Aboriginal Settlements on the Petitcodiac River
Pet-kout-koy-ek, one of several original versions of the name now written as Petitcodiac and otherwise meaning ‘the river that bends like a bow,’ is home to the native Mi’gmaq people represented today in the region by the Fort Folly First Nation.The most important aboriginal settlements on the Petitcodiac River were situated at Beaumont near the mouth of the river and in the region of the present-day village of Salisbury where the Mi’gmaq had established an important winter camp. Several burial sites exist along the Petitcodiac River but remain unmarked, the only exception being at Beaumont, the site of an Indian reserve cemetery dating back to the 1800′s.
Historic Transportation Route
The Petitcodiac River was an ancient transport route for the Mi’gmaq. Riding a 13 km per hour tide, a native leaving Beaumont (a Mi’gmaq camp on the Lower Petitcodiac) could cover large distances on the river with less effort, reaching the area today known as the village of Petitcodiac, some 60 km up river. Once they landed, a 5-6 km portage brought the Mi’gmaq to the Kennebecasis River, which flows into the Saint John River.
A more important portage left the Petitcodiac River about 3 km south of the present-day village of Petitcodiac. From here, a 24 km portage would take the Mi’gmaq travellers to the Washademoak River, today known as the Canaan River. From this river, they could reach Washademoak Lake and then canoe to the Saint John River. Leaving the Saint John, the Mi’gmaq would portage around Grand Falls, take the Madawaska River, reach Notre-Dame-du-Lac, and Rivière-du-Loup, and finally make their way to the mighty St. Lawrence River.
The national importance of the portage from the Petitcodiac to the Washademoak was recognized in 1937, when the Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada erected a cairn as a monument near the village of Petitcodiac. The inscription on the plaque reads as follows:
Prehistoric Indian Portage
The ancient route later used by the French from Acadia to the Upper Saint John and Quebec left the Petitcodiac near this point, crossed to North River and continued to the Washademoak Canaan River.
The Acadian Dyke Systems
The first Acadian settlements in the region were established around 1698 on the Shepody River. The rivers of Memramcook and Petitcodiac followed the same settlement patterns soon afterwards, bringing in Acadian emigrants from the established regions of Nova Scotia. The region became known in the 1700′s as ‘Trois-Rivières,’ making reference to the three-river system of the Petitcodiac, the Memramcook and the Shepody. The settlers dreamed of finding new marshlands to cultivate, and a life removed from the control of the colonial powers of the day, England and France.
The Acadians built extensive dike systems and aboiteaux along the Shepody, Memramcook and Petitcodiac Rivers, in order to convert salt-water marshes into some of the most fertile agricultural land in North America. This engineering and agricultural feat was recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to be of national importance in 1998. Plans are in the works to have this theme interpreted by Parks Canada, including a site to be situated in the Memramcook Valley on the Petitcodiac River system.
Battle on the Petitcodiac River
In August 1755 began the darkest period in the history of Acadia, a seven-year war that saw the Deportation of the Acadians from their homeland in present-day New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The region of the Petitcodiac River, where about a thousand Acadians lived was severely affected by these events.
An important battle took place near the present-day village of Hillsborough on the lower Petitcodiac River, in the early days of September 1755. A cairn placed there by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1937 recognizes the importance of the events that took place.
English troops under the regional command of Lieutenant-Colonel Monckton encircled the village under orders to burn the establishment and to bring into custody any Acadians found on site. A group of fighters made up of Acadians and Mi’gmaq, under the command of a French army officer, organized an ambush that proved disastrous for the English troops. Being caught off-guard and unable to reach their ships awaiting farther offshore, it being low tide, 24 English soldiers lost their lives on that day and 11 others lay wounded.
The Battle at Hillsborough in early September of 1755 was followed, a few weeks later by the first expulsion of Acadians from Fort Beauséjour, situated nearby in Cumberland Basin. Resistance endured on the Petitcodiac River until 1759, led by a group of Acadians located on the upper Petitcodiac River near the present-day village of Salisbury. Local historians believe that the determination of these Acadians and their spirit of resistance made it possible for the Acadian community in southeastern New Brunswick to survive and prosper many generations thereafter.
The Acadian Odyssey
The region of the Petitcodiac River system played a significant role in the survival and the later emancipation of the Acadian community. Out of three remaining settlements dating back to colonial Acadia and still populated by Acadians, two are located in this region, Memramcook and Dieppe formerly Petcoudiac (the other is in southwestern Nova Scotia). In 1976, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognized the national significance of the Survival of the Acadians and the Acadian Odyssey, choosing the Memramcook Valley for the interpretation of this theme.
The inscription on the commemorative plaque in Memramcook reads as follows:
The Acadian Odyssey
Despite the deportations of the 1750′s and 1760′s, many Acadians returned from exile and others came out of hiding to resume their former way of life. With fortitude and determination, they created new settlements in isolated parts of the Maritimes and gradually re-established their own social and cultural institutions. Many Acadian leaders were educated here at Collège Saint-Joseph, founded in 1864. On this site in 1881 was held the first Acadian National Convention which brought thousands of Acadians together for the first time and helped to strengthen their sense of identity.
The Acadian community continues today on its odyssey of rebirth: Moncton, the city at the bend of the Petitcodiac, hosted the Francophonie Summit in 1999.
Pennsylvania ‘Dutch’ Settlers
In the years following the English French war of the 1750′s and 1760′s, new settlements emerged along the Petitcodiac River system, the most significant being located in present-day Moncton and Hillsborough. A site in Moncton, known in those days as “The Bend”, saw the arrival in 1766 of a group of new settlers of German origin from the American colony of Pennsylvania, and known as the Pennsylvania ‘Dutch’.
The group, bearing the family names of Summers, Miller, Jones, Stief (Steeves), Criner, Lutz (Lutes), Cline, Lentz and Trites were later termed by historians the « permanent settlers » of the new township of Moncton.
The Prince Lewis House, located at Moncton’s Bore Park on the banks of the Petitcodiac River, is believed to be the region’s oldest structure, dating back to the late 1700′s, and is now the focus of a community restoration project. A heart carved in wood over an interior door in the house, a traditional German symbol of marriage, is thought to have been carved around 1778 and is a critical piece of this historical puzzle. In 1999, the house was recognized as a Heritage Site by the province of New Brunswick.
During the 1850′s, the Petitcodiac River region, like other regions in the Maritimes, gave rise to an important shipbuilding industry. Led by businessman Joseph Salter, who later became Moncton’s first mayor, the region built large three-mast ships which sailed the world’s oceans. Relics of the historical wharves dating back to this era still line portions of the riverfront in Moncton. Other shipbuilding centres on the Petitcodiac River included Salisbury, Hopewell Cape, Dorchester and Harvey Bank.
In 1997, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognized the national importance of the shipbuilding industry in New Brunswick. Plans are in the works to commemorate this achievement, likely somewhere along the Bay of Fundy (Saint John, St. Martin’s).
Grindstone Island and the Sandstone Industry
From the mid 1800′s to the latter part of the century, a stone-cutting industry flourished on the lower Petitcodiac River and in Shepody Bay, with the main centres being Grindstone Island, Rockport, and Beaumont. Sandstone of superior quality was cut from this region and shipped to large eastern seaboard centres such as New York and Boston. Many fine buildings built from Petitcodiac River sandstone still stand in these cities today.
New Brunswick is known internationally for its wooden covered bridges dating back to the early 1900′s.
Out of a total of 62 covered bridges remaining in New Brunswick today, 10 are situated in the Petitcodiac River system: Petitcodiac River, Memramcook River, Shepody River, Coverdale, William Mitton, Crooked Creek, Saw Mill Creek, Turtle Creek, Weldon Creek, and Bull Creek.