First Level Assessment- Land use History of the North River

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 1981b), 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, 1981b).  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 2015), at the time known as Humphrey Corner (Village of Petitcodiac 2015).   Its 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 into town. They also used these timber by-products as molds for maple sugar candy (Plummer 2013).