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Agricultural Improvement

The concentration of ownership on the Tantramar Marshes also affected the process of dyke and drainage (sewer) maintenance. By 1835 land ownership was most concentrated in the Dixon's Island and West of Cole's Island marsh bodies where between a quarter and a third of the proprietors owned approximately 60% of the marsh. Ownership was less concentrated in the East of Sunken Island and Bear Island/Middle Village marshes, but even in these cases the top four proprietors owned over 50% of the marshland. The pattern of ownership on the large Great Marsh showed relatively little concentration, although the four largest proprietors owned in excess of 20% of the land and one landowner held 10%.

Analysis of land ownership is significant in part because it was the intention of the 1760 legislation establishing the Commission of Sewers that those elected be from the group of proprietors of each marsh body. One might expect that those owning the highest proportion of land would be most interested in influencing the spending of their neighbours' labour and materials on drainage and dyking works that would benefit their large holdings. And to some extent this is borne out by the evidence. Tolar Thompson owned approximately 10% of the Great Marsh and was elected Commissioner for 1830-35. In the case of the Westcock Marsh, William Botsford, a descendent of the Loyalist settler Amos Botsford and the largest landowner, was the Commissioner of Sewers. But there is also considerable evidence to suggest that Commissioners of Sewers were being elected who did not own any part of a marsh body.

By the mid-19th century agricultural intensification of the 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of productive marsh was in full swing, with a focus on the production of grains, root crops, and marsh hay. Through this era the marsh landscape was transformed by extensive new drainage, ditching and dyking works. Native vegetation was replaced by imported species and the natural saltmarsh was progressively enclosed behind high dykes that ran along the banks of the three main rivers and along the coast line between the river outflows.

A map of the Tantramar and adjoining marshes.
The heart of this agriculture was a marsh hay economy which relied not only on the particular physical resources of the Tantramar Marshes, but also the particular forms of economic, political and social organization that enabled farmers to improve the land for this type of agriculture. To understand this habitat and its settlement history, it is essential, to examine the emergence of local political structures such as the sewer districts established to regulate and control the marshes for farming under the direction of the political body known as the
Commissioners of Sewers. At the heart of this system was the requirement that local farmers perform annual labour on the ditches, drains and dykes in order to keep the complex system operating effectively. The records of these labour requirements reveal much about the nature of local community dynamics in the intensification of marsh agriculture.


  Management of the Marshes - Commission of Sewers
  Transportation Systems

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Sackville, New Brunswick
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