Pictures property of W. White
Aboiteau (a-bwa-toe) refers to the dyke and sluice gate system, the remains of which you can see on the marsh land along the coast in Albert County. In the Riverside Albert location, for instance, you can see the mounds of earth clearly from a few places. You can take Hwy 915 towards Harvey, go to Shipyard Park, or the Sawmill Bridge or drive west on Hwy 114 towards Alma.
The powerful tides in the Bay of Fundy gave rise to the development of the dykes and aboiteaux.
Now, there is a dam to regulate the tides. But before the dam was built, the tides would flood back as far as Germantown. As the tides ebbed and flowed, sediments, rich in organic matter and minerals, were deposited and created marshes. If the tides could be utilized, and the water desalinated, then the area would have rich soil for farming. So while other settlers were inland clearing the land of rocks and trees, the Acadians were building this dyke system to create arable land. Not to say that the Acadians didn’t clear and use land back of the shore. They did, and used that land for building homes and for their livestock. But they were the ones who tackled the marshes. By creating farm land below sea level, they had land that was both fertile and productive. It was so rich it would not require fertilizer for centuries.
First, the dykes were built. The dykes were higher than the tide level. Tree trunks and branches were brought by oxen from the nearby hills. Plants and soil material from the marshes themselves were also used in the construction of the aboiteaux. Sod, containing the tangled web of roots of the marsh plants, was used. The use of marsh plants helped to contribute to the lack of erosion of the aboiteaux.
In addition, there are sluices which are an important part of the drainage system. The sluice is composed of a box and a gate. The sluice box was a hollowed-out log, placed at the bottom of the dyke. At the end of the log were gates or clapper valves. This allowed fresh water to run out of the marsh at low tide. As the tide rose, the gate would close, preventing the salt water from coming in to the marsh. In this way, the surface salt gets washed away from the soil. This process can take two or three years to make the land suitable for agriculture. The ingenuity of the system is amazing, since it relies so heavily on the understanding of all of the natural processes at work.
This building of the aboiteaux was a community effort and helped to forge the sense of interdependence in the Acadians. It also led to the community’s prosperity even after the deportation of the Acadians. The aboiteaux system had been put in place and the subsequent settlers were able to maintain them. But it was the Acadians who we can thank for engineering this creative feature
Susan Quinn is a keen but amateur history lover. Pretty much everything historical will interest her wherever she goes.