Hillsborough and its Acadian past

This quaint village just south of Moncton was originally settled by Acadian farmers back in the 1600s. They were the only people in North America to farm below sea level on marshy salty land thus causing little conflict with the region’s Aboriginal people. The Acadians constructed a complex system of earthen dykes by the Petitcodiac River. Into the dykes they built wooden sluices that when open allowed fresh water to drain from the newly claimed land. When shut, the sluices kept out the salt water at high tide. This land then sustained both crops and livestock. With this successful farming method, the original sixty-five Acadian families increased to one hundred and sixty by the 1770s—many moving to the French community to avoid being under the British.

I was curious to see the dykes that still survived for over three hundred years so set out from the Hillsborough information centre. Behind the small building was Hillsborough Wetlands Park with a series of trails lined with grasslands, silver birth, and ponds. After the Beaver Pond, the remains of the old silo poked its head above the landscape. It had been constructed against the Petitcodiac River and near by was the dyke stretching in both directions. 

Tensions began to rise between the French and English. While the French beat off the English in the Battle of Petitcodiac, the English retaliated by burning Acadian villages in the region and rounded up Acadians and deported them. English settlers moved in. By the early 1800s, gypsum was being mined from an area round Hillsborough but production declined during the 1980s. Ship building was another industry that flourished but has since ceased. Many of the quaint homes from the era appeared dilapidated as if the mine closures had caused a dip in prosperity.

The Acadians who survive today are descendants from the original families who arrived between 1632 to 1710. It was no wonder that I found it common to hear French spoken nearly as much as English during my visit.

The village was also noted for the discovery of a mastodon in 1936. This was the first time that a large number of bones from one species were uncovered in the Northeast of New Brunswick. It is believed that the animal died seventy thousand years ago when the ice age had temporarily retreated, and the animal became stuck in mud in a swampy area and drowned. But it was no longer in the village. It had been carted away to a museum in the province’s capital.