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 North River include: Dobsons Corner; Fawcett Hill; Indian Mountain; Intervale; Lewis Mountain; Lutes Mountain; Petitcodiac; River Glade; Steeves Mountain; Second North River; and Wheaton Settlement.

Table 4-1: Brief historical background summary for communities bordering North River, NB.

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 North River 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 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 North 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 North River 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 North River, being remote and not particularly navigable, 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 4-1 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).

Given the technology available to early English settlers, there are two important differences between the North River and both the Little and Pollett.  The first difference is that while the latter two flow north into the Petitcodiac roughly perpendicular to the main stem, the North flows predominantly southwest, somewhat parallel to the northeasterly flow of the Petitcodiac, offset by a short plateau of land between it and the main stem. As a result the headwaters of both the Pollett and the Little become progressively more remote the further up one goes in them, as much as 30 km overland and 40 to 50 km upstream, while the entire watershed of the North is much more easily accessible.  Though its headwaters are a similar 40 to 50 km upstream, the North runs for its entire length not much more than 10 kilometers (often less) overland away from the main stem of the Petitcodiac (Natural Resources Canada 1997; Natural Resources Canada 2008). The second difference is the soil and climate of the North River.  While the Little and the Pollett 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, the North River is relatively unique in that it flows entirely within the Eastern Lowlands Ecoregion (New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources 2007).

So in addition to being much more accessible throughout its entire length than either the Little or the Pollett, the soils and climate of the North River are on average better suited to agriculture.  As a result it appears that English settlers tended to spread overland from the main stem of the Petitcodiac into the North River watershed, rather than up along it’s (often not very navigable) channel. For example Wheaton Settlement, 14 kilometers upstream of the Village of Petitcodiac along the North (5 kilometers overland from River Glade) was settled only 7 years prior to Lutes Mountain in the headwaters, more than 50 kilometers up stream of the Village of Petitcodiac (but only 12 kilometers overland from downtown Moncton (which Lutes Mountain is now a part of)).

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).

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 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 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, passing near the mouth of the North River, through Petitcodiac Village (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015b), at the time known as Humphrey Corner (Village of Petitcodiac 2015).   It’s route followed the Kennebecasis / Anagance / Petitcodiac watersheds, similar to the old First Nation and French portage route.  Fuel for the engines was cordwood in three to four foot lengths purchased from farmers along the line (Stronach 1969).  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 that was commercially significant was maple sugar.  Some of the lands bordering the North River were converted (perhaps by fire) to sugar bushes (Plummer 2013). Though the precise years of his bottling operation are unknown, Arthur Briggs (born 1852, died 1936) spent years producing and selling Maple syrup at Stilesville just north of Lutes Mountain (Briggs Maples 2015), along the divide between the North River and the Shediac River (Natural Resources Canada 2008).   Early on, birch from local trees was used to make pots to transport their product in to town. They also used these timber by-products as molds for maple sugar candy (Plummer 2013).

Agricultural Practices

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). 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 North River were either.  However, given the 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 settlers, subsistence agriculture was supplemented with food available from the forest and river. The area surrounding North River, especially the New Canaan District was famous for its moose hunting (Burrows 1984). There are historic records of salmon in the North River (Dunfield 1991), and extensive fishing dating back to early settlement.  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 already 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).

By 1850 over 25% of the land in coastal Parishes such as Hopewell, Dorchester, and Westmoreland had been cleared for agriculture, and Sackville Parish had 16,000 of its 100,000 acres fit for cultivation (Wynn 1981).  Only in Elgin and Salisbury Parish did the population density remain less than 5 people per square mile.  Salisbury Parish included all of the lower end of the North River from where it is joined by the Anagance and becomes the Petitcodiac, up to a point along the river slightly northeast of Salisbury.  Quality of land wasn’t the limiting factor however. Atkinson (1842) in his Emigrant’s Guide to New Brunswick, British North America, noted that, “there is much ungranted land of a good quality” on the North River, and described it as follows, “On the banks of this river there are numerous and extensive tracts of intervale and it is a well settled country having been peopled during the last forty years. The soil on the uplands is highly fertile and there are natural meadows that afford abundance of pasture.”  Monro (1855) acknowledged some short comings, but echoed much of this assessment, endorsing both the land immediately along the Petitcodiac, as well as further upstream in the North River watershed, but not the upland plateau between them stating, “With the exception of the intervale along the valley of the Petitcodiac the land in the front of this parish is generally of an inferior quality; that in its north west portion (along the North River immediately above the Village of Petitcodiac) is much better but additional roads are required to render it available for settlement.  In consequence of there being so much bad land along the line of railway and the mail road agricultural operations in this parish are much retarded.”

Intervale is a term local to the region that refers to fertile bottomlands, and was felt so apt, that one community along the river 4.5 km north of the Village of Petitcodiac actually adopted Intervale as its name, which it still goes by today.  Traveling overland from Moncton to Saint John, Johnston (1851) described what he saw in that area, “We found some good farms along this part of the North River and good land derived from the mixed calcareous and sandstone debris The limestone was hard, destitute of apparent fossils, and as subsequent analyses showed very pure and admirably fitted for agricultural purposes.  It had been quarried for building but the application of lime to the land was in this district scarcely known.”

No doubt the arrival of the European and North American Railway in 1860 (Stronach 1969) at Petitcodiac Village reduced many of the logistical constraints both on bringing supplies into North River watershed, and just as importantly, moving marketable surpluses out to trade.  This had substantial benefits going forward both for settlement and agriculture.  The railway only passed the river near its end at the Village of Petitcodiac, where the North River becomes the main stem of the Petitcodiac River.  However, since the Petitcodiac runs roughly parallel to the North, no point in the entire North River watershed up to its headwaters near Moncton was more than about 8 to 10 kilometers (often half that) from the rail line (Natural Resources Canada 1997; Natural Resources Canada 2008).  The train made it possible to travel from Moncton to Saint John in about 6 hours (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015b). So the Petitcodiac station, 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 2015b).   Also in 1876, the construction of The Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway branch line, turned Petitcodiac Station into a local rail hub.

Dawson (2005) shows that by 1878  the road network within the watershed showed some improvement over what Monro reported in 1855.  It looked quite recognizable to the modern eye, with roads of some kind already present along many (but by no means all) of the routes significant enough to be paved today, though obviously these wouldn’t have been developed to that extent then.  In-between the Village of Petitcodiac and Moncton, there were no fewer than six north-south roads, each crossing over from the main stem of the Petitcodiac River to provide access to settlements in nearby portions of the North River. The biggest single modern difference to the 1878 road network is the Trans-Canada Highway which cuts through the southwestern end of the North River watershed before crossing over into the Petitcodiac watershed.  The path it follows shows no 1878 precedent.

On the whole, however, the 1878 road network in the North River suggests that by that time, development, and by extension agriculture,  had progressed significantly, but (as one might expect), was less than today.  Interestingly, a similar comparison between the Little River in 1878 and today shows almost no change in road coverage during the same period; while on the Pollett, the number of roads in the upper reaches of that river was actually greater in 1878 than it is today.  So while the North River watershed has continued to develop, the Little has not (comparatively speaking), and settlement on the Pollett actually appears to have contracted somewhat relative to 1878.  This is consistent with the point made in the introduction that in addition to being much more accessible throughout its entire length than either the Little or the Pollett, the soils and climate of the North River are on average better suited to agriculture than is the case in much of the other two watersheds.  These facts may have made farms in Westmorland County along the North River more resistant to economic downturns following the First World War that caused many people in rural Albert County to leave the area during that time to search for more arable land out west (Department of Natural Resources 2007; Degraaf et al. 2007).  For that matter, those not wishing to move so far away, may have simply added instead to population growth along the North River and along the main stem of the Petitcodiac. As a consequence of all this, today more land in the North River basin is dedicated to agriculture than in Demoiselle Creek, Pollett River and Little river combined (Department of Natural Resources in 2014).

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); and pigs (Yorkshires and Berkshires).  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, North River watershed farmers were among those supplying the Corn Hill Cheese and Butter Company with raw products (Burrows 1984).

Mining Practices

The potential for production of agricultural lime noted by Johnston (1851), 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 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.

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1 Feb 2018