In old Acadia, agriculture was without question the first and foremost means of survival. Corn, wheat, barley and oats were grown, and we mustn’t forget the herds of cattle which were the wealth of the Acadians and the envy of their neighbours. Rather like the Canadian, the Acadian was, at this time, with the aboiteau system, a specialist of marshland agriculture, to the point where his contemporaries gave him the name of “water clearer”.

All this changed after the Deportation. As early as the late 18th century, Acadians found themselves forced to settle on unfertile lands along the shore. Having no choice but to turn to the sea for food, most families still had no hope of survival without agriculture. A modicum of cultivation and cattle raising was thus essential. In fact, despite the economy of their area being dominated by the forest, by fishing or by a combination of both, agriculture remained tightly bound to their daily life and their survival until the middle of the 20th century. For many families, it was even an element of stability upon which to rely in times of crisis, the ownership of farmland or lack thereof making the line between poverty Read More
In old Acadia, agriculture was without question the first and foremost means of survival. Corn, wheat, barley and oats were grown, and we mustn’t forget the herds of cattle which were the wealth of the Acadians and the envy of their neighbours. Rather like the Canadian, the Acadian was, at this time, with the aboiteau system, a specialist of marshland agriculture, to the point where his contemporaries gave him the name of “water clearer”.

All this changed after the Deportation. As early as the late 18th century, Acadians found themselves forced to settle on unfertile lands along the shore. Having no choice but to turn to the sea for food, most families still had no hope of survival without agriculture. A modicum of cultivation and cattle raising was thus essential. In fact, despite the economy of their area being dominated by the forest, by fishing or by a combination of both, agriculture remained tightly bound to their daily life and their survival until the middle of the 20th century. For many families, it was even an element of stability upon which to rely in times of crisis, the ownership of farmland or lack thereof making the line between poverty and economical well-being.

Although favoured in the discourses of public Acadian figures linking it to the preservation of their traditional society, Acadian agriculture evolved very little. Even though Acadian farms were more numerous by the early 20th century, they were less developed than in English-speaking districts. In fact, in many cases, they were quite modest and barely fulfilled the family’s needs. Thus, with the exception of eggs and potatoes in some areas, few products were exported en masse outside Acadian communities.

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.

A general view of the Robichaud Farm [scene at the VHA]

Until the early 1900s, Acadian farms were relatively small.



There were few Acadian families without a vegetable garden. The vegetables picked at the end of the summer or in early fall were essential to their survival.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Whatever their main occupation, most Acadian families owned at least a few chickens or fowl to ensure a supply of eggs… and the occasional fresh meat.



Very useful for draft and land clearing work, oxen are among the animals most appreciated by the farmer.

Village Historique Acadien
2002
© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Following a predetermined plan, drainage ditches were first dug in the marsh soil, and connected to a larger central canal emptying into the river. With clay taken from the marsh, dykes or walls were raised on each side of the riverto a height of about seven feet. Built into a slope and faced with sod, this barrier was very solid and durable. The sods were grass-covered clods of earth uniformly coating the dyke from top to bottom. After a year or two, the roots had a very firm hold, and the sods produced a luxuriant grass which helped consolidate the structure. In some places, at the base of the dyke, a passage was left to allow the water to flow through the sluice-box.

Made of larch beams held together with pegs, the sluice box, which wasten or twelve inches wide, could measure up to twenty feet in length. It was a narrow rectangular duct forming a tunnel, with an exit valve at one end, set so as to allow the water from the canals to flow out at low tide. The rising tide exerted pressure against this valve, preventing it from opening and letting the water in. This sluice had to be firmly attached inside the dyke to adequately perform its function. The state of the dyk Read More
Following a predetermined plan, drainage ditches were first dug in the marsh soil, and connected to a larger central canal emptying into the river. With clay taken from the marsh, dykes or walls were raised on each side of the riverto a height of about seven feet. Built into a slope and faced with sod, this barrier was very solid and durable. The sods were grass-covered clods of earth uniformly coating the dyke from top to bottom. After a year or two, the roots had a very firm hold, and the sods produced a luxuriant grass which helped consolidate the structure. In some places, at the base of the dyke, a passage was left to allow the water to flow through the sluice-box.

Made of larch beams held together with pegs, the sluice box, which wasten or twelve inches wide, could measure up to twenty feet in length. It was a narrow rectangular duct forming a tunnel, with an exit valve at one end, set so as to allow the water from the canals to flow out at low tide. The rising tide exerted pressure against this valve, preventing it from opening and letting the water in. This sluice had to be firmly attached inside the dyke to adequately perform its function. The state of the dyke also had to be carefully monitored and the canals kept free of any debris, such as scraps of hay. Breaches would let the in seawater, which would spread onto the meadows.

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Acadians called the sluice box set into their dykes “aboiteau” and also gave this name to the system used to drain the marshlands, thus making them suitable for farming. The technique was borrowed from France (Saintonge region), but was Dutch-inspired. It brought fertilizing agents to the lands by using high spring tides. In old Acadia, until the time of the Deportation, grain and some vegetable crops were the objects of intensive cultivation.

An interesting aspect was the communal side of this farming method. The marshlands were divided among the inhabitants of a village. When a breach occurred in a dyke, everyone joined in with his neighbors to close it up. Since each farmer was the owner of a part of the meadow, the danger threatened all local farms. The supervision and maintenance of the marshlands and the dykes was therefore crucial to preserve the efficiency of the whole system.

To view an animation of the aboiteux and test you knowledge with a quiz, please follow this link.
Acadians called the sluice box set into their dykes “aboiteau” and also gave this name to the system used to drain the marshlands, thus making them suitable for farming. The technique was borrowed from France (Saintonge region), but was Dutch-inspired. It brought fertilizing agents to the lands by using high spring tides. In old Acadia, until the time of the Deportation, grain and some vegetable crops were the objects of intensive cultivation.

An interesting aspect was the communal side of this farming method. The marshlands were divided among the inhabitants of a village. When a breach occurred in a dyke, everyone joined in with his neighbors to close it up. Since each farmer was the owner of a part of the meadow, the danger threatened all local farms. The supervision and maintenance of the marshlands and the dykes was therefore crucial to preserve the efficiency of the whole system.

To view an animation of the aboiteux and test you knowledge with a quiz, please follow this link.

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.

After the Deportation, Acadians, farmers by tradition, settled mostly along the shoreline. More than ever before, the sea became a large part of daily life. Since the beginning the sea had provided a means of travel, but henceforth it also took on a new importance: the sea became a means of survival for many families, to the point where a settlement site with access to the open sea was generally sought after until the early 20th century.

In order to survive, many Acadians had to, as early as the late 18th century, devote themselves to fishing for the benefit of the Jersey companies, such as the Robins. Exerting an unshakable monopoly on this industry for over a century, this company and others of the same type established fisheries all over the Maritime provinces, including in Caraquet. Many Acadians then found themselves in a state of near slavery, by reason of the credit system that the companies used to pay them. Forced to exchange their catch for goods from the stores owed by these merchants, they rarely made it through the winter without coming up short, causing them to devote their next fishing season to paying back their debts. This was a never-ending cycle&helli Read More
After the Deportation, Acadians, farmers by tradition, settled mostly along the shoreline. More than ever before, the sea became a large part of daily life. Since the beginning the sea had provided a means of travel, but henceforth it also took on a new importance: the sea became a means of survival for many families, to the point where a settlement site with access to the open sea was generally sought after until the early 20th century.

In order to survive, many Acadians had to, as early as the late 18th century, devote themselves to fishing for the benefit of the Jersey companies, such as the Robins. Exerting an unshakable monopoly on this industry for over a century, this company and others of the same type established fisheries all over the Maritime provinces, including in Caraquet. Many Acadians then found themselves in a state of near slavery, by reason of the credit system that the companies used to pay them. Forced to exchange their catch for goods from the stores owed by these merchants, they rarely made it through the winter without coming up short, causing them to devote their next fishing season to paying back their debts. This was a never-ending cycle…

In the new Acadia, codfish, salmon, mackerel and herring were the species most commonly sought by fishermen; then in the second half of the 19th century, lobster and oysters became popular. Long scorned by Acadians, lobster, however, was almost never consumed locally. Caught with square nets, the wooden trap appearing only in the early 20th century, lobster was reserved for the many canneries springing up all over the Acadian coastline. The only species bought from the fishermen by the companies, cod became the most harvested fish on the New Brunswick coast, to the point where in some areas, “fresh fish” was automatically understood to mean cod. Always sold salted and dried, it was exported in barrels.

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Fresh cod was processed and salted as soon as it was brought ashore by the employees of the fish merchants or the fishermen themselves. It was then set out to dry on wooden racks…

This method was for a long time the most efficient for its conservation and exportation. Until the early 1900s, drying racks of this type, laden with fish during the fishing season, were therefore very common.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Until the early 1900s, high sea fishing for cod was carried out in small, sparsely equipped schooners.

Most Acadian fishermen made and mended their own fishing nets.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Two methods of fishing for cod were practiced: offshore and inshore.

Offshore fishing was carried out with a schooner and crew of three to five men. At sea for one week, they would fish for cod actively with a line, known as ‘jigging’, or they would just leave a dormant line trailing in the water. Once gutted and cleaned, the fish were salted to conserve them and stored in the hold. Only the fish caught on the last day out were unloaded fresh; the contents of the hold, the green cod, were packed with brine in barrels.

In the case of inshore fishing, practiced in small craft within fifteen miles of the shores, the codfish was brought in fresh. Once unloaded, cleaned and salted, it was laid out to dry on racks for about three weeks. It then had to be constantly shielded from the rain or the heat of the sun, turned over regularly and gathered each night in piles known as “muttons”.

After selecting the codfish of the highest quality, the whitest, with the finest meat and without blemish, the next step was “tubage”, an operation consisting of packing the fish in barrels, and pressing it down several times with a sc Read More
Two methods of fishing for cod were practiced: offshore and inshore.

Offshore fishing was carried out with a schooner and crew of three to five men. At sea for one week, they would fish for cod actively with a line, known as ‘jigging’, or they would just leave a dormant line trailing in the water. Once gutted and cleaned, the fish were salted to conserve them and stored in the hold. Only the fish caught on the last day out were unloaded fresh; the contents of the hold, the green cod, were packed with brine in barrels.

In the case of inshore fishing, practiced in small craft within fifteen miles of the shores, the codfish was brought in fresh. Once unloaded, cleaned and salted, it was laid out to dry on racks for about three weeks. It then had to be constantly shielded from the rain or the heat of the sun, turned over regularly and gathered each night in piles known as “muttons”.

After selecting the codfish of the highest quality, the whitest, with the finest meat and without blemish, the next step was “tubage”, an operation consisting of packing the fish in barrels, and pressing it down several times with a screw press. It was in these barrels, holding about 490 lbs, (222 kg) that the codfish was shipped to Europe, the United States and South America.

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Upon landing, Acadians discovered vas expanses of forest comprised of essentially the same species as were found in France (pine, fir, cedar, beech, birch, etc.). Other species, such as the spruce and the larch, were native to America, however. Devoting themselves to a method of cultivation based on the draining of marshlands, Acadians were not inclined to venture very far inland for their settlements. In general, their exploitation of the forest was restricted to cutting wood for their own needs, and to hunting big and small game for occasional meat and leather for their clothing.

For Acadians, this lack of interest in the forest was maintained when establishing their new Acadia. Even though the majority settled along the shore, forests still appeared as obstacles to colonization by reason of their high density along the coastline. As a first step, the trees felled by axe to clear new land were mostly gathered into piles and burned, which allowed a scorched-earth farming method for the first crops of buckwheat and potatoes.

Of course, the forest maintained its importance for supplying building material and fuels. Whether they began as fishermen or farmers, m Read More
Upon landing, Acadians discovered vas expanses of forest comprised of essentially the same species as were found in France (pine, fir, cedar, beech, birch, etc.). Other species, such as the spruce and the larch, were native to America, however. Devoting themselves to a method of cultivation based on the draining of marshlands, Acadians were not inclined to venture very far inland for their settlements. In general, their exploitation of the forest was restricted to cutting wood for their own needs, and to hunting big and small game for occasional meat and leather for their clothing.

For Acadians, this lack of interest in the forest was maintained when establishing their new Acadia. Even though the majority settled along the shore, forests still appeared as obstacles to colonization by reason of their high density along the coastline. As a first step, the trees felled by axe to clear new land were mostly gathered into piles and burned, which allowed a scorched-earth farming method for the first crops of buckwheat and potatoes.

Of course, the forest maintained its importance for supplying building material and fuels. Whether they began as fishermen or farmers, many Acadians went to logging camps during winter to earn extra income. In the second half of the 19th century, sawmills became more frequent in Acadian regions, and then in the early 20th century paper mills started to appear. But while many Acadians found work in these industries, some seized the opportunity to become wood merchants.

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.

The Acadian takes great care of his gun. He uses it mostly hunting to secure meat from big (moose, deer) or small (grouse, hare) game.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Cutting firewood was essential for cooking food and heating the house. It was a particularly time-consuming occupation, since the stoves and fireplaces of the time required large amounts of wood.

Cutting wood was just as essential for making a number of everyday objects. It was used, among other things, for building boats and making furniture.

At the end of the 1800s, sawmills are more common and supply work for many Acadian men.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • summarize the relationship Acadians had with the forest and the sea;
  • explain how Acadians had to change from being farmers on good land to being farmers on unfertile land and the challenges that go with the change.

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