4.8 The Bay of Fundy and the tides of climate change

1.4 Human occupation of the Bay of Fundy

Humans started occupying the area around the Bay of Fundy as soon as the ice sheets from the Wisconsinan around 11 000 years ago and unfolded in three main periods (table 1). One of the earliest site discovered in the Maritimes lies in Debert near the north shore of Cobequid Bay in the Bay of Fundy region, aged about 10 600 years (Fader, 2005). They were probably nomadic or semi-nomadic caribou hunters that were adapted to the tundra environment uncovered by the receding ice sheets. Human occupation seems to cease during the Younger Drias starting 10 600 ybp, as climatic conditions became too inhospitable. The period between 10 000 and 5 000 years ago is known to archeologist as the “Geat Hiatus”, for its lack of human artifacts in the Maritimes. At that time, the sea level in the Bay of Fundy was about 60 meters lower than today, so that coastal artifacts would now be offshore and buried under sediments. Some artifacts from the archaic period have indeed been found by marine archeologists, biologists and fishermen (Fader, 2005).

Table 1. Periods of pre-contact human occupation

Period Indian denomination Period Characteristics
Palaeo-Indian period or Sa’qewe’k L’nu’k 11,000 – 9,000 years BP Hunter-gatherers
Archaic period Mu Awsami Kejikawe’k L’nu’k 9,000 – 2,500 years BP Exploitation of marine resources
Woodland/Ceramic Kejikawek L’nu’k 2,500 – 500 years BP Introduction of ceramic technology

Source: adapted from MacIntyre and Davis (2009)

In historical times, the Bay of Fundy was the territory of the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet)2 and Passamaquoddy (figure 3). All three are Algonquin–speaking nations and part of the Wabanaki confederacy. The Wolastoqiyik territory reaches from Quebec to Maine and is centered on the Saint-John River valley. The Passamaquoddy lived along the western part of the Bay of Fundy, the eponymous Passamaquoddy Bay and the Saint Croix River and its tributaries. The Mi’kmaq occupied most of the eastern Maritimes. These nations lived mostly from hunting, fishing and horticulture. They tended to stay close to the littoral in the summer to catch fish in the Bay of Fundy (the name of the Wolastoqiyik refers to pollock-spearing); and pursue hunting further inland in winter. Moose had and still has a particular significance for the Mi’kmaq. With the arrival of the French colonists, fur trade became an important activity. The Wabanaki Nations were allies of the French Acadians during the colonial wars against the British and largely supported the American revolution. Despite a series of peace treaties signed with Great-Britain, the pressure on land and resources continued, especially after the arrival of loyalists and farmers after the Acadian Expulsion from 1755 to 1764.

2The common name of Maliseet is actually the Mi’kmaq denomination for the Wolastoqiyik, that was adopted by French colonists and later anglicized.
Traditional territories of the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Passamaquoddy in the Bay of Fundy region.

Figure 4. Traditional territories of the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Passamaquoddy in the Bay of Fundy region.

Source: Nikater (2006), Mikmaq (2014), in Wikipedia

Today, there are 3,000 Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick, 1200 in the Viger Nation in Quebec and 600 in the Houlton Band in Maine. There are close to 700 Passamaquoddy in the Indian Township Reservation in Maine, and many others living outside of the reserve in Maine and in Charlotte County, New Brunswick, but without legal status in Canada. The Mi’kmaq are the largest nation in eastern Canada with about 40,000 members in the Maritimes and in Quebec (65,000 including the landless Qalipu nation in Newfoundland and Labrador). There are seven Mi’kmaq districts and a Grand Council that meets periodically on the Mniku island in the Bras d’Or lake in Nova Scotia.

The history of European colonization starts with Samuel de Champlain’s expedition in 1604-1607, including a failed settlement attempt at Sainte-Croix, one year to the establishment of Port-Royal, the beginning of the French colonization in North America. He named the Bay of Fundy the Baie Française. Over the next century, the French Acadians, originating in large part from northern France, developed several settlements around the Bay of Fundy and a large area contained in nowadays provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (figure 5). They were mostly farmers and fishermen and were reputed for their mastery of dykes and the drainage of coastal marshland to create fertile farmland, a technique known as “aboiteau farming”. The continued influx of British and other north European colonists led to several armed conflicts, including a brief Dutch occupation in 1674, and culminating in the conquest of the Acadian Capital Port Royal in the Annapolis valley in 1710 and the deportation of the Acadian population during the episode euphemistically known as the “Grand derangement” (Great disturbance), from 1755 to 1764.

Map of French Acadia in 1757.

Figure 5. Map of French Acadia in 1757.

Source: Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (Paris 1703 - Versailles 1772), in Paulus Swaen old Maps and Prints. In Wikipedia

After the end of the seven-years war (1756-1763), the territories of present day New Brunswick and parts of Maine were incorporated into the British colony of Nova Scotia. In the wake of the American revolution, British loyalists settled on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy, amongst others in Saint Andrews and Saint John. In 1784, the colony of New Brunswick was created. The potato famine in Ireland in 1845 led to a significant influx of Irish immigrants, for example in Saint John. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were to of the four original provinces (with Prince Edward Island and the Province of Canada) to form the Canadian confederation in 1867.

In the 19th century, the economy of the Bay of Fundy was dominated by shipbuilding, leading to the emergence of major centres such as Moncton. The Bay of Fundy shipbuilding industry can lay claim to several records such as building the fastest ship in the world, the the three-masted clipper Marco Polo, launched 1851 in Saint-John, the largest wooden ship built in Canada, William D. Lawrence, built 1874 in Maitland, and the first female sea captain in the western world, Molly Kool, from Alma. The end of the wooden ship era at the end of the 19th century led to a reorientation towards a resource-based economy, primarily logging and farming. Several towns, villages and shipbuilding as well as wharfs or mooring sites were abandoned during that time (Coastal adventures, n.d.).

The construction of the railways connected the Bay of Fundy to main population centres in Quebec and New England, favouring exportations and tourism and leading to the development of new coastal centers on the northern shore of the Bay of Fundy. The Intercolonial and Grand Trunk railways linked Montreal to Halifax via Moncton from 1872 on (and still today as Via Rail’s Ocean). The European and North-American Railways had three, nowadays discontinued lines along the Bay of Fundy, from Saint John to Shediac, completed in 1872, the E&NA Western Extension between Saint John and Sainte Croix on the border to Maine, and the E&NA “Maine” from the international boundary to Bangor, Maine. These lines allowed the passage of a passenger train, The Gull, from Boston to Halifax from 1930 to 1960. And example for touristic development catalyzed by the train is the town of Saint-Andrews, with the construction of the prestigious Algonquin Resort in 1889.

Fishing has always played a significant part of the Bay of Fundy region’s economy (figure 6). Fisheries have however declined over the course of the 20th century, in great part due to the overexploitation of the resource, but also because of environmental changes. In the Minas basin, weirs allowing to trap fish on the receding tide, were found every mile on average around 1850 (Bay of Fundy Ecosystem Partnership, 2001). The decline of the two main commercial species in the Minas Basin, the American shad and the Atlantic salmon, by the 1910s and 1950s respectively, could be due to the damming of rivers and to pollution. Salmon is now on the verge of being declared an endangered species. Other fisheries still have a great importance in the Bay of Fundy, including lobsters, herring, scallops and clams.

Fishing boats in the harbour of Alma.

Figure 6. Fishing boats in the harbour of Alma.

Source: photo S. Weissenberger, 2009

The resource-based industry also includes the oil and gas sector. Although there currently is no oil and gas exploitation in New Brunswick and has never been in the Bay of Fundy, only limited seismic surveys and two exploration drills, oil was extracted as early as 1859 in Dover on the Petitcodiac River about 20 km from the Bay of Fundy from the lower carboniferous Stoney Creek basin (St. Peter, 2000). Shale gas production has been envisaged, but is currently on an indefinite moratorium. Transformation and transport play a large role in New Brunswick’s economy. The Irving refinery in Saint John is the largest in Canada with 300,000 barrels per day. It is also the largest emitter of the province, with 2,8-3,3 Mt CO2/year, which represents about 20% of the province’s emissions (ECC Canada, 2014). Part of the oil refined in it comes from the nearby Canaport in the Bay of Fundy. The adjacent Canaport liquefied natural gas (LGN) terminal can accommodate the largest LNG tankers in the world. In the course of the Energy East pipeline project, the construction of a new Canaport terminal for the exportation of refined oil products or Albertan crudes via the Bay of Fundy to buyers overseas or refineries in the Gulf of Mexico is projected. The fact that the Bay of Fundy is largely ice-free makes it attractive for tanker traffic as opposed to the Saint-Lawrence seaway and the refineries in Montreal and Lévis.