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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada



Microfiche Report Series 83


Margaret Fortier


Fortress of Louisbourg

Part Two - The Outports

Miré Region - Land Use

Despite the abundance of wood in the Miré region, there are few specific references to lumbering. Certainly firewood was cut both for the settlers' own use and for sale in Louisbourg. [1] The Brothers of Charity were supplied with 50 cords of wood each January 1st from their property on the Baie de Miré. [2] In 1755 wood for keels was cut on the land then owned by Laurent Soly on the north side of the Rivière de Miré. The vessels for which these were intended were being constructed at Petit Laurembec. [3] There is no record of shipbuilding being carried on anywhere on the Miré. Certainly the presence of two sawmills in the 1750s suggests that wood for construction in some form was being supplied from the Miré region. [4] Unfortunately, little is known of the mills except that they operated for only a brief period of time.

Farming and raising livestock seem to have been the two main uses of land in the Miré region. Though it was expected to become the source of food for the residents of Louisbourg, the land around the Miré was never cultivated with any degree of planning. Settlement and cultivation of the area were particularly haphazard prior to the first siege. In 1752 Governor Raymond devised an elaborate scheme for making use of the area's potential, but this was deemed to be too expensive an undertaking. In its place he sanctioned the establishment of two villages whose residents would clear and farm the land. How much they actually accomplished is not known. The commissaire-ordonnateur charged that the locations were poorly chosen, an opinion which seems born out today by the judgement of Canada's Department of Agriculture that the land had "no capability for arable culture". [5]

The idea of putting soldiers on the land did not originate with Raymond. In 1725 soldiers who were willing to settle in Ile Royale were offered freedom from their military obligations, free land, and rations for three years. Few accepted the offer. It was reported that the money to be earned working on the fortifications was too attractive for the men to give up. [6] Consequently, most of those who did choose to retire were not particularly interested in hard work regardless of the reward. They were not, therefore, destined to achieve great success as farmers. François Bigot declared in 1741 that the soldiers who accepted the land were too lazy to cultivate it. They spent the three years for which they received rations hunting and fishing. When the three years expired, they would ask to be allowed to go to Canada or France, claiming they were not able to subsist in Ile Royale. Because of this, he said, future grants would only be given to soldiers with crafts who actually "les exercent". [7]

There were exceptions. One "ancien soldat", Mathurin Le Faucheux dit Longevin, received a concession in 1734 and became one of the most successful farmers on the Miré. He cleared enough of his land, located on the north side of the river at what is now Albert Bridge, to sow at least eight barriques of seed. Prior to 1745 he regularly planted a barrique of oats, a quart of buckwheat, a "quarré" of peas, and a quart of fayaux. He attempted to grow wheat, but met with no success. At the rear of his land, Longevin had enough prairie to supply hay for eight "bêtes à cornes". [8] Most other soldiers who settled received land upstream on the western shore of the Grand Lac de Miré. [9]

In 1734 Le Normant wrote that the inhabitants of the Miré continued to work the land. Those already established, he said, had harvested sufficient grain of good quality to encourage newcomers. [10] Four years later, however, he reported that residents of the Miré were prevented from making progress on their land by the shortage of vivres in the colonyand by the types of grain sent to them for seed, which were, considered unsuited to the conditions found on Ile Royale. [11]

At their appointments as governor and commissaire-ordonnateur of the colony in 1739, De Forant and Bigot were instructed to encourage agriculture in every possible way. Until the inhabitants farmed the land, independent of the fishery, and produced food for their fellow colonists, Ile Royale would not be firmly established. While it was recognized that the colony's climate would not permit the same kind of agriculture that sustained the French islands of the West Indies, all possible measures to foster some sort of cultivation were to be explored. To help those who had cleared their land, fauxsauniers (salt smugglers), a special class of convict labourers, were sent to the colony. [12]

The largest farming operation on the Miré was that of the Brothers of Charity, whose land was to keep the hospital supplied with fresh meat and vegetables. In 1738 they contracted with Jacques Aurieux to work the land for them. On the property there were two stables, a dairy, and two granaries in addition to a house. Aurieux was to plant such things as oats, barley and buckwheat, while also raising cattle, sheep and poultry. [13] A year prior to this agreement, the Brothers had acquired an additional three square lieues of Prairie from which to get feed for the livestock. [14] La Roque reported that all the hay cut on the Brothers' property came from along the river's banks. According to the same census, the farm was then being run by Pierre Varenne, who probably had an agreement with the Brothers similar to the one they had had with Aurieux. The farm itself was located on the southeast corner of the Brothers' concession, on the Baie de Miré, not on the river. [15]

The land granted to Jean Milly de la Croix appears to have been cleared, if not cultivated, by 1738. He leased the land in 1741 to Jacques Martin. At the time of the agreement, there was a house, a cabane, an oven, a stable for goats and sheep, another stable for cattle and a garden on the land. Martin, during the three years of the agreement, was to grow grain and vegetables, as well as to produce dairy products such as butter. [16]

Jean La Borde was granted land bordering Milly's property in 1741. Between then and 1745, La Borde established a small farm on the land which he leased to a tenant farmer. By 1752 four more farms were set up and rented. The tenants raised livestock and planted oats and other staples. [17] In addition to this land, La Borde received land suitable for prairie on the south side of the river. Its exact location has not been determined. Nor is it certain that La Borde cut the hay found there, though in all probability he did. [18]

Most of the residents of the Miré had gardens, but nothing is known of their size or productivity. Sieur Catalogne claimed to have experimented on his land with different crops to determine what would grow. The outcome of these experiments is not known, but considering the climate and soil found at his concession, his success was probably not overwhelming. [19] There was a garden on St. Ovide's land near what is now Salmon River. However, grazing was the primary purpose of this land. Described by Bigot as very beautiful and vast prairie, St. Ovide's land was capable of supporting a herd of 200 cattle. Such a herd, Bigot asserted, would have been a huge benefit to the colony. However, St. Ovide kept only a few cattle on the land, and these were for his own use. In 1740, at which point the former governor was back in France, he assigned the use of the land to captain DuVivier who placed 100 cows there. Half the animals did not survive the harsh winter which followed, but DuVivier restocked the herd in 1741. [20]

In 1749 commandant Desherbiers reported that captain Dorfontaine had gone to the Miré with a detachment to cut hay. Part of this hay was to go to the Acadians who had settled along the river, while the rest would feed the 40 cattle François Bigot had sent from Canada and which were wintering at the Miré. [21] where the hay was being cut and where the cattle would be wintered was not specified. St. Ovide's land would seem the most likely place, but any of the other prairies already mentioned are also possibilities. Grasslands were granted to Claude Gueret and captain Destimauville south of the Miré on either side of the Rivière Durand (Catalone River) in the mid-1750s. And in 1757 land for prairie was conceded to Charles Bondement dit La Touraine at Rivière sanspeur (Salmon River). [22]

Aside from the bricks made from Miré clay and the limestone gathered on the south side of Baie de Miré, there is no record of material for fortifications being gathered in the area. Franquet mentioned that squared timber used in charpente buildings was cut on the island by those who wintered in the woods. No specific location was mentioned, but some of this wood most likely came from the Miré region. [23]