First Level Assessment- Land use History of the Anagance River

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). 

Most early roads, such as those that were present when Chipman received his grant in 1834, were little more than foot trails (Elliot 1970). An exception was the Westmorland Great Road (Route 106 today). It was built by the 1830s – graveled and smooth enough to run a stagecoach at a full trot when the weather was fine (Goodrich 2010).   It connected Saint John and “The Bend” (Moncton) via something resembling the Anagance valley portage route, and this route had been already surveyed and well-traveled on foot and by horseback as early as the 1790s.  By 1836 the Saint John Stagecoach Company began operating a weekly service between Saint John and Amherst that could make the trip in two days, staying overnight in Petitcodiac (Goodrich 2010), speed that was testament  to the relative quality of the road for the time. 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.

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.

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).