| The land along Dauphin River was marshy at many places.
When the great tides of the Bay of Fundy came in, it would submerge much
of the area along the river. Some of the settlers evidentally were
experienced in this type of situation. Several areas in Europe, first
in the Netherlands and then in France, were in the same situation.
Reclaiming tidal lands had occurred under Louis XIII (1610-1643) at La
Rochelle and Saintonge, with Dutch engineers showing them how. [Clark,
| The average farm eventually contained 5 to
10 arpents of reclaimed salt marsh. By the time they were exiled,
they had reclaimed over 13,000 acres of salt marsh, while clearing only
500 acres of wooded land. (The Founding of New Acadia,
Brasseaux, p. 125-6)
Levees (dykes) were built along the tidal
front. A valve system was placed in the levee so that the sea water
could drain out, but not into the fields.
The Acadians were the only farmers in America
to use this system of drained salt marshes for cropland.
Pascal Poirier says that they got the idea from the French ... like the
saulniers at Saintonge. [Poirier, Glossaire acadian,
Moncton, 1953, p. 14] In France (and the Netherlands before),
the purpose was to obtain salt. The Acadians also probably used the
salt to preserve their meat.
Workers by Chez
| There has been a lot written on
the exact origin of the word, aboiteau. As for its definition,
some say it is the dykes themselves. But it more properly applies
to the draining apparatus. [Clark, p. 459-61]
Diereville, who visited Acadia in 1699-1700, wrote
"They lay 5 or 6 rows of big trees whole in the places where the sea comes
into the marshes and lay other trees all along, one on top of the other,
and fill in the gaps so well with tamped clay that the water can no longer
come through. In the middle of these banks, they make an opening
so that at low tide the water in the marshes can flow out and the sea water
cannot enter." The opening is a wooden box with a one-way valve (clapet)
at one end. [Clark, p. 462]
Some criticized this method. It appeared
lazy that they didn't want to clear the upland. De Brouillan, writing
about 1701, said that the land around Port Royal would produce more if
the Acadians weren't so lazy. They didn't want to, and only cultivated
small plots, because clearing the uplands was hard work. The English
also commented that the Acadians didn't like to go into the wooded country;
"they divide up their land along the edge of the sea and keep their children
near them ..." The English were unfamiliar with this method, but
took advantage of it once they settled in Acadia. The marsh, which
was a smelly bog infested with mosquitoes, was a potential cropland for
the Acadians. [Clark, p. 464]
Another visitor in 1710 wrote the following. "They stopped the current of the sea by creating large dykes, which they called aboideaux. The method was to plant five or six large trees in the places where the sea enters the marshes, and between each row to lay down other trees lengthways on top of each other, and fill the vacant places with mud so well beaten down that the tide could not pass through it. In the middle they adjusted a flood-gate in such a way as to allow the water from the marsh to flow out at low water without permitting the water from the sea to flow in at high tide." [The Chignecto Isthmus And Its First Settlers, Trueman]
The levees were made of marsh clay.
Sometimes a crib needed to be places at the base for support. Sod
was put on top to prevent erosion. The sides were sloped to allow
water to run off. They'd build the levees, then cut canals for the
water to flow out. Then they'd patch up the levee, putting the valve
system (aboiteau) in places. The rectangular box, 12+ inches wide,
may have been 20 feet long. The valve, which opened and closed with
the tides, was places at one end. The box was places on a bed (of
wood?) so that it wouldn't shift. The box was made of boards or tamarack
planks (up to 4 inches thick) and connected with pegs or treenails. A crib
was placed at the end to prevent the ground underneath from eroding.
The whole operation had to be planned out: where to build the levees,
where to put the canals, how big to make it, do you use one or two aboiteau.
The apparatus was sometimes damaged by ice. Ice also sometimes caused
holes in the levees. Seaweeds were also a problem, sometimes clogging
up the box so it was stopped up or the valve wouldn't work. Muskrats,
which the Acadians called petite bete maudite (cursed little beast)
used to dig holes in the levees. The system needed constant attention
... to clean out the canals and aboiteau, to repair holes, etc. [Clark,
It appears that the first efforts at dyking
the fields occurred about 1636. The earliest (pre 1632) settlers
were more interested in the quick money of trading and fishing. It
seems that the leaders of Acadia actually started out bringing people to
dyke the marshes to get salt to preserve the fish. The use of the
land for farming soon overcame it's use for salt production.
Razilly's group, from 1632 to 1635, was at
La Have ... which didn't have the salt marshes. One of the reasons d'Aulnay
moved to Port Royal after Razilly's death was because of its alluvial soil.
Once a field had been dyked, the land was left for about two to three years
to allow the salt to leach out. Then the land was ready to be planted.
This required much less work than clearing forests. D’Aulnay gave the settlers
their own piece of land to farm at Port Royal. He also had two areas
for himself that were worked by engages. He may have rebuilt Poutrincourt’s
old mill on the Allain River.
Seeds were obtained from France. Fruit
trees were also grown, apple being the most common. By the mid 1650s,
many of the settlers were harvesting crops on reclaimed marshland.
EARLY ACADIA by Claude Picard
|| Flax was grown (often by women) to make linen.
They scutched the flax near a stream. The men made looms and spinning
wheels for them. [Clark, p. 452]
The main crops were grains, such as wheat, barley,
oats, and rye. Since plows were rarely found until the 1700s, the
furrows were usually shallow ... 2-3 inches deep. Seed was planted
Besides the larger crops, a smaller family
garden was usually found. Vegetables for the household were grown
here. Common examples were turnips, field peas, and cabbages.
In spring, men fixed fences, plowed and planted.
They harvested in August, September, and October. In November and
December they threshed the grain with flails. Oxen were used instead
of horses. [Clark, p. 448]
Cabbages were kept under snow-covered fields
until needed. Turnips, apples, and spruce sprouts were harvested
and stored in their cellars. Some of the apples were used to
make cider, though the Acadians preferred a beer made of spruce sprouts
... “a noted Canadian antiscorbutic.” (The Founding
of New Acadia, Brasseaux, p. 133)
As it came time for Acadians to settle other
areas (due to crowding, freedom from governmental control, etc.), they
tended to find other areas with salt marshes. It may not be surprising
to find that both the Minas Basin area and the Beaubassin area were rich
in salt marshes. So the location of these marshes were the major
factor in Acadian settlement locations.
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