Nova Scotia’s Commissioners of Sewers

‘Workin on it. 

Kerr I pasted in what you sent me, then began to work on it, to format it etc. Formatting no problem, but we need to cite references better, check current access to URL.  See below. Otherwise, it is not very credible, doesn’t reflect well on two old academics!

I highlighted (bolded) a few terms to make it easier to read on the web.

Prior to the creation of the Maritime Marshland Rehabilitation Administration (MMRA) in 1948 (Government of Canada 1948-1970), a special statute of the Nova Scotia Legislature gave the owners of any dyked salt marsh in Nova Scotia the option of having their marsh treated as an independent governmental entity that in today’s terminology is called a special-purpose district. Special-purpose districts offer specialized services only to those persons who own land within the district and the administrators of such a district are empowered to tax the districts land owners” (Froelich and Gallo 2014, p3). For dyked Nova Scotia salt marshes the special-purpose was dykeland agriculture and the specialized services provided involved the building and maintenance of the hand-made dykes, aboiteaus, and dales (a particular drainage method performed with a horse and plough) in order to prevent the dykeland from being inundated at high tide.

The Nova Scotia statute that allowed salt marsh owners to have there tidal wetlands governed and regulated as a special-purpose district was first introduced in 1760 under the title “An act for appointing Commissioners of Sewers” (Nova Scotia Legislature, 1759). The act was amended several times between 1760 and 1949 and the aim of each amendment was to strengthen the general provisions of the act. The act provided for the appointment, if requested by the dykeland owners (called proprietors), of one or more administrators called Commissioners of Sewers.

The Commissioners were usually dykeland owners themselves who had been recommended by their fellow proprietors. They had the power to require that the dykeland proprietors “furnish men, teams, tools, and materials to build or repair dykes and aboiteaus” (Nova Scotia Revised Statutes, Fourth Series, 1873). The commissioners had to especially make sure that breaches in the dyke were rapidly repaired and as well they had to raise funds (from the proprietors) to cover expenses incurred. To aid Commissioners in carrying out these duties the statute provided them with the power to tax the dykeland proprietors and distrain (seize a owner’s property to obtain payment of back taxes) if necessary.

==================comment to Kerr

KERR: ONE REFERENCE FOR THE FOLLOWING SECTION/PARAGRAPH- NO DATE; AND NOW NOW ACCESSIBLE-  YOU NEED TO FIND ALTERNATIVE SOURCE, OR DELETE THE REFERENCE. ALSO I HAVE SEEN THE ACT CITED AS 1531 NOT 1532.  We have to check references that depend on URLs. OK to cite it as accessed 2010 etc at a certain URL that is no longer functional, as long as we have an author(s), year of publication, title of publication, and something about where it was published. But in this case you give only:

London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras: Longmans, Green and Co. .
Martin, Rob. The Commission of Sewers, 5 July 2010 [cited. Available from

and I could not find anything about it on internet except on (your citations of it)..

WHAT IS “Webb, p”?


When first encountered the term sewer in the act is a bit surprise. However, it must be remembered that the present day definition of sewer came into existence sometime in the19th century. Prior to this, sewer referred to a man-made open drainage ditch. As well one should keep in mind that in the Late Middle Ages, the time of King Henry VIII, England’s extensive salt marshes were being drained and sea walls constructed for agricultural purposes. To ensure that the marsh owners maintained these structures the British Parliament passed a special-purpose district act called the “Great Statute of Sewers Act of 1532 ” and a court called the “Court of Sewers” (Webb, p and Martin ) was formed for the enforcement of the act. For any given salt marsh, the act appointed one or more administrators called Commissioners of Sewers and provided them with powers to tax and distrain, and to inspect and construct sewers. England abolished its Commissioners of Sewers method for governing dykelands in 1930 (“Administrative history” section of COMMISSIONERS OF SEWERS FOR THE EAST RIDING)6. The concept of the Great Statute of Sewers Act of 1532 was therefore transported to Nova Scotia when the 4th session of the Nova Scotia General Assembly, held in 1760, passed “An act for appointing Commissioners of Sewers7 ”. This act was revised several times between 1760 and the creation of the MMRA in 1948.

The objective of the 1760 “Act for appointing Commissioners of Sewers”

Shortly after Louisburg fell to the English in July of 1758 England decided that it was now important to place more settlers in the Colony of Nova Scotia and instructed Charles Lawrence, (Conrad, p.17 and Murphy, p.56) KERR NO REFERENCES GIVEN BELOW the governor of the province at that time, to take the necessary steps to attract settlers. Prior to these instructions Nova Scotia had received only two substantial groups of colonists. One group of settlers arrived with Cornwallis in 1749 and founded Halifax; the so-called Foreign Protestants of Nova Scotia who arrived between 1750 and 1752 formed the second group. Since these groups lived mostly in Halifax and Lunenburg, Governor Lawrence was expected to place English-speaking settlers in other parts of the province; this was especially true for the fertile dykelands vacated by the Acadians when they were forcibly removed in 1755.

As a result of the efforts of Governor Lawrence, his Council, and the General Assembly approximately 8000 New England residents migrated to Nova Scotia (Planter Studies Centre web page KERR; PLEASE ELABORATE ON THE SOURSE BELOW). These were the so-called New England Planters and many of these new settlers were granted former Acadian lands on the Upper Bay of Fundy. Acadian lands contained dyked salt marshes as well as salt marshes that had not been dyked.

Governor Lawrence, his Council, the General Assembly, and the New England Planters who now occupied the Acadian dykelands knew that these fertile agriculture regions would be inundated by high tides and destroyed if the new English settlers did not learn how to carry out the continual repairs that dykes and aboiteaus require. As well many salt marshes on the Upper Bay of Fundy had not yet been dyked. Since salt marshes were far more fertile than the Upper Bay of Fundy’s nutrient pore uplands it was therefore worthwhile for the Nova Scotia government to encourage dykeland agriculture.

For the New England Planters to practice dykeland agriculture they would have learn the dyking methods used by Acadians, methods that required an organized and supervised group effort. It appears from the preamble to the 1760 Commissioners of Sewers act and from the body of the act that Lawrence, his Council, and the General Assembly enacted a statute designed and created to encourage the new settlers to learn the Acadian dyking practices. The preamble reads

Whereas great quantities of marsh, meadows, and low ground in this province, and particularly in the Bay of Fundy, and rivers, bays, and creeks, branching therefrom, are spoiled by overflowing of the sea, and other waters which by industry may be greatly improved, as well for the general good, as for the benefit and profit of the owners; and also much meadow and pasture land might be gained out of swamps, and other rough and unprofitable grounds by dyking and draining the same; to the intent therefore, that the new settlers and other proprietors of the said marshes, meadows and low grounds, may be encouraged and enabled to raise dykes, and remove such obstructions as prevent these lands from being immediately useful; be it enacted by his Excellency the Governor, Council and Assembly….. KERR WHAT IS SOURCE OF THIS?

The body of the statute dealt with the group effort aspect of successful dyke building and repair, a group of dykers must be organized and have a supervisor who has the power to make sure that all proprietors carry their share of the load. To this end the body of the statue states in part: shall be in the power of the Governor or Commander in Chief, with the advice of his Majsety’s Council, upon request of any of the proprietors of such lands, to grant commissioners of sewers (a), to such and so many able and discreet persons (b) as to them shall seem meet, for the building and repairing such dykes and wears as are necessary to prevent inundations……..and to employ workmen and labours, for such reasonable wages as may be agreed on, for the effecting the premises; and from time to time to assess and tax such persons as may or shall be owners …..and also to appoint and swear a collector or collectors for the collecting…and paying the same…with the powers to distrain all such persons as shall neglect or refuse payment…. KERR: SOURCE?

The New England Planters did learn the art and practice of dyke and aboiteau building. It is very possible that Acadian dyking methods were passed on to the Planters by those Acadians who managed to escape deportation, either by hiding or by confinement for many years at Fort Edward (Ross and Deveau, p 64. KERR NO REFERENCES). Sherman Bleakney suggests that after the arrival of the Planters, Acadians who avoided deportation “were soon conscripted or coerced to instruct the English in methods of construction and repair of dykes” (Bleakney 2004, p. 45). Perhaps the best hint that the New England Planters adopted the Acadian dyking methods is given in an article written by the Horton Township Planter Jonathan Crane . Crane was a skilled dykeman and a Commissioner of Sewers and his article, titled “On Dyking”, was published in the February 27,1819 issue of the Acadian Recorder. The article provided construction details on how to build aboiteaus across marsh drainage creeks and how to build running dykes (the portion of a dyke that runs from aboiteau to aboiteau. The quote that follows (Bleakney 2004, p.183) is taken from “On Dyking”; it provides a strong indication on the way in which the Acadians might have taught the Planters the art and practice of dyke and aboiteau construction.

I have attended the making of Dikes and Aboiteaus (A term used by the original French settlers, for a great Dam, in Dyking) since the year 1764. I was present when the first Aboiteau of any consequence was made here, by the English – which was superintended by two Frenchmen, and observed their proceedings. I was appointed a Commissioner of Sewers in the year 1777, and having continued that office ever since [1777 – 1819 – 42 years] it has given me an opportunity of improving a little and I have been so fortunate as not to lose but very little of my labours. [Crane died in 1820.]


Government of Canada, Department of Agriculture 1948-1970. Maritime Marshland Rehabilitation Administration Archive record accessed Mar 14, 2021 at

Froelich, CT and  Gallo, G., 2014. An Overview of Special Purpose Taxing Districts National Association of Home Builders Accessed Mar 14, 2021 at

Nova Scotia Legislature, 1759. The Statutes at Large of the Province of Nova Scotia, 1758 to 1835. Second Session of the Second General Assembly, Chapter 7, page 59, An Act for appointing Commissioners of Sewers, 1760  Accessed Mar 14, 2021 at

Nova Scotia Revised Statutes, Fourth Series, 1873 Of Commissioners of Sewers, and of Dyked and Marsh Lands 1873 Chapter 40, page 230. Accessed Mar 14, 2021 at

Webb, S and  Webb, B., 1922. English Local Government: Statutory Authorities for Special Purposes London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras: Longmans, Green and Co. .
Accessed Mar 14, 2021 at

KERR: NO YEAR FOR THIS PUBLICATION London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras: Longmans, Green and Co. .
Martin, Rob. The Commission of Sewers, 5 July 2010 [cited. Available from

Access to Archives: Part of the UK archives network. KERR..??

6 same as 5 KERR ??


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


Roger Blais, 1955. The Dikes A Film by for National film Board, 1955 (20 min). “A dramatized presentation of the work of the Maritime Marshland Rehabilitation Administration in the reclaiming of flooded agricultural regions along the Bay of Fundy. Through the account of a dike-keeper, the film describes the destruction that follows the breaking of long-neglected dikes during autumn rains and shows how M.M.R.A. engineers are cooperating with New Brunswick land-owners in the big task of keeping at bay the inundations of the sea.”