Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sods, Soil, and Spades

The Acadians at Grand Pre and Their Dykeland Legacy

Dykes in the Annapolis Valley hold back the world's highest tides, and were first built by the Acadians around 250 years ago, using only hands tools and oxen.

After the Acadians were expelled in 1755, their places were taken by New England Planters, who maintained the dykes and built new ones. It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that government finally assumed responsibility for the dykes.

They're fascinating structures, a sort of land art with cultural and historical significance. I spent some time this summer mapping, exploring and photographing them.

Then, just last month, I was lucky enough to attend a talk given by the author, Sherman Bleakney, at a meeting of the Wolfville Historical Society.

He's a trim white-haired gentleman who has been interested in dykes for decades, and brings to bear on the subject an orderly and penetrating enthusiasm. I made a point of speaking to him afterwards.

His book focuses on dykes in the Wolfville and Grand Pre area, but the information is relevant to dykes elsewhere in the Valley. It's packed with interesting details, and has given me a much better understanding of how they were built and maintained. Of the 88 illustrations, 17 are in colour.

Bleakney is a retired professor of biology at Acadia University, and a former curator of amphibians, reptiles and fish at the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa.