From Canard Street north of the Canard River system and from Church Street on the south side, you can look upon hundreds of acres of farm fields with ricks, aboiteaux, farm roads, cross dykes, running dykes and well travelled highways.
This varied series of dyked fields, which start in Steam Mill Village and run down to Lower Canard, didn’t exist at one time. Former dyke warden Jim Borden points out that when the Acadians arrived in Kings County, all of this land was flooded twice daily by the Minas Basin tides.
“Before the Acadians started dykeing on the Canard River,” Borden said, “the tides pushed up right to North Aldershot Road.” In effect, twice a day the Canard dykes became a massive tidal lake that ocean going ships could easily sail into, he said. If you’re familiar with the dykes at all this is difficult to perceive. But this is the picture Borden painted in a recent lecture (March 26) at the Kings County Museum. Not only that, Borden said, by the time the Acadians arrived, aeons of twice daily tides had left a flood plain covered in rich soil “with no stones in most places for a depth of at least 25 feet.”
The Acadians arrived in Kings County around 1680, a few families moving up from Port Royal to settle at Grand Pre and along the Canard River. The Acadians immediately recognised the agricultural potential of the floodplain, Borden said, and soon after they arrived here, dyking began along the Canard River.
“The first dykes were started on a stream running into the Canard River from the area behind Blueberry Acres,” Borden said in effect. “Then the Acadians began dyking right on the Canard River, starting in Steam Mill. They then moved downstream, constructing a dyke and aboiteau where Middle Dyke Road now crosses the Canard River. The next major dyke was built on the river just below Jawbone Corner, about where the highway crosses the Canard.”
The Acadians likely intended to dyke the entire Canard River system, Borden said, but their work ended with the expulsion of 1755. However, dyking continued after the Planters and other settlers arrived in this area, culminating after many stops and starts with completion of the Wellington Dyke in 1825. Borden noted that 44,000 acres are protected by dykes in the province, much of it started by the Acadians; of this about 9,200 acres of dyked land exist in Kings County, a heritage he said that can be traced back to the Acadians.
The sites of the early dyking in Kings County are well known, Borden said. He lamented that “no markers have ever been posted to identify these historical sites and this should be done.” No comprehensive history of the Canard dykes existed either until Borden and former dyke warden Charlie Eaves promoted the idea of producing one around 1970. This eventually was produced and published in 1985. Borden credited former Advertiser editor Brent Fox for completing the huge task of researching and writing the history. At the time Fox was majoring in history at Acadia University and working as a summer student at the Kings County Museum.
Summing up his talk on the Canard River dykes, Borden said that early on they were used by the Acadians and Planters to pasture cattle and grow a few crops. “Nowadays the dykes are not used as pasture and all types of crops are grown there,” he said. “Many of the old dykes are now highways.”