History - Ed Coleman: Kentville ravine has possible Acadian ties

Published on August 17, 2014

It is often overlooked that a stretch of Elderkin Brook, which flows out of the Kentville Ravine, is tidal. All that stops the daily tides from flowing into the lower part of the ravine, besides the banked up shoulder of the highway and the railway bed which slows it, is a well-placed sluiceway with a clapper valve. 

In one sense, this is a miniature aboiteau, identical to what the Acadians used when they dyked along the Canard River; the aboiteau allows Elderkin Brook to flow freely into the Cornwallis River, but stops tidal waters from flooding the streamside meadow. This has been inadequate at times. More than once in recent years, high spring tides rose over the highway, flooding the meadow and impeding traffic.

If you’re been following the news, you’re aware that the Kentville Ravine and Elderkin Brook have recently been the focus of environmental concerns. After a major retail development was announced above the ravine, the Friends of the Kentville Ravine society was formed, mainly, as they say on their website, to protect a unique, ecologically sensitive area.

This is a worth aim and is to be commended.  However, I point out to you and the Friends of the Kentville Ravine that there is also an interesting  historical aspect to the ravine and Elderkin Brook that has been little explored.

While it has never been proven, it has been long believed that the Acadians dammed up Elderkin Brook and placed a mill on it. I suspect this is a fact, but admittedly, this is speculation on my part. 

However, after carefully looking for possible Acadian mill sites and homesteads in Kings County, especially around New Minas, an eminent researcher and biologist concluded that an Acadian mill likely was located about where Elderkin Brook runs under the highway. The research was conducted by the late John Erskine (1900-1981), who says that while the evidence is feeble, seven species of trees usually found on Acadian sites can be found where he believes the mill was located. 

“Millers needed to live near their mills,” Erskine says, “and usually they left some of the Acadian flora behind.”

Now, keep in mind that during the Acadian period there was no railway bed and no highway and the tides had free reign in flooding well up the Elderkin Brook hollow. There were no tidal restrictions, in other words, and roughly where Erskine believes there may have been a tidal mill there was an unrestricted, twice daily flow of water. This seems to have been a natural site for the Acadians to place a mill, either there or farther down the brook nearer the Cornwallis River. But, as I said, this is all speculation.

There is one tangible, tantalizing bit of evidence that suggests something was constructed on Elderkin brook a long time ago, but whether it was of Acadian or Planter origin is open to question. At the bottom of the brook, just below the highway, I discovered cribwork that had been recently exposed by erosion. The cribwork is tucked under a high bank, which would indicate it was placed there a long time ago. Its placement indicates it plays no role in controlling water erosion, which was something the builder of the railway would have had to contend with.

Actually, to me, the cribwork looks like the sort of logwork you’d place when constructing a wharf or some kind of boat landing. But again, as with the Acadian mill’s location, this is pure speculation.