© Lunenburg County Historical Society 2012
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The land around the LaHave river consists mainly of drumlins of gravelly soil left from the glacial period, and a fair amount of slate, granite and other rock. Until the coming of the Europeans, it was covered in forest. The trees were a mixture of hard and soft wood, with large stands of red oak. (Various early descriptions)
The native people lived inland in the forest in winter time, and on the coast in summer. They used the forest for hunting for food and clothing, the trees for their wigwams and canoes, the plants for food and medicine. The forest and its lakes were also the source of the beaver pelts which the natives traded with the Europeans.
When he arrived from France in 1604, the first land that Champlain and De Monts saw was Cape LaHave rising from the ocean. They named it Cap de la Hève, after the last cape they had passed after leaving Havre de Grâce (now Le Havre) at the beginning of their voyage. (Maps) The name has remained to this day and has spread to the river and to settlements on both its banks. Champlain and his companions anchored in Green Bay and did not as far as we know explore the river as far as Fort Point. Champlain described the area at the mouth of the LaHave as follows:
...there is a bay with many islands covered with spruce trees; and on the mainland oaks, elms and birches.
In 1632 when Isaac de Razilly established Fort Sainte-Marie-de-Grâce, the French cleared areas of forest for agriculture, particularly the area around Petite Rivière. There a number of farming families (Nicolas Denys says “40 residents”) were settled and had brought in a harvest of wheat before Isaac’s death in summer of 1636. They also used the marshy meadow across from the fort (below Five Houses at Oxner’s beach) which they called “la Vacherie,” as a dairy farm for the governor and his companions.
Meanwhile Nicolas Denys had established lumbering operations in the oak woods on the east side of the LaHave, towards Merligueche (now Lunenburg). During Razilly’s governorship he sent back dressed lumber to France on the returning supply ships. After Razilly’s death, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay refused to allow him to do this, and after a few years the operations ceased. When Denys’ great-nephew, Simon Denys de Bonnaventure, travelled in the area in 1701, he discovered the remains of one of his great-uncle’s lumber camps.
...we found a point where M. Denys used to make oak planking of which I saw several piles, mostly rotten like soil and some others which were not, but all worm eaten.
The LaHave area was visited in 1684 by a French naval officer named Lalanne, who knew of the oaks in the area and came to inspect them as part of his survey of Acadian timber resources for ship-building.
Agriculture and lumbering continued to be major parts of the economy of the area for many years. When the British replaced the French in the 18th century, subsistence farming was essential to the survival of new settlers. Joseph Pernette established his own farm at West LaHave in the 1770s, as part of an enormous grant on the west side of the river from the falls to just above Fort Point. On the east side of the river farm lots were developed by settlers from Lunenburg. A Captain Strasburger from Lunenburg had an enormous farm in the Dayspring area which is shown on early maps of Lunenburg County.
Pernette, Strasburger and others established sawmills on streams running through their property. The wood was used for constructing dwellings and ships and was also exported. We know that Pernette brought in shipwrights from England to construct vessels for him, and during the nineteenth and early twentieth century a flourishing shipbuilding industry existed based on the local timber resources. Although much diminished with the development of new techniques, the building of wooden vessels still takes place in the LaHave area. Lumbering continues, with much of the wood being sold to large companies.
A condition of Pernette’s grant was that a certain amount of the land should be set aside for growing hemp, which was used to manufacture cordage for naval and other vessels. He established a grist mill on the brook running through his land, to grind the cereals which were grown. For many years the local people grew a good deal of their own food, but much of the land is stony and infertile, and with improved transportation only the better areas have remained under cultivation.
Agriculture has diminished in importance, but a certain amount of farming is still carried on on both sides of the river. The descendants of Joseph Pernette maintain a dairy farm at Pernette’s Brook , and cattle are raised on the old farmlands at Petite Rivière. Good farms are to be found on many of the roads running back from the river.