Use of the tides: a history of South-western Nova Scotia

Throughout history, the peoples of Acadia have utilized the movement of the tides to meet their different end needs. Examples of this include the use of fishing weirs by the Mi’kmaqs, construction of the first tidal mill in all of North America by the early French settlers and the construction of dykes and sluice gates by the Acadians. The geographical area of focus is this instance is that of Port Royal, Nova Scotia.

Mi’kmaqs and fishing weirs

The use of the fishing weirs is recognized as one of the oldest fishing techniques used, thus dating back about 8000 years. Remnants from ancient weirs have been found on many of Nova Scotia riversmost of which are on rivers in the southwestern portion of the province. The remnants found on the bottom of the Allain River, (refer to figure 1, letter “V” ), include that of a wooden fence stake weirs and a small stone V shaped weir. Large wooden stakes were driven into the stream bed and young tree shoots were woven between the stakes. This tight weaving technique created a barrier which larger fish could not swim through when the tide ebbed. The smaller stone V shaped weir were usually found at the head of the tide and caught smaller fish such as smelt, mackerel and male eels. These traps worked in a similar way as to that of wooden fence ones (Nova Scotia Museum 2002).

The reason fishing weirs were so widely used  throughout Acadia was because they are easy to manage with limited numbers of people, easy to build and can be made of a variety of different building materials based on what is most readily available


French and PortRoyal grist mill

It was in 1607 only 2 years after the French arrived in Acadia, that the first mill in North America was erected in Acadia’s capital of Port Royal, (refer to figure 1, letter I), (Charlier 1997). This double function water powered grist mill was built by fifty of Jean de Poutrincourt’s men (Parks Canada 2011). One of the many reasons for the Port Royal habitation was the cultivation and use of the extremely fertile lands. At the time a portion of these lands were being used by the Maliseet as soils for corn planting. The French on the other hand were more interested in the planting of wheat and rye which would later be shipped back to France (Pentz 2008).

As there is little information on the Port Royal tidal mill one much refer to broader literature looking at the forms used in France during this period. The technology which is used is quite complex as it relies on many different technologies. Even though there have been no head ponds found in the area where this tidal mill was believed to be built one can assume that an effort was made at some point or another to build some (refer to figure 2).


Acadians and the dykes:

The building of the dykes and sluices by the Acadians during the 17th and 18th century is another example of earlier forms of interaction with the tides. In this case it was not as much harnessing the power of the tides but limiting them. The construction of this complex dyke and sluice system allowed access to an extremely rich soil that would otherwise be flooded every time the tide rose .The dykes were built by pilling layers of sod on top of one another. Between each layer of sod, branches were placed as to avoid the shifting of the sod, due to its weight (refer to figure 3). Once the dykes reached the desire height, which was between 8 to 15 feet wide at the base and between 4 to 10 feet high, fresh sod was neatly placed on top to stabilize the dykes and prevent erosion. (Bleakney 2004).



Bleakney, J. S. (2004). Sods, soil, and spades : the Acadians at Grand Pré and their dykeland legacy. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Charlier, R. H. (1997). The saga of tide mills. Renewable and sustainable energy reviews , pp. 171-207.

Nova Scotia Museum . (2002). The Mi’kmaq. Retrieved 2013 18-February from

Parks Canada. (2011 15-February ). Port-Royal national historic site of Canada. Retrieved 2013 18-February from

Pentz, B. C. (2008). A river rune through it: an archaeological survey of the Upper Mersey river and Allains river in Southwest Nova Scotia . St-Johns: Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: