KINGS COUNTY “DISASTERS” GREAT AND SMALL (March 23/06)

Since Nova Scotia has a relatively short history compared to European and Asiatic areas, if someone was inclined they could easily produce a comprehensive disaster timeline; that is, a year to year record beginning with the Acadian period of all the storms and other natural disasters that have created havoc and hardship in the province.

The records are there – in history books, in the folklore passed from generation to generation, and since the advent of the Internet, on websites – so a historian would have little difficulty compiling a timeline. The only problem I can see is what to include and what to leave out. Being a coastal province, for example, Nova Scotia has been subjected to innumerable hurricanes and gales since the Acadian period, and all have been disasters of some sort. Chronicling the wind storms alone would demand a lot of effort by a timeliner.

If one were to work on a disaster timeline for Kings County, the question would be where to start. Obviously, the Saxby Gale, that disastrous combination of high winds and high running tides in 1869 would place high in the list of storms that wrecked Kings County and other coastal areas of the province. However, the Nova Scotia potato famine of 1845-1846 hit farmers in Kings County harder than the Saxby Gale and had long lasting consequences up and down the Valley. In Kings County, farmers in Horton township lost 75 percent of the potato crop, in Cornwallis township the loss amounted to 50 percent. Historian L. S. Loomer called the hardship and hunger suffered during the blight years the “worst of such years in recorded history.”

The “year of the frost” in Nova Scotia also rates high on the list of natural disasters that adversely affected Kings County. In 1816 wintry weather – snow, heavy frosts and below freezing temperatures – persisted through most of the summer, destroying crops and bringing near famine conditions to Kings County. Another natural disaster the year before, hordes of mice that destroyed food supplies, was also felt in Kings County.

Many a severe winter blizzard has brought everyday life to a standstill in Kings County, but the most disastrous may have been the “great storm of 1905,” or as it has also been called, “the great blockage.” This was a 21-day storm that began in February and literally tied up the countryside. The areas hardest hit in Kings County were towns, villages and communities that depended on the railway for food and fuel supplies. Only a massive turn out of manpower cleared the railway lines and averted disaster.

I call a bit of nasty weather in 1759 the storm that had an effect on Kings County history. Several years after the expulsion of the Acadians the dykes of the county, left unattended, had deteriorated to the point that they were a disaster waiting to happen. And happen it did. On November 3 a combination of high winds and high tides – which thanks to Ivan Smith I learned is called a perigean syzygy – created a storm surge that broke the dyke walls and flooded land the Acadians had spent generations reclaiming from the Minas Basin.

Farmland in Kings County was in such bad state after the flooding that the Planters petitioned the government for assistance, asking in effect that no more Acadians be deported since they were invaluable in repairing the dykes. It’s generally acknowledged that without the dyke expertise of the Acadians, it would have been years before the fledgeling Planter settlement was stable. In petitioning the government the Planters said that without the Acadians, “many of us cannot continue our improvements, nor plowe our lands nor finish the dykeing still required to secure our lands from salt water.”

Some of the Acadians who laboured on county dykes were later permitted to remain and their descendants can still be found here.

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