First Level Assessment- Land use History of the North River

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 1981b).  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 2015). 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 2015).   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 main stem of 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).