New Brunswick

328-year-old Acadian aboiteau now on display in Moncton

Part of a 328-year-old aboiteau discovered on farmland in Grand-Pré, N.S., is now on display at the University of Moncton.

Aboiteau has become source of pride and symbol of Acadian ingenuity

An aboiteau exhibit was unveiled Wednesday at the engineering department of the University of Moncton. (Pierre Fournier)

A part of a 328-year-old aboiteau discovered on farmland in Grand-Pré, N.S., is now on display at the University of Moncton.

The aboiteau piece dates back to 1689, when Acadian farmers were using the dike technology to turn salt marshes into fertile agricultural land.

"We are very happy to have this piece at the faculty of engineering," said Gilles Roy, dean of the faculty of engineering.

Roy said his department was excited to learn the piece would be at the school.

"Since we are the only Acadian faculty of engineering in Canada, it has special significance for us because it has all the historical, cultural value to it," he said.

Part of a 328-year-old aboiteau discovered on farmland in Grand-Pré, N.S., is now on display at the University of Moncton. 0:45

"Plus, it has all the engineering and technical background that's very important for the development of the Acadian people."

The exhibit, called "The Aboiteau: the engineering structure that built Acadia," was unveiled to the public on Wednesday evening.

Significance for Acadians

A farmer discovered the aboiteau piece near the Grand-Pré National Historic Site in Nova Scotia.

Retired professor Gilles Hebert says the piece is a recognition of Acadian engineering genius. (Pierre Fournier)

"It's the oldest artifact that's been dated from that time," Roy said.

Gilles Hebert, a retired professor of the faculty of engineering, became curious about Acadian aboiteaux after a student published a research paper on the structures 30 years ago.

"I always thought the Acadians were just an oppressed people and not an ingenious people," he said. "We found out they were quite ingenious." 

After conducting further research, Hebert said, he discovered that the aboiteau systems were a key to the success of the Acadian colony.

"It sped up the production of the agricultural land so that it was instrumental in establishing the Acadians as a viable culture," he said.

A commemorative plaque honouring the Acadian people by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering is also on display.

The flap gate that was manufactured by a local Barachois artisan. (Pierre Fournier)

"From going as an oppressed people to being an ingenious people, recognized by the Canadian society of civil engineering as being smart and ingenious, that gives us a lot of pride," he said.

The 21st century Acadian touch

The original flap gate of the aboiteau, which would let rainwater flow out and keep tidal waters and salt water from running into the lands was never uncovered.

The Canadian Society for Civil Engineering commemorative plaque. (CBC News)

"It was an important component of the structure," Hebert said.

A new flap gate was manufactured by an artisan from Barachois.

Hebert said the piece had to be treated extensively and stabilized before it was put on display because it had been outdoors and unprotected from the weather.

"It had a lot of ants," he said. "It took about a month so it it doesn't deteriorate anymore."

The piece is on loan from the Nova Scotia Museum.

"We have a long-term lease" Hebert said. "We promised to take care of it."