First Level Assessment- Land use History of the main stem of the Petitcodiac 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). The ruggedness of the region hindered timber exploitation, requiring driving dams to ensure sufficient water-flow to move logs, and limited the amount of hauling that horse and oxen teams could do (Shoebottom 1999). So, 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 had established the requirement of a royal license to fell white pines with a diameter exceeding 24 inches unless they were privately owned.

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).

Sawmills at this time were typically driven by energy from falling water, often enhanced with the assistance of a dam. The low gradient along the main stem of the Petitcodiac offered less energy for such operations than did its various tributaries. Table 1 indicates that sawmills were present in both the Village of Petitcodiac and River Glade in 1898, but Salisbury meanwhile, though described as a lumbering community at one time, had no sawmills at that point. The first mill in the Village of 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, which is actually up off the main stem, in the Anagance watershed. The Jacknife Sawmill was in operation by 1833 in Petitcodiac, and a spool manufacturing plant by 1868. Other milling operations in Petitcodiac included the Petitcodiac Lumber Company on the North River, and the Humphreys and Trites Mill, at the mouth of the Anagance and North Rivers, i.e. the very start of the main stem. The sawmill in River Glade in 1898 was may have been powered by either Chapman Brook or perhaps a steam engine, as there doesn’t appear to be a record of a dam. The Village of Petitcodiac was electrified in 1928 (Village of Petitcodiac 2019), so River Glade, with a smaller population, probably would not have had electricity to power a mill until at least then.

By comparison the Pollett River was described by Elson (1962) as having had several large dams to power sawmills. McLeod (1973) reports that the Coverdale (Little) River had no major obstructions and that salmon were able to use the lower 40 km of the river extensively between the early 1800s to the 1970s, such that the Coverdale actually produced a majority of salmon smolts in the Petitcodiac system during that time. It may be that the situation on the Little River was simply better relative to the Pollett, which after all had a major mill dam just 16 km above the mouth of the river at Forest Glen that reportedly for much of that time had no functioning fishway and so blocked passage beyond it (Elson 1962). This situation was exacerbated in 1910 when the Sanatorium Dam was put in 6 km below Forest Glen- just 10 km above the mouth of the Pollett River. In contrast fishways on dams on the Coverdale were described as being in good order in 1876, and though there were declines in catches of salmon that year, these were blamed upon recent increases in milling and “mill rubbish” (sawdust etc.) fouling the water (Commissioner of Fisheries 1877). This confirms that sawmills on these rivers were powered by dams (as one would expect) but is consistent with McLeod’s (1973) conclusion that the dams on the Little River did not block fish passage. Mill wastes were a problem because, other than burning, dumping into the river was the most common form of disposal of sawdust, bark, and other waste (Department of Fisheries 1890). Such material covered river bottoms, sometimes smothering spawning sites, and was likely a factor at the start of the main stem of the Petitcodiac below the Humphrey and Trites Mill.

By 1860 the European and North American Railway linked Saint John and Moncton, passing down the Anagance valley, through the Village of Petitcodiac (New Brunswick Railway Museum 2015), and along the south bank of the Petitcodiac, until crossing a bridge a short distance before North River Platform (River Glade) and continuing along the north bank through Salisbury on its way to Moncton (Dawson 2005), essentially the same line operated today by CN. Fuel for the engines was cordwood in three to four-foot lengths purchased from farmers along the line (Stronach 1969), typically cut 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).

This was enhanced with the development of branch lines such as the Elgin, Petitcodiac, & Havelock Railway which opened in 1876. The Chignecto Post in Sackville wrote (September 14th, 1876) “Within a few months over 350 cars of lumber (which could not have otherwise profitably been put in the market) have been hauled over the railway. The estimated shipments of lumber per year is about six million. Besides this there is ship timber from the virgin forests of Elgin, bark, sleepers, cordwood, country produce, local and passenger traffic.” It goes on, “There is said to be enough timber in her (referring to the Elgin region) hills to keep the shipyards in Saint John busy for a century.” Eleven months later The Daily Times of Moncton noted on August 15th, 1877, that “during the year a great quantity of ship timber has been got out at Elgin for consumption in Saint John.”

Further downstream, by 1877 another branch line, The Salisbury – Albert Railway began operating, connecting Hillsborough (in the lower estuary), and Riverside Albert (on the Shepody) to the Intercolonial Railway via the station in Salisbury (Chignecto Post Thursday May 24th, 1877). After crossing the Petitcodiac at Salisbury the railway headed east, crossing Turtle Creek and nearly paralleling the Petitcodiac on to Hillsborough, with much of the area described as “unsettled country”. From there it traveled south on to Albert Mines, the mouth of the Demoiselle and the Shepody River on the Bay of Fundy, ending at that time at Riverside. Ten years later, during the whole of 1887, it carried to market 2,334 cords of firewood, and 8,913 tons of timber (The Maple Leaf Thursday January 12th, 1888).
At that point the age of wooden ships was winding 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 had already been 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 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 in the area were tapped for sap, with farmers producing syrup, sugar, and candy- though such opportunities were somewhat scattered. The low elevation of the Eastern Lowlands Ecoregion through which the main stem flows limits the availability of sugar maple there. The low relief, poor soil drainage and high acidity create conditions that discourage development of hardwood stands which prefer the well-drained upper slopes and ridges more common along the Pollett and Little which drain through the Central Uplands Ecoregion (Department of Natural Resources 2007).