DYKEING CANARD: EARLY UPS AND DOWNS (November 25/08)

Two books on construction of the great Wellington Dyke on the Canard River have been published. One was written by Brent Fox in 1985 and published by the Kings Historical Society. In 1997, Marjory Whitelaw wrote the second Wellington Dyke book, co-published by Nimbus Publishing Limited and the Nova Scotia Museum.

Both are excellent books, but my favorite is the work by Brent Fox. Brent’s book oozes with the nitty gritty, hands on work of building a dyke which required a lot of sweat and what Fox said were the “essential (black) rum rations.”

As Fox points out in his book, work on what eventually would be called the Wellington Dyke began decades before it was completed in 1825.

Shortly after the Planters arrived to take up the land of the Acadians, major efforts were made to dyke the Canard River; or actually to repair the dykes along the river that had been left untended between the period the Acadians were removed and the Planters arrived several years later.

1760 is usually given as the year the Planters reached Kings County. In 1759 a major storm, combined with high tides, destroyed a lot of the Canard River dykes the Acadians had built. The dykes had been in general disrepair at the time of the storm anyway, and the high tides and heavy winds made further inroads. As Brent Fox explains, the dykes were “already severely weakened by half a decade of a total lack of essential repair and maintenance (and) the aboiteaux was breached, letting in a large amount of sea water.” Nature had indeed played a cruel trick upon these newcomers, the Planters, Fox observed.

When I was last in the Nova Scotia Archives I accessed several documents regarding problems the Planters faced with broken dykes. On file is a letter from acting Governor Belcher to the Board of Trade referring to the breach “made in that of the River Canard in the Township of Cornwallis.” Belcher notes that attempts to restore the dykes were a combined effort of the “inhabitants with their cattle and carriages, together with those hired from Horton at their own expense,” and “provincial troops and French inhabitants.” The Acadians, Belcher said “were best acquainted with work of this kind.”

In another document in the Archives there’s a request by Belcher for financial aid to obtain at least 100 Acadians from different parts of the province to repair the dykes and instruct the settlers on dyke work. But even with the help of the Acadians there were other setbacks. Late in 1760, work on repairing the dykes was stalled once again by natural forces, and had to be put off until the following spring. Also, the provincial governing body was balking at granting funds to repair the dykes. In effect, they reminded settlers that despite damaged dykes, nearly 3000 acres of land were already available for farming.

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