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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
Extracts of Matters of Historical Interest from "The Huissier, News For and About the Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff" By The Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff
(July 13, 2007)
following is an extract from an article
written by Ken Donovan entitled,
Imposing Discipline Upon Nature: Gardens, Agriculture
and Animal Husbandry in Cape Breton, 1713-1758,
Although the fishery was paramount, there was an effort by French authorities, from the earliest attempts to settle Cape Breton, to promote agriculture, especially gardening. Most of the early surveyors of the island stressed the agricultural potential of the land, especially in comparison to Newfoundland. In 1700 the French surveyor St. Marie made a reconnaissance of the coast of Cape Breton and reported to France that “Baie St. Anne is a good harbour and the surrounding area grows fine cereals.” At St. Peters he noted that the land is of good quality and that Nicolas Denys (1598-1688) “has planted wheat, two species of barley ... all of which is coming to perfection and maturity, I am sure that a minot of wheat will produce more than twenty fold. As for gardens, all sorts of vegetables are coming perfectly well, the same for pumpkins, watermelons, and cucumbers.”3 (One minot equals approximately 39 litres.) Nicolas Denys, who had a fishing and fur trading post at St Anns and then St. Peters from 1652 until 1668, noted that the captains of fishing vessels cultivated gardens for a fresh supply of ‘salads, peas and beans” (1672, 318).
Seeking sites for suitable settlement, Louis Denys (grand nephew of Nicolas) wrote in 1713 that he had visited St. Anns and saw the wheat fields that his grandfather Simon Denys had planted some 60 years earlier. The Mi’kmaq maintained that the fields produced the “most beautiful wheat in the world.” He also saw “very fine apple trees, from which we have eaten fruit very good for the season.” He “strongly recommended” that a settlement be established at St. Anns because the codfish was abundant and the land was good for farming.4 Several years later Philippe de Costebelle, the island’s first governor, referred to St. Anns and its vicinity as the “garden of Ile Royale.” 5 Barely three years into settlement (1716), the French harvested from the land a wide variety of produce including “Wheat, beans, ... and peas, cabbages, dock, chicory, celery, artichokes, lettuce and other salads; in the woods, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and small fruit called cranberries” (Chancels 1959, 426).
Cereals and Vegetables in Historical Context
The French had grown wheat, cereals and vegetables in their gardens at Placentia, Newfoundland, during 51 years of permanent settlement (1662-1713) prior to coming to Cape Breton. Once on Cape Breton, they operated much the same as they had in Newfoundland: they established gardens in the outports, undeterred by the harsh climate and relatively poor soil of the island. Thousands of property transactions cited gardens, including the type of garden, the dimensions, the condition of the soil, the nature of the fences, the raised beds, the wells, the value of the garden, if in vegetables, and other accompanying features.
Gardening in Cape Breton included growing cereals as well as vegetables since black or white bread was the staple food in France (Mandrou 1976, 14-15). Bread was also a staple in Cape Breton; the dietary habits of the people of New France differed little from the homeland.
Food shortages were a feature of life in Cape Breton. Noting how such shortages affected her, Marie Anne Peré, a Louisbourg fishing proprietor, wrote to her supplier, Pierre Joubert, in Nantes in December 1733, that she hoped for the timely arrival of Joubert’s ships in the spring with “much bread or flour, peas or beans some salt and other items such as wine and brandy which are very scarce here.” Madame Peré left detailed accounts of the food she provided for three of her fishermen during the winter of 1733. The essentials – bread, peas, butter, molasses and olive oil – cost 133 livres. Bread, in the form of six-pound loaves, was the number one ingredient; the men consumed 302 pounds during the winter (CAOM, G 2195, n 83).
Wheat and Cereals in Ile Royale
Since bread was vital to the French diet, there was a continuous effort to grow wheat and other cereals in Ile Royale. The island’s gardens provided individual families with their necessary foodstuffs, cereals included. Beyond the individual family, however, cereal and vegetable production for fishermen and soldiers was only possible with numerous men and equipment as well as draft animals such as oxen. With the exception of the best farm land and resources, most gardeners throughout Ile Royale were hard pressed to successfully grow wheat in the short growing season. “Hitherto they have been able to reap no sort of grain,” wrote Thomas Pichon in the 1750's. “In some places they have begun to sow wheat and rye but never could bring them to proper maturity. I believe that oats would grow here, if the small quantity the island is able to produce, was worth sowing. It has been even observed that the grain sown in this country degenerates in the second year” (Pichon 1760, 14-15). Cape Breton has a good climate for growing oats but wheat production, in the short growing season, was difficult since it required diligence. Louis Petitpas’s garden in St. Peters, for instance, produced turnips, cabbages and wheat “of a quality above the ordinary.” The garden – 36 pieds square – only did well because “the manure of the live stock rotted in during the year, which had produced a hot bed six inches deep” (De La Roque 1905, 36). (One pied equals 1.066 feet.) The Brothers of Charity also grew wheat and cereals on their large farm at the mouth of the Mira River. In 1751 governor Jean Raymond sent four bushels of wheat to France that had been produced from a plain hat full of seed from the Brothers of Charity’s farm (A N, CllB, 20 Nov, f 64). These examples, however, were the exception, not the norm. Louisbourg became an important export market for Canadian grain. Jacques Mathieu has estimated that agricultural output in Canada increased almost 450 percent between 1706 and 1740, whereas the population had expanded by only 250 percent. Much of the surplus production – 12 to 25 percent of the total grain harvest – was exported as milled flour to Louisbourg and the French West Indies. After the capture of Louisbourg in 1745, the grain price in Quebec fell by half (Choquette 1997, 285-6).
3.Report of St. Marie on Cape Breton, 2 March 1700, Dépôt des Fortifications et des Colonies [D.F.C.], F 557, No. 130, Centre des Archives d’Outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence, France [CAOM].
4.La Ronde Denys, “An Account of the Island of Cape Breton”, English Harbour, 13 October 1713, CIIB, vol. 1, fol. 24, Archives Nationales, Archives des Colonies, Paris, France [AN].