Where did the Acadians first start dykeing in Kings County?
Former Advertiser editor Brent Fox, who in my opinion wrote the definitive history on building the Wellington Dyke, found that some of the earliest dykes and aboiteaux in this region were built by the Acadians on the upper Canard River. One of the sites mentioned by Fox is an area at the head of the Canard River, in Steam Mill Village near the northeast edge of Camp Aldershot. If I recall correctly a conversation I had with Mr. Fox, I believe he told me an aboiteau was constructed approximately where the railway bridge of the old Cornwallis Valley Railway would eventually span the Canard River.
Fox writes that “this first Canard aboiteau” was later abandoned and another was built farther down river. Fox says that this aboiteau was constructed “where the bridge stands on the road (Highway 341) between present day Kentville and Upper Dyke Village.”
In fact, as Fox points out, most of the area around the head of the Canard River and near Upper Dyke Village was dyked early on by the Acadians. In one area you can even see remnants of the early dykeing. A few years ago John Newcombe pointed out a site just above where a Canard River tributary crosses under Highway 341 and Newcombe Branch Road. The outline of an early aboiteau is visible there and Mr. Newcombe believes it was one of the very first constructed here by the Acadians.
All of this is most interesting. Here we have some historic sites that practically are ignored or not treated with any importance when it comes to county history. In Steam Mill Village and in Upper Dyke, Highway 341 (or Canard Street as it is better known) runs through a historic area. Beginning around Steam Mill and then downstream all along the Canard River, and up many of the Canard River tributaries, the Acadians built a series of aboiteaux and running dykes. The dykeland acreage the Acadians reclaimed along the Canard River nearly equals the dykeland acreage in Grand Pre. Brent Fox writes that the Acadians began building aboiteaux on the Canard River in the early 1680s, at about the same time they began reclaiming marshland in Grand Pre.
Emphasizing what I wrote above, Brent Fox says in his Wellington Dyke book that “strangely, these Acadians and their work (on the Canard River) have been ignored (while) the running dyke systems of Grand Pre have become well-known. Little has been written about the cross-dyke or aboiteau systems on the Canard River.”
Not only has little been written but little has been celebrated about the achievements of the Acadians along the Canard River. These achievements resulted in the area along the Canard River becoming one of the largest Acadian settlements in western Nova Scotia. I’ll let Brent Fox have some final words on this: “Of the 2,700 or so inhabitants of Minas (as this area was generally known) at the time of the deportation, perhaps half of them lived in Canard.”
This fact alone emphasizes that those long ago efforts of the Acadians who successfully conquered the Canard River were significant, to say the least. The Planters inherited these dykes and expanded on them, another historical fact that’s rarely acknowledged.