The long record of human life on the Tantramar Marshes has been one of constantly evaluating and adapting to the particularities of this remarkable ecological setting. In this section we explore the physical and ecological nature of the Tantramar Marshes as a prelude to what follows.
First People and the Marsh
Long before the arrival of European settlers aboriginal peoples exploited the resources of the marshes as part of their hunting and gathering way of life. Their impact on the habitat was slight at best, as they appear not have established any permanent settlements on the marsh.
European Contact and Mapping
The European development of detailed knowledge of the Bay of Fundy was a slow and often erratic process. Though the Bay was probably visited as early as 1538, it would be nearly 70 years before Champlain visited the Tantramar area, and another 65 years before Europeans established a settlement on the marshes.
The first European settlement derived from the expansion of the Acadian presence in early Nova Scotia. Seizing on the opportunity to exploit the great expanse of marshland for agriculture, a series of small hamlets were created. The Acadian's expertise in dyking permitted them to establish a productive settlement, but ultimately they fell prey to the contested territorial claims of both Britain and France. When the British defeated the French at Fort Beausejour in 1755, the Acadians were scattered thus ending their occupation of the Tantramar.
Occupation by English-speaking Settlers
Following the dispersal of the Acadians, the British authorities struggled to find English-speaking settlers to maintain the agricultural productivity of this area. New England “Planters,” Yorkshire Methodists, and later Loyalist refugees were all induced to settle the area and in the process a distinctive new template of land division and management was established.
In the early 19th-century new reclamation techniques allowed the exploitable area of the marsh to be greatly expanded . Farmers developed an import hay economy which supplied key markets both within the Maritime region and beyond. Essential to the success of this economy was the communal means by which farmers maintained the dykes and drainage structures for agriculture.
Marsh Economy and Society in the 20th-century
The arrival of the automobile age largely brought an end to the hay economy of the Tantramar area. Farmers struggled to find new crops with which to sustain their way of life but the combined impact of other conditions such as the Great Depression and World War II meant that routine maintenance on the dykes and drainage systems declined. In the post-war period farming continued to wane and people in the area sought new ways to diversify the local economy.
Marsh as Muse
The Marsh has a longstanding history as a source of inspiration for artists, poets, photographers, both amateur and professional. In this section we explore some selected examples of this work.