The Canard River dyke system has been in existence in one form or another for more than 300 years, Advertiser columnist Brent Fox said in a November talk at the Kings Historical Society. But while the Canard dykes have a “secure future as a living, working artefact of our heritage and agricultural industry,” Fox said we often seem unaware of their existence and their impact on this area.
Fox noted that we take many of our local roads for granted, not realising they resulted from the dykeing work of the Acadians. “We take Highway 359 to Hall’s Harbour for granted; and Highway 341 to Upper Dyke, the Middle Dyke road between Chipman’s Corner and Upper Canard, Highway 358 between Port Williams… and Canning, and the road between Starr’s Point and Lower Canard,” he said.
All of these highways either pass over or near the aboiteaux and cross dykes “the Acadian built more than a quarter of a millennium ago.”
Fox suggested there should be interpretation sites on the roads over the Canard dykelands. Such sites would define our Acadian heritage and the Acadian influence on our landscape and environment.
In his address, Fox traced the history of the Canard River system from the time of the Acadians. “The Acadians constructed the first dykes on the system across Sheffield Creek (a tributary flowing in from the north) and across the Canard River itself,” he said. “The system, culminating with the Wellington Dyke at the mouth of the river, is about five or six miles long, extending from north of Starr’s Point to north-east of Camp Aldershot.”
At one time the Canard dykes were a “large tidal marsh or lake, depending on the height of the tide.” Over the years the tides washed valuable soils into the marsh, soils, Fox said, “that would eventually be useful for agriculture once they could be reclaimed.”
The first efforts by the Acadians, who arrived here in the 1680s, included cross dykes “upon which the whole system would be based,” Fox said. “Called aboiteaux, these go across the flow to cut off the tide waters while letting water out at low tide,. They were, in effect, dams, of which the Wellington Dyke is the remaining working vestige.”
In a second phase the Acadians began a more ambitious project on the Canard River in the area we know as Middle dyke road.
“The new Middle Dyke doubled the previous tillable acreage,” Fox said. From the Middle Dyke the Acadians built running dykes that spread east. “On the north bank they bowed quite close to the watercourse. On the south bank they erected a similar… structure, the Long Dyke.
“Behind the Long Dyke the Acadians had a windmill. So prior to the construction of the fourth Canard aboiteau, or Grand Dyke, boats could come up to the windmill to unload grain and onload flour.”
With the Middle Dyke work completed the Acadians began the biggest project of their era, Fox said. This was the Grand Dyke, which when fisnished would protect about two-thirds of the river valley, almost 2,000 acres, from the salt tides.
“All this was done with hand tools,” Fox said, “and one can only imagine the enormous organisation that was needed….”
The remaining structures are a monument to their efforts, Fox concluded.