Annapolis Basin dykes

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Sometimes a side trip along a dirt road or a trail can lead to interesting adventures and a greater understanding of the history of an area – this path near Port Royal is a good example.

It’s not really a path though – it’s part of a dyke.

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In 1670, the new French governor of Acadie observed the settlements close to Port Royal and wrote, “On these dykes they raise with so little labour large crops of hay, grain and flax, and feed such large herds of fine cattle that an easy means of subsistence is afforded, causing them altogether to neglect the rich upland.”

By the 1680s, Acadians already had half a century’s experience of transforming land in Acadie. The first recorded evidence of dykelands comes from the Port Royal area at the site of the first successful permanent French settlement in North America.

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The technology that the Acadians used to transform wetlands and marshes could not have been simpler: special spades, pitchforks, axes, and hollowed-out tree trunks. Much more important than the tools was the ingenuity of the people to read the natural drainage systems of the marshes and then to build dykes that channeled the flow of those creeks in only one direction, discharging into the sea.

One element of the Acadians’ success was to use sod cut from the original wetlands in their earthen dykes. In a process similar to peat extraction in western Europe, special spades were used to cut bricks of sod in specific sizes and shapes that were then assembled to form the dyke. The grasses and rushes in the sod could withstand being covered by salt water for many hours each day. They also had deep and densely matted root systems that anchored them when the sea water swirled over them, protecting the exposed sides of the dykes at high tide

A 360° look around one of the dykes

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