- Petites, Newfoundland
- Molasses Hill, Northumberland County, New Brunswick
- Carroll’s Crossing, New Brunswick
- Bhreac Brook, East Bay South, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – Portrait of a Cape Breton “Backland” Community
Petites, Newfoundland and Labrador
Petites, Newfoundland is located on the southwest coast of the Island, about 50 km from Channel Port Aux Basques. The community which was resettled 2003, is accessible only by water, a short boat ride from its neighbouring community with road access, Rose Blanche.
Exactly when Petites was founded by Europeans is unknown, the rich fishing area of Rose Blanche banks was the location of the French migrant fishery from the early 1700s forward, with official year round settlements beginning in the early 19th century. The records are scarce but in the 1845 census, Petites boasted 10 permanent families with a total of 61 souls, 30 of whom were under 14 years of age. By 1921 the population had grown to 210 souls in 43 households. The census of this period lists the oldest Petites born resident Elias Mauger1 born 1845.
Petites was conveniently placed to provide for the fishing fleet, in addition to having a sheltered harbour, in close proximity to rich fishing grounds, the community is graced with pools fed by spring water. Additionally, the large granite deposit which dominates the landscape was desirable enough to support a quarry, some of the cut stone making its way into the courthouse in St John’s.
A community of fewer than 250 residents, Petites boasted no less than 12 stores catering to almost any need. The economy of Petites was the fishing industry, but also its related industry of local trade and supply by boat. By 1900, that was beginning to change, the interior regions were opening up as timber companies drove roads, and built mills, drawing young people to the timber towns which seemed to appear over night.
By the last half of the 1930’s, the community of Petites was long familiar with the exodus of young people leaving to seek work and life outside of the community. A position as a domestic in the home of a Glace Bay physician would lead Evelyn to meet and marry Stephan Morrison.
Although strongly associated with the coal industry, Glace Bay, NS has strong association with the fishing industry as well, the links between the two communities are many. The family ties which developed over more than a hundred years of trade, shared fishing grounds, challenge, and tragedy provide an enduring link between the two communities.
- The Mauger/Major Family in Newfoundland appears to have been founded by one Elias Mauger born about 1725 in Guernsey, Channel Islands, who settled in Fortune Bay, NL. The Mauger family of Petites were of three brothers, Phillip, James and Elias all born in Fortune, and all probable descendants of the original settler Elias Mauger.
- “Growth and Development of the Wild Blueberry” Wild Blueberry Fact Sheet 2010. Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, Province of New Brunswick. (2021)
- “Exploration and Settlement” Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site (1997) https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/exploration/exploration-settlement-default.php (2021)
- “Voluntary Settlement – the peopling of Newfoundland to1820.” Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site (1997) https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/exploration/voluntary-settlement.php (2021)
The contemporary photos were generously shared by Paul Graham, a Petites descendant who shares ancestry to Evelyn’s Grandmother Elizabeth Groves Mauger.
Molasses Hill, Northumberland County, New Brunswick
A short distance from the community of Blackville, just on the Blissfield side of the parish line, lies a place known as “Molasses hill”. The hill, only about 19 meters high, figures large in the story of how the area came to get its name…the details of the incident are murky… was the puncheon of molasses destined for a community store or for a lumber camp? Was it being transported by horse drawn wagon or sled? Regardless the details…the spill of molasses, and the mess (some say the molasses stiffened by the cold became a obstruction to others traveling the area) became ingrained in the memory of the community.
The local tradition of oral history is deep, story telling was a valuable tool of entertainment during the long winder nights in logging camps, they told stories, sang songs about the things important in their lives and used humour and drama with good effect. Of course an incident involving molasses would become the source of entertainment and amusement, molasses was staple, familiar and well known. So familiar that in 1860 New Brunswick imported and consumed 880,000 gallons of molasses. Most of the molasses was shipped in wooden barrels, a puncheon of molasses was size of container most used in this region. And where did the wood for the barrels come from…from the toil and effort of men and women like themselves. Of course some of those barrels would have also contained rum… some of the molasses might have found its way in to the stills of the region, but the recipe rum did not end up in My Mother’s cookbooks.
The tiny hamlet of Carroll’s Crossing, nestled on the steep banks of the Southwest Miramichi river, was settled by Europeans beginning prior to the first land grant in1809. The grant under the sponsor Ephraim Betts, includes some 60 parcels of land in the Upper Miramichi valley. The area which became Carroll’s Crossing is comprised of a handful of lots granted to Stephen Sutter, Francis Meuse, James Barcley, Widow Rose Smith, Jeremiah Lyons, William Betts and Azor Betts, lots numbered 58 to 64.
It is not as yet clear the extent to which some of these of Grantees engaged their property. Like many early Land grants, the practice of favouring influential and powerful individuals is demonstrated in the number of lots which were quickly sold, or transferred but not developed by the grantee. A case in point is the sale of lot 61, by Widow Rose Smith to Daniel Lyon, son of Jeremiah Lyons which occurred a mere 3 years after it was granted to her. It is important to remember the primary impetus for settlement of Northumberland county was the timber trade. In the period up to the Great Miramichi fire of 1825, the vast stands of virgin timber represented opportunity.
What we can say is that the family of Jeremiah Lyon and later settlers, did remain in the area and were part of its growth into a community which once boasted a school, church and post office as well as stores, sandstone quarry and a blacksmith. Most of the long term residents of Carroll’s Crossing engaged in the timber industry and subsistence farming. The steep side hill land soil is thin, and rocky but many grants had attached islands and river interval lands which although limited use for building structures because of spring flooding, provided rich soil for growing crops and for pasturing animals. Of course the water front lots were also favoured for their river access, for travel and for fishing. In addition to the Atlantic Salmon which was plentiful in the Miramichi River, the river provided other wild foods such as Fiddleheads greens.
The arrival of the railway in 1870’s saw the area gain its name, as the story goes Thomas Carroll who along with his wife Elizabeth McKinnon Carroll settled on the land granted to Francis Meuse, objected strongly to losing his land. Apparently, Mr Carroll was somewhat appeased by the authorities deciding to name the community after him. How exactly Thomas Carroll whose Carroll family had settled down river at Howards, NB, came to choose the area to live is unclear, he did have family connections to the area. Thomas Carroll was Great Grandson of Jeremiah Lyons through his Grandmother Dorothy Elizabeth Lyons Kearney, one of Jeremiah’s daughters. There also appears to be connection to some of the Irish settlers to the area in particular the McNamee family. Regardless, the Carroll family would settle, share their name with the community and grow into the prosperous family, farmers and business owners of today.
Carroll’s Crossing School- https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=14064
Rural Community of the Upper Miramichi – https://uppermiramichi.ca/
Bhreac Brook, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – A Cape Breton “Backland” settlement.
Bhreac Brook is located in what was known as East Bay South on Cape Breton island. The brook and its valley are in the shadows of Sgurra Bhreac, the highest point in Southern Cape Breton. Sgurra Bhreac, located between barren and the Bra D’Or Lakes is part of the Appalachian Mountain chain in Nova Scotia. The brook runs east to west and drains into the Bra D’Or Lakes at Big Pond.
The settlement at Bhreac Brook was a “Backlands” settlement 1 also known as “Rear”settlements, such as Rear Big Pond, Rear Irish Cove. Backland communities formed once the desirable Bra D’Or lake and shore front properties were settled. The geography of Cape Breton which accounts for much of its beauty, also naturally limits the amount of farm-able land, with reasonable access to water ways, transportation and markets.
When the McDougall Family arrived first in Cape Breton in 1815, Ailean McDougald was granted a Bra D’Or lake front lot at what is now Ben Eoin, near McDougall’s point (Grant petition # 1204). By the time his younger son John was seeking land for his family, his choices were far more limited. Increased immigration and natural population growth2 forced settlers on to the backlands. Steep hillsides, rocky terrain, limited access to fishing and transportation water ways made life all but impossible without paid work off the farm. The choices were limited in the early period, as time progressed work could be found in the commercial fishery, in coal mining and eventually in the steel mill.
At first the work was ‘temporary’ men left their farms and families to seek work, leaving the women and children to maintain their subsistence farm. The working conditions these men faced are well documented3 but the toil of their families is less well known. Yet these families survived and contributed to their communities, especially their church community.
One of the earliest church communities formed in Cape Breton, St Mary’s East Bay was the center of community in the period 1820-1890. From early celebration of mass in Gaelic to church picnics of the 1880-90’s, church and community were hand and glove. Other traditional Highland and Gaelic cultural practices such as Ceilidhs, and milling frolics were also common place. Fiddlers and singers used any and all opportunities to perform and socialize, be it organized performances, improvised kitchen parties or work parties.
Cape Breton rural communities like Bhreac Brook demonstrate the hardship and challenges faced by our ancestors in the settlement of North America. They also demonstrate how chain migration, interconnected immigrants seeking out kin to settle near, can serve to preserve cultural, social, and religious traditions.
As the 19th century was winding down, so too were many of the backland settlements like Bhreac Brook, as subsistence farms were abandoned for full time paid work fishing, mining or steel making. The move of families to the industrial communities of Sydney and Glace Bay took place gradually. First the men went for work, returning home during work down turns. Later families accompanied them to Eastern communities but the ties to their homes were maintained. Some families moved back and forth from urban centers to their homes in the backlands for several years before making the final break.
A curiosity of this period is the documented habit of families setting their dinner tables prior to leaving for the final time. It is difficult to understand this practice and the intention behind it, were they intending to return or simply acknowledging the end of an era? It is not clear but does it serve to remind us that transitions are not always clean and clear even for those undertaking them. The emotional attachment to home is one which can haunt even the most rational of us. The transition from their isolated backland communities for life in the shadows of the coal and steel industries presented high levels of change, stress and challenge as well as opportunity.
Those who left backlands communities did not limit themselves to relocating to other Cape Breton communities, some made their way to urban centers of Boston and New York, others joined the settlement of central and western North America.
Regardless the route traveled by Cape Bretoners, the connection to the island expressed in the refrain of The Island by Kenzie McNeil, holds true for many:
“We are an island, a rock in a stream
We are a people as proud as there’s been
In soft summer breeze or in wild winter wind
The home of our hearts, Cape Breton”
The community of Bhreac Brook was short lived but a few families retained their land in the area and continue to visit. The area is now more known for its proximity to Sgurra Bhreac than to the people who once worked the soil, and whose voices echoed through the hills and valleys.
- Backland settlements are described by Stephan J. Hornsby in his work “Nineteenth century Cape Breton: A historical Geography” (Montreal and Kingston, McGill -Queens University Press 1992)
- Populations statistics for the period demonstrate the growth, in 1801 the entire population of Cape Breton was 2,500 by 1838 it had grown to 35,000. By the mid 1840s Scottish immigration had all but ended to Cape Breton but the natural population growth would swell the population to 87,000 by 1891.
- Popular media has portrayed the life of Cape Breton miners in movies, books and television, but none does better at describing the life and working conditions of miners, and farmer-miners than the children’s novel by Joyce Barkhouse Pit Pony, Gage 1990, ISBN9780771570230.