Land Use History
An understanding of the historical land use within a watershed provides context that helps explain the causes of issues affecting the watershed today. The following sections outline the historical land use both within the Little River watershed, and in the surrounding communities in both Westmorland County and Albert County. Within the Little River watershed this includes the communities of Colpitts Settlement, Parkindale, and Pleasant Vale; and outside the watershed, the community of Salisbury at the river’s confluence with the Petitcodiac; and Elgin (on the Pollett River) as the centre serving the upper reaches of the Little River (Table 2-1).
Table 2-1: Brief historical background summary for communities along or near the Little River
The Maritimes have had human inhabitants for the last 11,000 years (Wicken 2002), though for most of that time precise cultural identities are impossible to determine today. By the early 1600s, when Europeans arrived, much of the native population of coastal Atlantic Canada shared a common culture and language identifying themselves as the L’nuk, “the People”, and recognized by Europeans as the Mi’kmaq. Traditionally, the Mi’kmaq lived in large villages along the coasts from April to November, and then dispersed during the winter, migrating inland to hunt moose and caribou. During this time physical impacts on the watershed were few compared to what was to follow.
Ganong’s (1905) map of known First Nations villages and campsites includes a Mi’Kmaq site at Salisbury located along the north bank of main stem of the Petitcodiac, near the head of tide between the mouths of Little River and the Pollett River. A native leaving Beaumont (where there was another camp in the lower Petitcodiac estuary) could ride the 13 km per hour tidal bore upstream to Salisbury, greatly facilitating such travel (Petitcodiac Heritage River Committee 2000). The importance of the Salisbury encampment was due to its location both at the head of tide and near the ends of a pair of portage routes leading to the Saint John River system. The more highly traveled of the two routes crossed from the main stem of the Petitcodiac River to the Canaan River (Ganong 1914) near what is now the Village of Petitcodiac, as doing so provided the best access to the upper St. John and on to the St. Lawrence (Petitcodiac Heritage River Committee 2000). The other route crossed from a tributary of the Petitcodiac, the Anagance River, to the Kennebecasis River (and from there to the lower portion of the Saint John River system). In fact the name Anagance comes from Maliseet “Oo-ne- guncé” meaning portage (Ganong 1896), presumably a reference to the link provided by that tributary.
In the 1630’s the French began to make a serious effort to colonize Atlantic Canada, beginning to arrive in numbers significant enough to develop an enduring Acadian identity (Laxer 2006), at a fairly similar time frame to the English colonies further south. By 1676 the first Acadian settlers arrived at Beaubassin, near the current Nova Scotia Visitor’s Centre along the Trans-Canada Highway at the New Brunswick border (Larracey 1985). Then, 34 years later in 1710, Acadians and Mi’kmaq in peninsular Nova Scotia fell under British control, which was subsequently formalized in 1713 under the treaty of Utrecht. In 1751 Fort Beausejour was built at the border to protect Acadian communities in what is now New Brunswick from attack by the British. By this time the Acadian population near the Fort had grown to 1,541 people, with an estimated additional 1,100 spread out at Shepody and along the Petitcodiac and Memramcook Rivers (Larracey 1985). The Acadians built dykes and tidal control structures turning marshland along the lower Petitcodiac estuary into pasture, and established their settlements nearby (Wright 1955). Their physical impacts on the Little River, what for them was a remote hinterland, were limited.
Ganong (1899) notes that like First Nations, the French made use of the Kennebecasis- Petitcodiac portage along the Anagance in order to maintain communication between Fort Beausejour and Acadian settlements on the lower St. John. However the French route between the Canaan and the Petitcodiac to access the upper St. John was slightly different than the one favoured by First Nations, reportedly crossing overland to the Canaan from the North River, rather than the main stem of the Petitcodiac (Raymond 1891). From there messengers from Fort Beausejour, and the Fortress of Louisbourg passed up along the St John to reach Quebec.
After the fall of Fort Beausejour in 1755, the British attempted to expel the Acadians, to open up land for English settlers. There is a record of an Acadian settlement, Village Victuare, located nearby in Salisbury, close to the Mi’kmaq encampment (Ganong 1930). It was documented in 1758 by British Major George Scott as he was forcefully removing Acadian families from the upper Petitcodiac (Scott 1758). The village appears to have been composed of approximately 10 homesteads, settled in about 1751, and was reportedly the largest Acadian village along the Petitcodiac upstream of Beausoleil Village, modern day Allison (Ganong 1930).
Arsenault (2004) suggests that a settlement named Village des Babineau existed at the mouth of the “Coverdale” (Little) River near Salisbury. That is a surprisingly specific and questionable location given that Ganong (1899) using a map from 1754, puts Village des Babineau downstream, in what is now Riverview, at a location that prior to amalgamation in 1974 was called Coverdale (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, 2015). Surette et al. (1981) confirm this, indicating the Village des Babineau was an alternate name for a community named Fourche-à-crapaud, located at the mouth of Turtle Creek (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, 2015), an area later known as Coverdale. Presumably Arsenault (2004) confused Turtle Creek and the later English community of Coverdale with the Coverdale (i.e. Little) River. Though Village des Babineau was reportedly destroyed by Scott in 1758 (Ganong 1905), it does not appear on his map at either location (Scott 1758).
Ganong (1930) suggests that it is likely that in the wake of the expulsion, Acadians briefly occupied locations such as Fourche-à-crapaud at Turtle Creek, and on the Coverdale and Pollett Rivers in order to be near the head of tide and thus above the reach of English Ships. Major Scott apparently found the tidal bore on the Petitcodiac problematic during his raids in 1758, nearly losing two ships on one occasion (Pincombe and Larracey 1990).
The Mi’kmaq sided with the French (Wicken 2002), participating in the defense of Fort Beausejour, as well as the short guerilla war which followed its capture (Grenier 2008). There were several reasons that Mi’kmaq in New Brunswick did so. Prior to the arrival of the British, native communities had already established trade networks with the Acadians for steel tools, weapons and other European goods (Walls 2010). Another source of friction was that the Mi’kmaq had begun to adopt Catholicism from the French, while the British were Protestants, at a time when such differences added fuel to conflicts. Acadians also had had good relations with the Mi’kmaq in part because the lands Acadians occupied either complemented native use, as with fur traders, or were in areas that were marginal to native concerns as in the case of the Acadian farmers on the tidal flats (Mancke 2005). English settlers on the other hand tended to seize land the Mi’kmaq valued, to clear the forest for agriculture (Francis et al. 2010).
The dates that various communities listed in Table 2-1 were first settled (where available) indicate how movement by English colonists into the upper reaches of the Petitcodiac River system above the head of tide occurred first along the more easily accessible main stem, and occurred progressively later the further into the upper reaches one goes. Many of the early dates coincide with the arrival of United Empire loyalists from the 13 colonies (late 1770’s – 1780’s). After the arrival of the Loyalists, Mi’kmaq in what is now New Brunswick were moved off their lands and onto “reserves” (Walls 2010). This was done partially to provide land to incoming settlers, and partially to punish the Mi’kmaq for aligning themselves with the French. Subsequent generations of English settler families and those that arrived after them then pushed further up the Petitcodiac and into its more remote tributaries such as the Little River, and the Pollett River (Wright 1945). An early example would be the previously mentioned homestead John Colpitts established in 1786 at Little River (later becoming Colpitts Settlement in 1904), after leaving the farm his father established near Salisbury a few years previously.
The relative inaccessibility of the Petitcodiac stood in contrast to the Saint John River, as the comparative lack of long easily navigable tributaries within the Petitcodiac system discouraged commercial logging activities until the mid-1800s (Department of Natural Resources 2007). The ruggedness of the region hindered timber exploitation, requiring driving dams to ensure sufficient water-flow to move logs, and limited the amount of hauling that horse and oxen teams could do (Shoebottom 1999). So, instead early settlers cleared the land to allow for agriculture, locally consuming cordwood for fuel, and lumber to build their homesteads, while generating only limited income by selecting marketable timber to send downriver to be sold for shipbuilding or export. As time progressed the latter gradually became a more significant aspect of the local economy. Timber harvest in the Petitcodiac timber district as a whole grew from 260 tons in 1818 to 3,137 tons by 1836 (Wynn 1981), though this paled in comparison cutting in other more accessible portions of the province such as in numerous timber districts along the Saint John and Miramichi Rivers where harvests taking place at the same time were in some cases an order of magnitude greater.
During the early 1800s white pine was gradually culled from New Brunswick Forests to meet the demand for masts for the Royal Navy (Wynn, 1981). The White Pines Act of 1722 established the requirement of a royal license to fell white pines with a diameter exceeding 24 inches unless they were privately owned, and in 1729 Parliament reserved all such trees to the government except those already in private hands before 1690 (Purvis 1999). Since New Brunswick came under British control well after that time, this exception did not apply at all to its forests. During the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars from 80 to 90 percent of all masts supplied to the Royal Navy came from Canada, mostly New Brunswick (Williams 1992). The Napoleonic blockade of the Baltic forced England to expand New Brunswick’s lumber production twentyfold, transforming an “undeveloped backwater” of 25,000 people to a bustling colony of 190,000 (Gordon 2014). Pines could still be found in 1850, but few of the magnificent trees the region was known for earlier in the century remained. Spruce was more abundant, but the largest had also been cut. Though there were not many extensive cutover tracts, by 1850 the character and composition of the forests in New Brunswick had been drastically modified over the course of just 50 years of harvesting.
The effects of this early economic activity were not limited to just the forests. By 1820 importation of food into New Brunswick was the rule rather than the exception, everything hinged on the timber trade, though there were warning signs of the danger of single source economy (DeMerchant, 1983). James Robb, professor of Natural Science at Kings College in Fredericton (now the University of New Brunswick), was appointed Secretary of the Provincial Board of Agriculture when it was established in 1858. He warned that timber harvesting was so lucrative that it distorted development, and that when the market in Europe declined, the farmer neglecting his homestead to work in the woods would be “surprised to find his fences down, his fields grown up with bushes, and both himself and his snug little clearing generally all gone bad”. It was not just agriculture that was falling short of its potential. In the years that shipbuilding boomed at St. John and other towns along the coast, even the fishing industry was neglected as men were drawn to the forest to supply wood (DeMerchant, 1983).
Unlike the Pollett River, which Elson (1962) describes as having had several large dams to power sawmills, McLeod (1973) reports that the Coverdale (Little) River had no major obstructions and that salmon were able to use the lower 40 km of the river extensively between the early 1800s to the 1970s, such that the Coverdale actually produced a majority of salmon smolts in the Petitcodiac system during that time. It is somewhat of a challenge to reconcile this description with the 3 sawmills and 3 grist mills present on the Little River by 1898 in Table 2-1 (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, 2015), since presumably those were all water powered. It may be that the situation on the Little River was simply better relative to the Pollett, which after all had a major mill dam just 16 km above the mouth of the river at Forest Glen that reportedly for much of that time had no functioning fishway and so blocked passage beyond it (Elson 1962). This situation was exacerbated in 1910 when the Sanatorium Dam was put in 6 km below Forest Glen- just 10 km above the mouth of the Pollett River. In contrast fishways on dams on the Coverdale were described as being in good order in 1876, and though there were declines in catches of salmon that year, these were blamed upon recent increases in milling and “mill rubbish” (sawdust etc.) fouling the water (Commissioner of Fisheries 1877). This confirms that sawmills on the river were powered by dams (as one would expect), but is consistent with McLeod’s (1973) conclusion that the dams on the Little River did not block fish passage. Mill wastes were a problem because, other than burning, dumping into the river was the most common form of disposal of sawdust, bark, and other waste (Department of Fisheries 1890). Such material covered river bottoms, sometimes smothering spawning sites.
By 1877 the railway branch line, The Salisbury – Albert Railway opened, connecting the lower portion of the Little River watershed to the Intercolonial Railway (Chignecto Post Thursday May 24th 1877). Its main focus was serving points beyond the watershed however, running only a short distance up the Coverdale, (no further upstream than near to Colpitts Settlement ). A time table notes a stop there at a point referred to as “Coverdale” located 4 miles from Salisbury Station (The Maple Leaf, Thursday February 18th 1885). This suggests it is the modern community of Synton, which is the correct distance down the line and right on the river (hence the name Coverdale). From there the railway headed east, crossing Turtle Creek and nearly paralleling the Petitcodiac on to Hillsborough, with much of the area described as “unsettled country”. From there it traveled south on to Albert Mines, the mouth of the Demoiselle and the Shepody River on the Bay of Fundy, ending at that time at Riverside. Ten years later, during the whole of 1887, it carried to market 2,334 cords of firewood, and 8,913 tons of timber (The Maple Leaf Thursday January 12th 1888). While some of this material may have originated within the Little River watershed, much of it probably just passed through going either direction from points further along the line.
Judging by the roads present in 1878 (Dawson 2005), the headwaters at the southern end of the watershed were more remote and less populated than the area between what is now Colpitts Settlement and Salisbury. These upper reaches were not served by the Salisbury – Albert Railway, but did have access to the Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway which came up the adjacent Pollett River watershed, and ended a short distance away at Elgin. As a consequence the road network of the time tied communities in the Coverdale headwaters more closely to Elgin than to Coverdale Station, which was quite a distance downstream (Dawson 2005), and explains why they were part of Elgin Parish instead of Coverdale parish. The Chignecto Post in Sackville wrote of the Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway opening on September 14th 1876, “Within a few months over 350 cars of lumber (which could not have otherwise profitably been put in the market) have been hauled over the railway. The estimated shipments of lumber per year is about six million. Besides this there is ship timber from the virgin forests of Elgin, bark, sleepers, cordwood, country produce, local and passenger traffic.” It goes on, “There is said to be enough timber in her (referring to the Elgin region) hills to keep the shipyards in Saint John busy for a century.” How “virgin” the forests may have been is an interesting question given a population at that time (Table 2-1) of over 250 people in Elgin, plus hundreds elsewhere in the Pollett River watershed and surrounding communities on the Little River who had been there, in some cases for much of the previous 50 years. Such things are relative however, given that, as noted previously, other more easily accessible portions of the Province, had experienced more intensive harvesting. Eleven months later The Daily Times of Moncton noted on August 15th 1877 that “during the year a great quantity of ship timber has been got out at Elgin for consumption in Saint John.”
At that point the age of wooden ships was winding down however, causing a reduction in the scale of the demand for timber exports both as wood and manufactured into ships. By the end of the Crimean war in 1856, virtually all of the ships in the British Royal Navy had already been fitted with steam engines rendering masts irrelevant (Evans 2004), and the conversion to iron hulls began within a decade thereafter.
A non-timber forest product that was commercially significant at the time was maple sugar. In the 1840s the Colpitts family was already producing marketable surpluses, gathering enough sap to produce 6,200 pounds of maple sugar (Albert County Museum 2015c). By 1851 the annual output from Elgin Parish (which included all of the forested upper reaches of the Little River where sugar maple is common) was approximately 80,000 pounds (Fellows 1980).
As noted in the timber section, before crops could be planted settlers were faced with cutting and clearing the forest. Stumps were often left a few years to rot, and crops were sown amongst them (DeMerchant, 1983). In Perley’s (1857) Handbook of Information for Emigrants to New Brunswick, he suggests that “No emigrant should undertake to clear land and make a farm, unless he has the means of supporting his family for 12 months.” However, it was not just a matter of the financial resources of individuals. Since in the early 1800’s the province as a whole was not self-sufficient agriculturally, it is unlikely the communities along the Little River were either. Given the initial logistical challenges of transporting food to remote homesteads, it is doubtful that importation of food was as practical as in urban centres. More likely for the early English settlers, subsistence agriculture was supplemented with food available from the forest and river. Even as late as 1876 fishing regulators noted that farmers devoted a significant portion of their time to fishing salmon, with most of the entire catch being used for home consumption (Commissioner of Fisheries 1877). This pattern had been established previously on the Petitcodiac River. In 1783 while Robert Colpitts first crop at his farm near Salisbury was ripening, his family’s main source of food was salmon (Moncton Daily Times, Thursday August 26th 1920). In fact as early as 1852, concerns were being expressed about noticeable declines in the once abundant salmon population on the Petitcodiac (Elson 1962). At first this was presumed to be a consequence of overfishing, though by the 1870s it was recognized to be a result of issues with fish passage at dams nearby on the Pollett.
Baillie (1832) indicated that a “tolerably good” road went up the Coverdale River. However he went on to qualify that by noting that “generally speaking it is not fit for carriages”, which suggests that foot, horse, and perhaps limited cart traffic may have been the norm. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that the arrival of the Salisbury – Albert railroad in 1877 reduced many of the logistical constraints on bringing supplies into the lower end of the Little River watershed, and moving surpluses out to trade. Freight traffic of food along this line in 1887 amounted to 384.9 tons of flour, 190.9 tons of grain, and 873 head of livestock (The Maple Leaf Thursday January 12th 1888). However, as was mentioned earlier in the forestry section, much of that would have been in transit through the watershed, originating from points beyond such as Hillsborough or communities at or near the Fundy coast, and so does not actually provide much of an indication one way or the other of the productivity of the watershed. Also, unlike the forest products (which, given the abundance of forests locally, would likely have been a one-way flow out to market), a portion of the total agricultural freight carried may have been inbound for local consumption rather than an outbound surplus being sold elsewhere. Comparison of the roads in 1878 (Dawson 2005) serving the area from what later became Colpitts Settlement on downstream to Salisbury, to those in the rest of the watershed upstream of that point, suggests that the bulk of agricultural activity occurred in the lower valley, as is still the case today (Department of Natural Resources in 2014).
Nearby, marketable surpluses of food were being produced on the Pollett River with reports of potatoes being sent via the Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway to as far away as Boston in 1887 (Moncton Daily Times, Monday October 1887), and cattle to Saint John the following year (The Maple Leaf, Albert NB, Thursday October 18th 1888). Similarly from along the Fundy coast the Salisbury – Albert Railway was carrying hay from Riverside to Halifax, and cattle from Harvey to Saint John (The Maple Leaf, Thursday January 12th 1888). So communities in the Little River watershed were likely tied into such economic activity and (particularly in the case of those in the upper reaches of the river) if they were not contributing to these agricultural surpluses, then they likely served as local markets for the consumption of them.
Dawson (2005) shows that by 1878 the road network within the Little River watershed looked quite recognizable to the modern eye, with roads of some kind present along many of the routes that are significant enough to be paved today, though obviously these wouldn’t have been developed to that extent then. In 1893 the lack of good roads was still described as one of the greatest constraints on agriculture (The Daily Times, Saturday April 23rd, 1893). Next door on the Pollett River, upstream of Elgin, there were actually many more roads in place by 1878 than remain in the area today (Dawson 2005; Natural Resources Canada 2010). Between the First and Second World Wars most of the scattered farms that had been established on the Pollett above Elgin were abandoned and allowed to revert back to forest (Elson 1962), as many people left the area during that time to search for more arable land out west (Department of Natural Resources 2007; Degraaf et al. 2007). In contrast, the headwaters of the Little River in 1878 had fewer roads (Dawson 2005), suggesting that these areas were not nearly as settled and developed. So while no doubt this region also lost population during that time for the same reasons as the Pollett, the effect was less pronounced.
In May 1911 the portion of the Salisbury – Albert Railway south from Hillsborough to Albert was in financial distress and was temporarily closed down, leaving the line operating only from Salisbury to Hillsborough (Sackville Tribune, Thursday July 13th 1911). It was eventually purchased by the Dominion of Canada and operated by the Intercolonial Railway (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015a). The Section of track from Albert to Salisbury continued to operate although with only one train per week up to 1946, though the section from Hillsborough to Salisbury still had daily trains during this period. Meanwhile the Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway was not profitable either, and went bankrupt in 1890. It was sold to the government in 1918 and operated by the Intercolonial Railway (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015a) until that was taken over by Canadian National in 1919 (Marsh 1999).
There are records of mineral exploration and discovery in the watershed, but little evidence of significant subsequent development of these resources. Coal was noted along the Coverdale River (Johnston 1850; Monro 1855), but not much was said about its properties or location, other than an indication that the deposits were not thought to be large. In 1864 L. W. Bailey, a Professor of Chemistry and Natural History at the University of New Brunswick reported that “thin pieces of gold of considerable size” were found in an unnamed (perhaps not surprisingly) stream that is a branch of the Coverdale River, near Elgin Corner (Bailey 1864). The same year, in another document Bailey also describes bituminous shale in the upper reaches of Prosser Brook that he concludes is likely a local extension of the deposit from which Albertite was being extracted at Albert Mines (Bailey 1865). So there was an awareness of mineral resources in the watershed, but their extraction was not economically viable.