the “building and construction of an aboiteau across the Cornwallis River west of the present bridge at Port Williams… and the charge and maintenance of the same after the construction thereof shall be completed.”

Translating the official legalese of the Act, we learn that the officers of the newly incorporated Company and all landowners on the river would jointly have ownership of the aboiteau. “There shall be no stockholders as such,” the sessional records read, spelling out that the officers named and “proprietors for the time being of marsh, dyked marsh meadow and swamp lands on either side” of the Cornwallis would be “members of the Company.”

The construction of an aboiteau on the Cornwallis at Port Williams was apparently expected to improve upriver properties, explaining why all landowners in this area were included in the Act of Incorporation. In fact, a lengthy stretch of the river, about seven to eight miles, is mentioned in the sessional records as being affected by construction of the aboiteau; this stretch is described as running from the Port Williams bridge “to the ‘Lovett Bridge’ so called, being a bridge across the said river some four miles west of Kentville.”

The sessional records also make it clear that the aboiteau was expected to replace the bridge at Port Williams. The Act noted that “if the construction of the said aboiteau can be of such design as shall permit a public highway over the said river, the directors shall have power to construct the said aboiteau with such public highway thereon.”

Expecting that the “said aboiteau” (I like that term) would include a public highway, the Act of Incorporation made certain that taxpayer’s dollars would be used in its construction. “If in such case it shall appear that the said highway (across the aboiteau) would obviate the necessity of the further continuance of the Port Williams bridge… the Governor-in-Council may grant such assistance towards the construction of the said aboiteau.”

Even with public funds and the financial obligations of Cornwallis River landholders guaranteed by the Act, the aboiteau was never constructed. Perhaps as I suggested, a system of running dykes on the Cornwallis was a better alternative.

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