Devil’s Goose Pasture

God Bless the Nova Scotia Historical Society! Oh, and the Odd Book bookstore in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

I have been searching out and purchasing a complete set of the Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society; the essays contained within are a fantastic reference for research. Recently, I was reading the stories of a Scottish traveller who traversed the province in 1853. Most of the essay focused on the area around Halifax, but a short description of the Valley was also included.

In volume 27, published 1947, an essay by DC Harvey, LL.D was included about William Chambers’ travels. The Valley portion of the traveller’s hellish ride described the condition of the roads nearly a century after the settlement of Halifax and the expulsion of the Acadians. It is hard to believe that travelling was still a terror that late into the 19th century.

As the traveller left the relative comforts of the eastern portion of the Annapolis Valley, he wrote in rather terse tones about the countryside approaching the headwaters of the Annapolis and Cornwallis Rivers. The area, known as the Aylesford Plains and Caribou Bog, was described as the “Devil’s Goose Pasture”, an epithet that seems to have been originally penned by Haliburton in The Old Judge around 1847, only a few years before Chambers’ travels. The following is a snippet of that portion of Haliburton’s story:

“The great Aylesford sand plain…folks call it in a giniral way the ‘Devil’s Goose Pasture’. It is thirteen miles long and seven miles wide it ain’t jist drifting sand but it’s all but that it’s so barren. It’s oneaven or wavy like the swell of the sea in a calm and is covered with short, dry, thin coarse grass and dotted here and there with a half-starved birch and a stunted misshapen spruce. Two or three hollow places hold water all through the summer, and the whole plain is cris-crossed with cart or horse-tracks in all directions. It is jist about as silent, and lonesome, and desolate a place as you would wish to see. Each side of this desert are some most royal farms, some of the best, perhaps, in the province containing the rich lowlands under the mountain; but the plain is given up to the geese, who are so wretched poor that the foxes won’t eat them, they hurt their teeth so bad. “

It isn’t hard to imagine the area being a nightmare 150 years ago.  Even today, with the construction of the modern #1 Highway through the Caribou Bog area west of Berwick in the 1930’s, there is standing water in the middle of a summer drought, and wheeler trails follow the old cart tracks described by Haliburton.

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