EPIDEMICS, DYKES – READER RESPONSES (December 6/02)

When I wrote about the 1907 smallpox epidemic recently, I asked readers if they would share any memories they might have or pass along stories parents or grandparents told them.

One reader (name withheld on request) sent me a photocopy of an article by Kathleen E. Cogswell, which ran in the Berwick Register in 1990. The reader asked that her name not be used since she felt the article may be copyrighted. Perhaps so since an “all rights reserved” line was tagged at the end of the article. I will say that the article confirms a smallpox outbreak in Kings County in 1907, which apparently was confined to the Mi’kmaq community in Cambridge.

I’m not sure the material in the article can be copyrighted since it comes from records in the Public Archives, which are public property. However, I’ll forgo further mention of the article and tell you about confirmation of the smallpox epidemic in Cambridge from another source.

When she was doing research for her recently published history of Cambridge, Frances Taylor went through sessional paper records housed in the library at Acadia University. In the 1911 papers Ms. Taylor found references to the smallpox epidemic among the Mi’kmaq in Cambridge. When she called in response to my request for information, Ms. Taylor read the following quote from the sessional records:

“Their health was reported as good although an epidemic of smallpox raged among them last winter. Owing to the premises being kept clean, and thorough vaccinations, it was of light form in most cases. No deaths resulted from it. The people were quarantined until it was over.”

Kathleen Cogswell’s article quotes government sources which indicate a smallpox epidemic in “some counties” in 1907, including the Mi’kmaq community in Cambridge. Frances Taylor’s research indicates that an epidemic occurred in 1910. In her book, she also quotes from the memoirs of Mrs. George Webster which point to an epidemic in 1907. Perhaps we can conclude that there was a smallpox outbreak in 1907 and again in 1910.

Kentville marine historian Leon Barron called recently to give me information on the Kingsport dykes, which were mentioned in a letter published last week. Remember the welcome to Kingsport sign on the approach to the village? Barron tells me this stands on a small running dyke. “Near the sign, just to the south of the pavement, there’s an old cellar,” Barron said. “Where the house would have been there’s a little dyke running east; then it turns north. When the road was put through, they cut this dyke out; but if you look at the inshore road you can see the continuation of it.”

Another dyke on a grander scale begins on the west point of Kingsport, which on the (19th century) Church map is called Bass Point, Barron says. Remains of this dyke can be seen by looking west from the point towards the large creek.

On investigating this dyke, Barron found that it was “built up with marsh mud and layers of brush.” All the marsh from the welcome to Kingsport sign to the village of Kingsport was dyked off, Barron says. “It’s all reclaimed land.”

This dyke, from Kingsport to a point close to the present Canning (Habitant) River aboiteau, has a connection with a famous Canadian. Barron was told that the dyke was built and owned by Sir Frederick Borden and he got confirmation of this from a reliable source, Sir Frederick’s offspring.

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