BUILDING DYKE A “RUINOUS ADVENTURE” (October 18/02)

“To be sold at public auction, by the sheriff of the county of Kings county or his deputy, on Wednesday the fifth day of October next,” begins a Sheriff’s sale notice in an August 1825 edition of a Valley newspaper.

I believe it was history buff Leon Barron who gave me a copy of this old Sheriff’s sale notice, which was published in an early Wolfville paper, the Acadian Recorder. The notice advised the public that the land of one John Eaton would be up for auction, said land being described in detail. The land consisted of pasture, upland and woodland, and for the most part was bounded by the Habitant River and Canard Street. Also included was dykeland, over 20 acres that was near the Canard River, all of which was in the Cornwallis township.

The Sheriff’s sale notice was of interest to me because it named some of the old dykes and the nearly forgotten name of a creek that is a Canard River tributary. Also given, by way of identifying the land for sale, were some of the earlier landowners along the Canard River.

In other words, there was quite a bit of history in the legal notice – a lot more than I realised at the time – so I put it in a file under general historical information. The name of the gentleman who was in financial trouble was noted and I assumed he was a descendant of some of the earliest settlers along the Canard River.

I filed away the photocopy of the newspaper notice several years ago, and except for noticing it occasionally while flipping through the file, never gave it another thought. However, it was to come to my attention again when I read a book on the century farms of Nova Scotia.

In 1967, as a centennial project, the Women’s Institute of Nova Scotia published county by county profiles of century farms. I read the book recently and saw that in most cases the history of each farm was written by the current owner. On some farms, the same family had been occupying them since they were built. Kings County, in particular, has a number of farms that have been in the same family for well over a century.

In Upper Canard is the century farm once owned by Ernest L. Eaton. A noted historical researcher, Ernest most likely penned the farm’s history; he wrote that the farm had been in the Eaton family for five generations since being purchased by an ancestor, John Eaton. At one point, Ernest said, the ownership of the property “became temporarily obscure in the general insolvency connected with the building of the Wellington Dyke.”

Something clicked. I remembered the Sheriff’s sale clipping, that the Wellington Dyke had been completed in 1825, the year the Eaton property went up for auction, and wondered if there was a connection.

There are two books on the building of the Wellington Dyke; one is a nicely printed, polished work by Marjorie Whitelaw, published in 1997. Advertiser columnist Brent Fox authored an earlier, down to the nitty-gritty book on the Wellington Dyke, which is out of print but can still be found at the Kings Historical Society museum in Kentville.

Whitelaw and Fox record that landowners in the area affected by the building of the great dyke mortgaged their farms to finance the project. The result was a spate of foreclosures and Sheriff sales late in 1825. For some farmers, Whitelaw wrote, it was a “ruinous adventure.”

One of the casualties of the Wellington Dyke was Ernest Eaton’s ancestor, John. There was a happy ending, however. In the century farm write-up, Ernest tells us that John’s son, Ward, bought the farm “under a Chancery Deed” and it remained with the Eaton family until 1966.

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