A History of Nova Scotia Page


Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
(1815-1867)
Chapter 1, Further Settlement

Society, in the first half of the 1800s, in Nova Scotia, was not much different than what might have been observed at the time in "Merry Old England," at least for the white upper class located at the capital city of Halifax. Those residing outside of Halifax, however, were of a different sort. Except for the farmers along the Annapolis Valley, most Nova Scotians made their living from the sea. Best we have an appreciation of the make up of the population in Nova Scotia.

People came to Nova Scotia in waves. An ancient wave brought the Mi'kmaq to Nova Scotia and they alone occupied the land exclusively for many, many years. Only in the early part of the 1600s did a wave of Europeans arrive. These were the French Acadians who dominated the fertile lands of the Annapolis Valley and the shores of the far reaches of the Fundy Basin system. The occupation of the Acadians lasted but for a 150 years when they were rudely put off their lands by the English. Then in 1760 came the New England Planters who took over much of the lands previously worked by the French Acadians. On account of the American Revolution, Loyalists flooded in beginning in 1784. British settlers came throughout the 19th century: a large number from the northwest of Scotland.1

Generally, at the time that those who came to settle during the first half of the 19th century were left with slim pickings when it came to good agricultural lands. Such lands exist only in limited areas of Nova Scotia, and they were taken up by the earlier arrivals.

"Immigrants who reached Nova Scotia in the years between 1831 and 1848 immediately encountered a second major obstacle to successful settlement. Most of the good agricultural land which had so far been discovered in the colony had already been alienated [granted] to resident settlers or absentee proprietors. The accessible land then remaining was predominantly rocky, barren and totally unfit for cultivation, its surface covered by forest, peat bogs and lakes. A map of the colony in 1831 would have shown the alienated lands stretching thinly along the coastal margins of Nova Scotia, and reaching some five or ten miles inland, except where the fertile banks of rivers tempted settlers farther into the interior. Some of the best agricultural lands in the province, and certainly the most heavily alienated areas, were to be found along the Gulf Shore from the Gut of Canso to the New Brunswick boundary. Lands had also been taken up across Cumberland County in lines running from Pictou to Truro and along the New Brunswick border to Amherst. The thin line of alienated land continued around the shores of the Minas Basin, spreading thickly into the Annapolis Valley as the coastline opened out along the Bay of Fundy, and again narrowing after Digby as the shore-line turned southwards past Yarmouth and along the coast of what was then Shelburne County to Cape Sable. Along the Atlantic coast lands had been alienated in a much more scattered and spasmodic fashion fashion. Blocks and clusters of land up to ten miles inland had been taken up at Shelburne, Liverpool and Lunenburg, around Mahone Bay to Chester, St. Margaret's Bay, Halifax, from Dartmouth to Musquodoboit and Jeddore, Ship Harbour, Sheet Harbour and St. Mary's. In addition to this band of settled and granted land around the coast of Nova Scotia, thin lines of settlement had spread their tentacles across country, following the course of streams or rivers or linking the patches of fertile land indicated by their hardwood cover. From Halifax arms of settlement stretched along the Shubenacadie River, and northwards to Windsor. Another thin line ran from Chester to the Avon River, and a fourth up the St. Mary's River to the township of Egerton, inland from Pictou."2
The question arises as to how the new settler acquired land on which he and his family might work and live upon. It was a role of government back in these days to foster settlement and "to aid the progress of settlement by assisting the location of bona fides settlers, and by checking the acquisition of land by speculators, absentees and other individuals who lacked either the capital or the inclination to develop their holdings."3

Peter Burroughs continued:

"Until 1827 crown lands were alienated [title transferred] by means of gratuitous grants. In the case of resident settlers the lieutenant-governor personally considered petitions and granted the quantity of land he thought fit in each individual case -- a practice freely open to abuse. Immigrants and settlers of not more than six months' standing could apply to local land boards for tickets of location, valid for twelve months and issued at the rate of 100 acres to single persons and up to 200 acres for married men. The full titles to both these forms of grants were confirmed only when the requisite conditions of cultivation had been fulfilled. To secure a full title the grantee had also to pay the appropriate fees to the lieutenant-governor, provincial secretary, surveyor-general and attorney-general, and these amounted to some 70s. on 200 acres. Thereafter, landowners were required to pay an annual quit rent of 2s. per 100 acres, although in practice these had never been paid or collected."4
Captain Moorsom in 1829 gave his impressions of the province:
"The neighbourhood of Halifax, to the westward, presents perhaps the most forbidding aspect to be met with along the whole coast. Immense masses of granite, with every feature, however, beautifully rounded off, as if by the continued action of water ... The sterile nature of the soil around the shores of this inlet, and the stunted growth of its natural vegetation, were doubtless considered sufficient to counterbalance the advantages of a harbour open at all seasons to the Atlantic, and a position central with respect to the natural limits of the province, and possessing in itself great capability of defence. ... Different formations are exhibited upon the other side of this peninsula ..."5

NEXT: [Chapter 2, William Ross & His Settlement]

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Peter Landry