Land Use History of the Watershed

An understanding of the historical land use in a watershed has the potential to help explain the underlying cause of issues present in a watershed. The following outlines historical land use in the areas surrounding North River in Westmorland County. Communities in the area surrounding the Anagance River include: Anagance, Anagance Ridge, Dunsinane, Petitcodiac, and Portage Vale.

Table 1: Brief historical summary for communities along or near the Anagance 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 downstream of the Anagance 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) downstream of 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 the Anagance River, to the Kennebecasis River (and from there to the lower portion of the Saint John River system).

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 Anagance 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.  They went further upstream, proceeding into the North River before crossing overland to the Canaan, rather than starting their portage on the main stem of the Petitcodiac, and then crossing over the North River (as First Nations tended to do) on their way to the Canaan (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, downstream of the Anagance, along the main stem of the Petitcodiac in Salisbury, near to the Mi’kmaq encampment there (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) suggests that it is likely that in the wake of the expulsion, Acadians briefly occupied locations such as Fourche-à-crapaud at the mouth of Turtle Creek, and on the Coverdale (Little),  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).  Presumably the Anagance River, being remote and not navigable by anything larger than a canoe, served as little more than a portage route for Acadians during this time.

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 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. The settlement of the Village of Petitcodiac coincides 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 into the Petitcodiac’s more remote tributaries such as the Anagance (Wright 1945).

Given the technology available to early English settlers, there are two important differences between the Anagance River and either the Little or the Pollett.  The first is that like the North River, the Anagance flows almost entirely within the Eastern Lowlands Ecoregion (Department of Natural Resources 2007).  This sets it apart from both the Little and the Pollett, which travel a relatively steep gradient downstream starting in the Central Uplands Ecoregion, then descending into the Continental Lowlands Ecoregion, and finally ending in the Eastern Lowlands Ecoregion.  Consequently, the soils and climate of the Anagance has more in common with the North River than the Little or the Pollett.

The second difference was accessibility.  Its low gently sloping gradient made travel along the Anagance relatively easy compared to the Little or the Pollett.  At its mouth near the Village of Petitcodiac, the Anagance River is approximately 25 metres above sea level. Approximately halfway up its length, near the Village of Anagance, the river channel has only risen 10 metres to about 35 metres (Natural Resources Canada 1997).    That is the approximate point from which the portage from the Anagance departed the channel to cross over the ridge to the Kennebecasis, putting in near Portage Vale, making it the de facto travel route between the Petitcodiac and lower Saint John watersheds.  This same characteristic led to the selection of the Anagance valley for the route of the European and North American Railway in 1860 (Stronach 1969), linking Saint John to Amherst Nova Scotia, via Moncton (and in the process opening up the entire Anagance watershed from its headwaters to its mouth).  The railbed crosses the divide between the Anagance and Stone Brook (a tributary of the Kennebecasis) at Dunsinane, approximately 50 metres above sea level, a mere 25 metres higher that at the mouth of the Anagance (Natural Resources Canada 1997).  In comparison, the steeper headwaters of both the Pollett and the Little became progressively more remote to early settlers, the further upstream one went.

Forestry Practices

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). 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).

During the winters, many men within the Anagance worked in the woods- not only cutting their firewood for the coming year, but to earn cash income (Elliot 1970). To take advantage of the culled mixed forests during this time, many milling operations sprung up and some communities that had begun as a farming settlements developed into lumbering communities. The first mill in Petitcodiac was a grist mill in 1820, built by Humphrey Hayward, that would later be followed by a carding mill and sawmill owned by the same man (Burrows 1984). It was built on the Anagance’s Hayward Brook and the settlement that built up around the mill, Hayward Settlement. The Jacknife Sawmill was in operation by 1833 in Petitcodiac, and a spool manufacturing plant by 1868.  Mills were often operated by water, most likely from the river itself or its tributaries. Other milling operations nearby in Petitcodiac included the Petitcodiac Lumber Company on the North River, and the Humphreys and Trites Mill on the mouth of the Anagance and North Rivers.

By 1860 the European and North American Railway linked Saint John and Moncton, running the length of the Anagance valley, through Petitcodiac Village (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015), at the time known as Humphrey Corner (Village of Petitcodiac 2015).   Fuel for the engines was cordwood in three to four foot lengths purchased from farmers along the line (Stronach 1969), the portion in the Anagance valley came from hardwoods growing to either side of the rail line (Elliot 1970). Farmers received “tokens” (redeemable for cash) for wood used by the railway company from piles placed along the track at designated locations.  Petitcodiac Village itself served as a hardwood fueling station, and a lumber shipping station that would have rivaled larger cities of the time (Burrows 1984).

At that point the age of wooden ships was beginning to wind 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 were already 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 on the Anagance, was tan bark (Elliot 1970). Hemlock trees were cut down, and the bark was stripped off and hauled to the tannery in Petitcodiac. Because the logs would not float, they were often instead put on brooks to make bridges or corduroy roads. Elliot (1970) also notes that maple trees were tapped for sap, with farmers producing syrup, sugar, and candy- though such opportunities were somewhat scattered. The low elevation and poor drainage of much of the watershed suggests that this was likely more often possible along the ridges (Continental Lowlands Ecoregion), than the valley bottom (Eastern Lowlands Ecoregion), as sugar maple prefers well drained soils (Ritchie 1996).

Agricultural Practices

In the early 1800s most New Brunswick families were working the soil and tending to domestic livestock on forested acreages acquired by government issued grants that gave them freehold title to their lands (Parker 2015). Settlers near Anagance Ridge received land grants in 1803 with the commitment to clear and cultivate 3 acres out of every 50, or if the land was swampy and marshy, to drain and clear 3 out of every 50, and for every 50 acres of barren land, to keep 3 three cattle (Elliot 1970).  However, there was an element of land speculation in the process as one of the largest Anagance grants was 1000 acres in 1834 to The Honorable Ward Chipman, a justice of pre-Confederation New Brunswick’s Supreme Court.  That was approximately 3% of the entire watershed, and clearly, given the nature of Chipman’s work, more of an investment than personal homestead- sold in 1850 by his wife (after his death) to John Simonds, another non-resident elite, the son of the Province’s Treasurer.  Simonds divided the land and progressively sold off portions to homesteaders over the following 15 years. Most of the land at that time was forest, which settlers cut and burned to clear, spreading ashes as fertilizer (Elliot 1970). Tree stumps were left to rot, with crops sown amongst them (DeMerchant, 1983).

Early English settlers, like the Blakeneys who settled the Village of Petitcodiac in 1786, would have cleared the land and planted gardens that they may have later expanded to crop fields (Burrows 1984). 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 Anagance River were either.  However, given the logistical challenges of transporting food to remote homesteads, it is doubtful that importation of food was as practical along the Anagance as in urban centres. More likely for the early settlers, subsistence agriculture was supplemented with food available from the forest and river. The surrounding area, especially the New Canaan District, was famous for its moose hunting (Burrows 1984). There are historic records of salmon in the Anagance River, and extensive fishing dating back to early settlement (Dunfield 1991).  Salmon were taken by spear fishing in the freshwater portions of the river compared to the seins and weirs used in the estuary.  The intensity was such that as early as 1826 the Provincial Legislature passed an act to protect salmon on the Petitcodiac, limiting fishing to 3 days a week, and closing it after August 20th. By the 1840’s there were suggestions that nothing short of complete closure of the spear fishery would prevent extirpation of salmon from the Petitcodiac. Freshwater reaches of the river such as the Anagance were closed to salmon fishing in 1869 for conservation reasons, but they were “constantly and severely poached” (Dunfield 1991)

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 a generation previously downstream along on the main stem of the Petitcodiac.  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).

No doubt the arrival of the European and North American Railway in 1860 (Stronach 1969) ended many of the logistical constraints both on bringing supplies into the Anagance River watershed, and just as importantly, moving marketable surpluses out to trade.  It ran the length of the valley, with stations at Dunsinane, Anagance, and the village of Petitcodiac (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick 2017).  This had substantial benefits going forward both for settlement and agriculture.  The train made it possible to travel from Moncton to Saint John in about 6 hours (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015). The railway stations within the Anagance valley, being not quite midway, would have been just a few hours travel away from either end.  The connection to Saint John provided rapid year-round access to an ice free port from which most of New Brunswick’s exports were shipped overseas. In 1869, two years after Confederation, the line became part of the Intercolonial Railway system, which by 1876 (through Moncton) provided access from Halifax all the way to Upper Canada (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015).

By 1876, the construction of The Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway branch line, turned the station at the Village of Petitcodiac into a local rail hub. Marketable surpluses of food were being produced nearby on the Pollett River with reports of potatoes being sent by rail 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).  In each case, after leaving the Pollett, such cargo would have traveled southwest along the rail line through the Anagance to on its way to Saint John, and beyond.

Early roads, such as those that were present when Chipman received his grant in 1834, were little more than foot trails (Elliot 1970). The arrival of the railway in 1860 (Stronach 1969), combined with the road network evident in the 1878 Atlas (Dawson 2005), suggests that access throughout the Anagance (a natural transportation corridor) improved rapidly compared to many other portions of the Petitcodiac Watershed.  This network was quite similar in coverage (though obviously not quality) to modern roads in roughly the same locations as today.

In early years, milk was produced mostly for home consumption (Elliot 1970). Dairy products were among those perishable products whose production and transport to market was made possible by the expanding road network and rail service. By 1891 a cheese factory was established just outside the watershed nearby at Corn Hill (New Brunswick Department of Agriculture 1892).  Shortly thereafter, Anagance farmers were among those supplying the Corn Hill Cheese and Butter Company with raw products (Elliot 1970).  Crops reported being raised in the area by 1890 included: hay; grains (wheat, buckwheat, oats, and barley); vegetables (potatoes, carrots, and turnips); and fruits (apples, and plums) (New Brunswick House of Assembly 1890). Livestock included: cattle (Ayrshires, Jerseys, and short horns); sheep (Shropshire Downs); pigs (Yorkshires and Berkshires), as well as turkeys, geese, chickens, and bees (Elliot 1970).

Mining Practices

Salt springs were discovered early in the settlement of the area (Norman 1932). Johnston (1851) notes that while crossing overland from Moncton to Saint John along the road already present through the Anagance valley, he briefly diverted north at the Village of Petitcodiac to examine limestone and salt springs on the North River, a short distance from the mouth of the Anagance.  That potential was eventually realized. The Geological Survey of Canada (1890) concluded that, “gypsiferous beds in the vicinity of the salt springs along Salt Springs Brook and in the North River valley near Petitcodiac enrich the soil in these particular localities.”  The Petitcodiac Mining and Manufacturing Company (1860-1909) developed the lime resources of the Glenvale district along North River’s Salt Springs Brook (Burrows 1984).  Years later Goudge (1934) noted the remains of the quarry just south of Glenvale, that had supplied local farmers with raw agricultural lime.  Similarly, between 1850 and 1900, near the Anagance headwaters, a short distance over the divide down the Kennebecasis side at Plumsweep, brine from salt springs was being collected and evaporated to extract salt needed by the dairy industry in Sussex, perhaps eventually also supplying the cheese factory at Cornhill (Norman 1932, Hamilton 1961). Though underlain by the same deposits (the Anagance Axis Salt Area (Hamilton 1961)) feeding those sites, there is no record or evidence of historical extraction of either sort within the Anagance watershed itself, perhaps due in part to local demand being met by access to supply from these nearby operations (particularly given the rail transport available).


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24 Jan 2018