The Restoration of Gardiner's Mill Dam

(video requires Quicktime Player or Real Player)

The Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia Communities Committee was initially contacted by members of the community of Gardiner's Mill concerning the deterioration and collapse of an historic dam in their community. Their request of our committee was to seek our advise and, if need be, support to reinstate this once grand granite walled dam to the community. In 2003, the centre wooden structure of the dam collapsed and emptied the lake which it held back. The present situation was grim and the present owners had experienced nothing but red tape and short answers from the powers to be in the Province concerning the issuance of any permits for its restoration.

This prompted the committee to visit the site and witness first hand the devastating effects realized when the lake emptied (see video above) leaving this vibrant cottage community on the banks of a mud flat. Being that this dam has historic appeal and content we felt that further exploration was warranted and serious consideration needed to be brought to the forefront when considering its future and reinstatement.

We contacted Linda Campbell, Heritage Coordinator of the Town and Municipality of the District of Yarmouth, who contacted Kevin Barrett with questions pertaining to the worthiness of this dam for Provincial Designation. We expressed that by approaching this matter from the historic position this may overcome some of the obstacles the present owners are facing on the Provincial level. A committee of the people in the community agreed to meet at the site and discuss the situation. Upon arrival at the dam and after a lengthy conversation all felt that the dam was in fact worthy of Provincial Designation and by approaching the matter from this position we all felt that we could make a strong case for its reinstatement.

History of the Dam

This beautiful granite dam was constructed prior to 1855 for the purpose of damming up a river and creating a water powered energy system to operate a saw mill on the banks of the river. This mill, known as Gardiner’s Mill, operated for nearly 80 years using this water powered system. Sometime in the late 1920’s the mill, dam and nearly 3000 acres of land were purchased by two sisters, who were the direct heirs of the Johnson and Johnson Company in the States. They called this beautiful place home for the summer months and were a large employer of the local population in the management and maintenance of this large estate. In 1937 the sister’s embarked on a restoration project and completely restored the dam, naming the lake Sister’s Lake. The formation of this lake created a cottage community which is a vibrant beautiful part of Southwestern Nova Scotia and a legacy of what Nova Scotia summers were all about at this time in history. In the 1960’s the sister’s homestead and the surrounding acreage were sold to the Vacon family from Massachusetts. The family resided on the property for years and today the dam and its acreage of about 130 acres of land are owned by Mr. Vacon’s daughter and family. The present owners had continually maintained this dam until 2004 when the wooden centre failed. They approached the Province for a permit to rebuild the dam and encountered a variety of problems.


After meeting with the neighbours and heritage, the Communities Committee has decided to proceed in an attempt to achieve the required designation, approvals and funding for the dam’s reinstatement. We have met with the current owners who are in total support of this effort. The owners issued a Letter of Intent to the Communities Committee that if we are successful in this mission they would be willing to deed the dam and its 130 acre parcel to the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia in an effort to seek an appropriate new steward for its future. If we are successful in this mission and we agree to accept this gift it is the Committees intent that the Trust work with us to identify a new steward for the dam. We believe that this dam and its land should be designated as a Provincial Park and gifted to either the Province or the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth for the future generations to enjoy.

This dam receiving Provincial Designation would make this the only Provincially Designated Dam in Nova Scotia and set a national example of preservation and commitment.