Lessons From The Land
Acadian settlers in Nova Scotia transformed unproductive marshes into fertile fields through the ingenuity of dykes, purpose-built embankments designed to redirect sea water and desalinize soil to be used for agriculture.
The most important aspect of the design was the aboiteau, a section of dyke that allowed water to be released from fields during low tide, but prevented unwanted saltwater from returning at high tide. This was accomplished by a sluice, a hollowedout tree trunk with a wooden clap that could be adjusted to control the flow of water. By cutting live sod containing hardy grasses and rushes to surround the sluice, the dyke could handle long-term exposure to seawater and its harsh currents. Although the dykes prevented excess salt water from contaminating the soil, the Acadians still had to wait two to three years for fresh water and rain to fully desalinize the fields.
The creation of dykelands has been only been slightly modified since their arrival in the 17th century. The original methods of dyke building have been maintained, with the exception of a few new materials to improve their efficiency and longevity. Communal management and construction have been retained and the once-infertile marshes now produce pasture, hay, cereals, soy, alfalfa, and vegetables.
19th century aboiteau, illustrating the elaborate structure required to withstand the pressure of the tides and waves.