AN ACADIAN/PLANTER ABOITEAU IN KENTVILLE (May 28/13)

Two events, one of major importance taking place in 1995, the other a recent discovery that seemed insignificant at first, may be related.

In 1995, the Terry-Young house at 229 Main Street in Kentville was designated a heritage property.  About 200 years old, the house may have been built on an Acadian cellar.  Eaton’s history of Kings County mentions the Acadian cellar on which the house stands; this to me suggests the possibility Kentville was the site of other Acadian homesteads.

The other event was discovery this spring of an object protruding from the claylike banks of the Cornwallis River in Kentville.  Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury noticed the object while walking in Miner Marsh and decided to investigate.  “Something caught my eye sticking out of the bank on the opposite side of the river from the marsh,” Stokesbury wrote in an email.  “I finally took my camera and got some pictures.  It looks like an aboiteau to me.”

When I looked at the photographs Stokesbury emailed me, my first impression was the same as hers – that I was looking at an aboiteau sluice.  An aboiteau is a sluice with a one-way valve the Acadians used to prevent flooding of land they dyked.  The aboiteau allows water to drain from dyked fields but prevents tidewater from flooding them.

Intrigued by photographs of what appeared to be the remains of an aboiteau sluice, I decided to take a closer look at it.  I walked down the side of the river the sluice was on and when I got close I was surprised by what I found. First of all, the object is an old sluice of the type once commonly used by the Acadians to make an aboiteau functional.  The sluice appears to have been handmade, hewed out apparently from a log.  This alone would indicate it is old, but how old it is difficult to say.

Secondly, the sluice protrudes from the bank of the river about a meter below ground level, meaning it has to have been buried for a long time, perhaps since the Acadian or Planter period.  The ground nearby is really marshy, the type of tide-flooded marsh the Acadians would have tried to reclaim by putting in dykes and aboiteaus.

Now, as for the connection between the Terry-Young property and the old sluice, let’s speculate that the house confirms an Acadian presence in what is now the town of Kentville.  The marshy area where the sluice was discovered isn’t far from the Terry-Young house.  If Acadians had settled in this area and had decided to reclaim land from the tides, the nearby marshy area was a logical place to start.  Evidence of this dykeing should show up from time to time and it has with discovery of the old sluice.

There’s more to the story.

The marshy land where the sluice protrudes from the banks of the Cornwallis River is owned by Jim and Sally Haverstock; part of this marshy land is also the property of the town of Kentville.   The Haverstock land, which is behind their Chestnut Place house, is bordered on the east side by Mill Brook and on the north by the Cornwallis River.  Jim Haverstock discovered an old aboiteau on Mill Brook decades ago and you can still see the ancient trough jutting from the bank.  There’s also the remains of an old dyke on this property, which is separate from the running dyke constructed and maintained by the Department of Agriculture.

The Haverstock meadow was cattle pasture at least a century ago.  The late Garth Calkin recalled when he was boy herding cattle on the meadow, then known as the Calkin Meadow, about a hundred years ago.  This land was once part of a Planter grant.  On February 19, 1766, Jonathan Darrow received a grant of 500 acres, land Arthur W. H. Eaton mentions in his county history as including some of downtown Kentville.   About six months later, Darrow sold the land to James Fillis and Joseph Pierce. Fillis farmed his land, part of which today is the town’s business section. According to Eaton, Fillis built a house smack in the town’s business district, about where Centre Square is today.

To sum up, from what Eaton has to say, the area in and around downtown Kentville was farmable land we can speculate would have interested the Acadians.  Furthermore, the aboiteau on Mill Brook discovered by Jim Haverstock, and the aboiteau sluice found recently by Bria Stokesbury indicate the area close by the town’s business section was dyked and at least two aboiteaus were constructed.  We also know, from the Terry-Young house, that Acadians once lived close to this land.

Early attempts definitely were made on the Haverstock/town property to reclaim tidal marsh from the Cornwallis River; but was it Acadians or Planters who were responsible?   Unless further investigations are made in that triangle of land formed by the Cornwallis River and Mill Brook we may never know.

aboiteau sluice

This old aboiteau sluice, recently discovered jutting from the banks of the Cornwallis River, suggests either Acadians or Planters dyked land in the town of Kentville. (E. Coleman)

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