The Wellington Dyke

The Wellington Dyke
Wellington Dyke road, Starrs Point
August 2003

Most of these pictures were taken while I was walking along the top of the dyke (Phil.)

Land inside the dyke

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Land outside the dyke (at low tide)

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THE REGISTER, July 22, 1981

Building the Wellington Dyke

Recalling the labor of 1802

by Wendy Elliott

While on vacation this week, I wanted to pass on the following account of the construction in 1802 of the original Wellington Dyke at Lower Canard. This description was first published in 1825 in The Nova Scotia, Joe Howe’s newspaper.

The writer, whose report on the building of the dyke from Canard to Starr’s Point is eye witness, details work which is a monument to the long gone farmers of the area.

This embankment shuts out from the tide that fine stretch of marsh comprising abut 700 acres of the finest quality, and capable of the highest cultivation, which lies between the main dyke and the mouth of the river Canar. It is said that the advantage of this valuable enclosure had been duly estimated by the first settlers of the township – I mean the Acadian French: and that previous to their being driven from this country they had commenced the labor of embarking. Indeed some of the older inhabitants yet point out the broken and defaced vestiges of their enterprise. Causes however, which it is idle here to detail, put a stop to their labors – change of government gave an insecurity to their property – and driven at length from the province the work was necessarily abandoned.

For many years the settlers upon the banks of the river Canar either remained insensible to the riches within their grasp, or too indolent to secure them. About the year 1802 however – about forty years from the expulsion of the French – they gathered some public spirit, and determined to recommence the undertaking. This second attempt was equally unsuccessful with the first and after a few feeble and ill directed efforts was a second time abandoned. It again slept till the year 1816, when a meeting of the proprietors was called; and there, after some deliberation, it was determined to begin the present dyke. The work was immediately commenced under the superintendence of two or three of the more active and intelligent – running dyke was thrown up – and the whole proceeded in with the greatest industry and dispatch, till the Abbateau was raised to a level with the tide, and so nearly completed that with but a few days labor it was expected to shut it out entirely. At this very moment however when their point was so nearly gained an accident occurred, which frustrated all their hopes. One day when the tide was out it was with incredible labor, and abbateau was completed, which has since stood, and bids fair to satisfy every hope of its stability.

Those who have never had an opportunity of inspecting a thing of this kind can form no conception of the size and magnitude of the structure. Imagine a vast pile measuring 50 feet in perpendicular height – 120 feet at the base, gradually narrowing at an angle of about 10 degrees till it reaches the top; and extending across the whole bed of the river about 300 feet wide; and you will have some idea of its broad and massy dimensions. I was one day present and saw the force usually employed – about 100 teams (500 working cattle) and 300 men. It was a busy and active scene, and looking upon it I could not help feeling some indignation at the remarks which are sometimes made by gentlemen of the city, about the slothfulness of our farmers. Here was ocular demonstration – a noble and exciting example of enterprise, activity and industry – it taught me a useful lesson, and I have ever been inclined since to defend the farmers of Cornwallis from any charge of idleness in which the good folks in town so often indulge.

The whole work will cost about 15000 pounds in real value – the best quality of land will come to the proprietors at 40 pounds – the second at 30 pounds per acre.

Some improvements however are yet to be added and a petition has been prepared for the House of observed that upon the south side of the abbateau and close to the bank of the river, the water above had forced a leak through the main body of the work; anxiety now filled every one – no effort could save it – and before half an hour the violence of the water washed away with a fearful rapidity the complete side of the abbateau, and left the other a shattered and disfigured monument of their enterprise. This happened during the course of the summer of 1822 and at this time the expenditure of labor was equal to the nominal sum of 12000 pounds.

Although many of the proprietors lost heart at this inauspicious event and would have relinquished the scheme as utterly hopeless some of the leading men of the County, stepped forward, and recommended a renewal of their efforts – hope was again awakened and accordingly on the same summer the work was recommended – continued during the course of this – and towards the end of last September Assembly begging some legislative assistance. I have every confidence in the liberality of the House for if ever there was a public work which deserved the attention of the Legislature and was worthy their favorable consideration it is the Wellington Dyke of Cornwallis.

Anxious to make the information relative to this great work accurate, we have made inquiry and from a leading gentleman of that Township now in town have been kindly favored with the following particulars – The foundation of the abbateau to the Wellington Dyke which for several years past has been building across Canar river is 300 feet which is the breadth in the Channel of the river – the materials with which it has been erected are brush, stone, timber, marsh sods, and these fastened together with rickets.

The body of the Dyke or abbateau is bound up in the middle of the foundation 100 feet wide. The sluice is 100 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 4 feet high, with two divisions made of solid timber, twelve inches thick, covered first with two inch plank then with timber six inches thick.

There have been used in the said dyke 9,778 logs of birch, 18, 36 loads of poles, 12 feet. long, 21,001 securing poles from 15 to 30 ft. long, 71,756 pickets from 8 to 16 ft. long, 15,141 loads of stone, contracted for and brought on by the load, besides thousands which it may justly be said were brought on in the days works.