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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 - Crops & Livestock

Early expectations for agricultural productivity on Ile Royale were high. One memoir, dated 1706, cited Nicolas Denys' experience in 1660 when fire destroyed his habitation. All he managed to save were 500 sheaves of wheat, without which Denys would have been forced to turn to the woods, as the Indians did, for their subsistance. Any land, the author concluded, that "porte cinq cent gerbes de blé, en peut porter cinq cent mille, c'est a dire un nombre infiny". [1] Unfortunately, there are no detailed records of what or how much was grown. All that is known is that while optimism was repeatedly expressed, agriculture never sufficiently flourished to render the colony independent from imported food supplies. The reasons for this were many: most notably the poor soil and climate, and the attraction of the fishery. In addition, Jacques Pr6vost charged that Acadians were lazy. They did not, he declared, want to clear the land or live far from the conveniences of town. [2]

Moreover, though officials wanted Louisbourg to become agriculturally self-sufficient, they did not want them to process their crops. This would cause the colony to compete with France or another colony. The raising of sheep, for example, was seen as advantageous for the woollen manufacturers of France. [3] Canada was producing flour for Ile Royale. Consequently, requests for permission to construct grist mills in Ile Royale were denied. [4]

As a result of all these factors, crops produced in the colony were largely consumed by the individuals and families who grew them. Fortunately, there are a few indications of what some of the larger farms were producing. All the following grains, cereals and vegetables were mentioned by the French in connection with Ile Royale's production capacity:

Franquet declared in 1750 that hay was the only thing grown on Ile Royale. [5] While this may have been exaggerated, hay was definitely a major crop in the colony. The available grasslands were highly praised, but there are few statistics regarding their yield. Bigot estimated that St. Ovide's land on the western shore of the Grand Lac de mire was capable of feeding 200 head of cattle. [6] Longevin, at what is now Albert Bridge, had enough to feed eight cattle. [7] And, when Gervais Rode died in 1738, he was owed 60 livres by the Brothers of Charity for having cut and bundled 400 bales of hay, presumably from their habitation. [8]

Uniacke enthused in the mid-19th century that the oats grown in Cape Breton were remarkable and the oatmeal was "of the finest description". [9] It would seem that this was the most common cereal grown by the French the century before. In 1752 Governor Raymond sent the minister a "merveilleuse courche ... d'un seul grain d'avoine qui en a produit plus d'onze mille autres". [1]0 Prior to 1745 Longevin regularly sowed a barrique of oats which yielded a ratio of 12 to one. Even greater success was achieved in 1751 when Jacques Guillant planted two bushels of oats which produced one and a half barriques. Since there were 24 bushesl in a barrique, he said, this represented a profit of 17 to one.[11] Others known to have been growing or planning to grow oats in the Miré region were the Brothers of Charity, Jean Pierre St. Gle, Ignace Tellament, Julien Bourneuf, François Gouret, and the inhabitants of the Village Rouillé. [12]

A certain amount of confusion exists over the growing of wheat in Ile Royale. Wheat was grown on the island, but with what degree of success is not clear. In 1753 the commissaire-ordonnateur, Prévost, declared that wheat would not succeed in Ile Royale. [13] Three years earlier, however, he had sent samples of wheat grown on the Miré to the minister. [14] Productivity may have decreased sharply after the early successes. Pichon noted that the wheat and rye had been planted in the colony but that these grains could not achieve the necessary degree of maturity under existing conditions. [15] Yet in 1751 Jacques Guillant and Sebastien Bourneuf did succeed, receiving a return of 11 to one on their wheat crop. [16] Since future yields on their farm are not given, it is impossible to know if this success continued. Wheat was also sown on the farm of the Brothers of Charity and at the Village Rouillé. [17]

Prior to 1745 the farm of the Brothers of Charity is the only place known to have had a barley crop. In 1751 Governor Raymond sent a sample of barley produced on this farm to France. A hatful of seed, he noted, had produced four bushels. He had no doubt that this and other land along the Miré were capable of yielding 30 bushels for every bushel sown. [18] Prévost sent samples of barley to the minister which had been grown on La Borde's property on the north shore of the Rivière de Miré. [19]

Prior to 1745 Longevin regularly planted a quart of buckwheat (blé noir) on his land for which the yield was 15 to one. [20] Buckwheat was also grown in that period on the farm of the Brothers of Charity. [21] In 1753 Major Surlaville mentioned in his correspondence that the Miré area was capable of growing buckwheat, but gave no indication of where on the Miré it was actually cultivated. [22]

The Minister of the Marine suggested in 1716 that the growing of hemp and flax should be encouraged in Ile Royale. [23] There is no record of these two grasses being grown on the Miré though the suitability of the land for their cultivation was mentioned in the 1753 census and by Samuel Holland some years later. [24]

Without noting any specific location, Pichon remarked that cabbages would grow as well in Ile Royale as in France, though in the colony they took longer to mature. [25] Jacques Prévost remarked in 1750 that very beautiful cabbages were being grown in Baie des Espagnols. [26] Two years later La Roque reported that Jean Chapin had sown cabbages on his Miré property. What success he had with them was not noted. [27]

Good turnips were grown at Baie des Espagnols in 1750. [28] Two inhabitants of the Miré region, Ignace Tallament and Jean Chapin, planted turnips on their lands in 1752. [29] 

In 1743 Commandant Duquesnel and commissaire-ordonnateur Bigot complained that the fauxsauniers who had been sent to Ile Royale to help those attempting to put land en valeur were not remaining on the island once they had served their time. Some, they said, did settle for awhile, but they did no more than clear enough land for small gardens in which they grew peas and "herbage". [30] Peas were also grown on the farm of Longevin and at the Village Rouillé. [31] 

A type of brown bean, fayaux were being grown by Longevin. [32] The 1753 census mentioned that they came "beau bien et en maturité" in the Miré region, but did not offer specific locations. [33]

In addition to these crops, lettuce, beans, and other vegetables identified simply as légumes were mentioned in a general way as being suited to the soil and climate found at the Miré. [34] It is interesting that 100 years after the fall of Louisbourg roughly the same crops were being grown on the Mira and in roughly the same order of importance. The only significant addition being potatoes which were not grown by the French for food. According to the census published in 1861, 2,103 acres had been cultivated in the Mira Ferry area (Albert Bridge) the previous year and yielded the following crops:

It is also interesting that, with the exception of wheat, Louisbourg, Gabarus, and Main à Dieu produced more of each crop than the Miré region in 1860. [35]

Most of the inhabitants along the Miré probably had livestock and poultry of some sort. There are no records from pre-1745 to indicate how many animals were being kept with the exception of the rental agreement between the Brothers of Charity and Jacques Aurieux. The figures after the return of the French came mainly from the 1752 census. These figures would have changed yearly, so it is impossible to give any general figures. When Jean Milly rented his property to Jacques Martin in 1751, there were two barns on the land, one for cattle and the other for sheep and goats. [36] Table D indicates the quantities of livestock and poultry which were mentioned as being on lands in the Miré region. [37]

The only reference to fruits in the Miré region was in the 1753 census. Different species of fruit trees, its author noted, might grow well along the river. He mentioned the possibility of apples, plums, and, pears. Some vines had also produced fruit there and might be cultivated. [38]