WELLINGTON DYKE – AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT (May 16/03)

“Those who have never had an opportunity of inspecting a thing of this kind can form no conception of the size and magnitude of the structure,” an unidentified reporter wrote of the Wellington Dyke in 1825.

The Wellington Dyke undoubtedly was considered an engineering miracle in its time. Built in an era when earth-moving equipment didn’t exist, this “broad and massy” structure was described in the 1825 account as a “vast pile measuring 50 feet in perpendicular height, 120 feet at the base… and extending across the whole bed of the (Canard) river about 300 feet wide.”

This is an eyewitness account. The reporter for the Nova Scotian visited the site and saw for himself what he described as the “noble and exciting example of enterprise, activity and industry” that was Wellington Dyke. While obviously dwarfed by present day engineering projects, from the tone of the newspaper account the Wellington Dyke was looked upon as the marvel of the day in 19th century Nova Scotia.

“Of this great undertaking, which speaks so loudly of the skill and enterprise of the farmers of Cornwallis, no account has yet appeared in our papers,” the reporter noted. With this introduction, the reporter delved into the history of Wellington Dyke, attributing the Acadians with originally conceiving and making the first attempts at controlling the tides in this area.

“It is said that the advantage of this valuable enclosure had been duly estimated by the first settlers of the township, the Acadian French,” the account reads. “And that previous to their being driven from this country, they had commenced the labour of embarking. Indeed some of the older inhabitants yet point out the broken and defaced vestiges of their enterprise.”

From the account, it’s apparent the reporter spent some time at the construction site. “I was one day present and saw the force usually employed, about 100 teams (500 working cattle) and 300 men,” the reporter wrote. “It was a busy and active scene,” the reporter concluded, remarking that the obvious energy put into building the dyke left him indignant about “remarks made by gentlemen of the city about the slothfulness of our farmers.”

Said reporter also dug into the history of the Wellington Dyke, chronicling various attempts to build the sea wall and aboiteau beginning “about the year 1802.” The dyke was almost completed in 1816, the reporter writes, but was “washed away with a fearful rapacity” by the tides and “no effort could save it.”

Two excellent books have been written on the building of the Wellington Dyke, the first by The Advertiser‘s associate editor, Brent Fox, the second by Majorie Whitelaw. This eyewitness account from 1825 is an interesting complement to Fox and Whitelaw. Reading the account was almost like being there when the “skill and enterprise of the farmers of Cornwallis” was being put to the test.

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