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8,000 B.C. to 1600's A.D.
  • 8,000 B.C.  to  1000 A.D.
  • First Nation people were the first people to live in New Brunswick and for thousands of years they had their own Nations, confederations, religion, philosophy of social order, land use and justice.  Determining a population number for the First Nations during this early time is very difficult because of their migratory lifestyle and the lack of permanent residences.  The important thing to note is that for many centuries before contact with Europeans, the Mi'gmaq and the Maliseet people had thoroughly explored and travelled over the area that later became New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Maine and Newfoundland and had a well-developed culture, religion, social behaviours, laws and customs. 

    Archaeologists believe that for thousands of years before contact with Europeans, the First People were hunters and gatherers who migrated seasonally seeking places where food was most readily available.  At different times of the year they lived along the coast where fish, clams, wild birds and other foods were available and then traveled inland to hunt game such as moose, deer, beaver and bear.  This constant movement did not result in the creation of permanent villages but led to the establishment of numerous residence sites used annually for various lengths of time.

    Residence sites existed in great numbers and in varying degrees of importance before extensive settlement by non-First Nation people.  Residence sites were selected for gravel beaches large enough to accommodate canoes (the principal means of transportation), proximity to spring water for drinking, abundant, accessible food supplies and flat areas suitable for setting up shelters.  These sites were found along the coast, at the mouths of major rivers, inland at the mouths of tributaries and on fertile interval land along riverbanks.  A large fallen tree was hollowed out and used as a large kettle for cooking food for the group.  Since the making of such a kettle was time-consuming and laborious, a family or number of families tended to return to the same site regularly and reside for a significant part of the year.  Cities, towns and villages now cover many of the most important early sites and all traces of First Nation occupation have disappeared.  However, the numerous occurrence of the word "Indian" for New Brunswick place names remain to indicate the widespread occupation by First Nations.

    Several large residence sites were located at strategic points along the principal waterways within New Brunswick.  Along the Saint John River there were 3 major villages:  at Meductic (below Woodstock), at Aukpaque (just above Fredericton) and at the mouth of the Madawaska River.  There were sites at the head of the St. Croix River and the mouths of small rivers or places where a river narrowed enough to construct weirs to net fish. 

    Meductic was the site of an ancient portage and used as a resting place before and after the labour of portaging.  This canoe route, from Eel River to Eel Lakes and then a short portage to North Lake, then to points south and west, was the principal route of communication between the people of the Upper Saint John River and the people to the westward.  Granite rocks along the portages, worn to a depth of two or three inches by the feet of many travelers, indicate that this is an ancient route used for an extremely long period.

    Meductic was not only a village but it was also a fort with a palisade constructed of trees cut and tied together for defence.  First Nation forts were also located at Navy Island, the mouth of the Nerepis, an island in Shediac Harbour, Richibucto, Mission Point and elsewhere. 

    There were large seasonal villages at Richibucto, Burnt Church, Mission Point (Restigouche on the north shore), and at St. Andrews on the Passamaquoddy Bay.  Established, smaller, sites were at Aroostook Falls, Grand Falls, Salmon Falls and other places where there were quiet pools containing salmon resting before they proceeded upstream.  There were seasonal sites at the head of tides on various rivers, at the mouth of Becaguimec (Hartland), Aukpaque, Indiantown (Renous), Red Bank and at Mission Point on the Restigouche River.  Along the north shore, there were extensive oyster beds extending from Shediac to Caraquet supporting numerous summer sites.  The great clam beds of the Bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy Bay supported seasonal sites at Oak Bay, Minister's Island, Bocabec, Fryes Island and many other places along these coasts.  There were sites for killing porpoise at Indian Beach on Grand Manan, and at Indian Cove just west of Point Lepreau.  Sites were set up at the end of portages to provide rest before and after the portage.  Residence sites established near deep, muddy pools in sluggish rivers, were suitable for catching eels; such as Eel River, Restigouche, Eel Ground, Miramichi and the eel-pools at Benton near Meductic.

    First Nations people enjoy sharing food.  Visiting ones relatives and friends and sharing meals was a popular pastime.  Occasions such as thankfulness, health, farewell, hunting, peace, war, marriage and mourning were celebrated by holding elaborate feasts.  Marriage and funeral rites were conducted with great solemnity and chiefs were installed with elaborate ceremonies and feasting.

    The extended family unit, hunting group or clan was the basis of society organization.  Each clan had its own symbol that they tattooed on their bodies and embroidered in porcupine quills or painted on clothing and other personal possessions.  First Nation society lacked rigid social and political structure.  Decisions affecting the clan were discussed at councils where each person would speak on the topic before a decision was made.
    In summer, birch bark canoes were used to travel New Brunswick's excellent river system and to fish along the shore.  By relatively short portages, it was possible for First Nations people to travel from the Saint John River and its tributaries to the Petitcodiac, and all the area at the head of the Bay of Fundy, the Miramichi and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the St. Croix and Passamaquoddy Bay.  In summer, smaller family groups were formed and spread throughout the region to facilitate food gathering and add variety to their diets.  The search for game and other food sources was the main reason for leaving one spot and moving to some other favorite spot along the coast, or along inland waterways.  In winter, snowshoes enabled hunters to walk on top of the snow and to follow animals tracks while toboggans were used to haul carcasses.  Dogs were considered very valuable in hunting caribou, moose, deer and bear. 

    The Mi'gmaq First Nation occupies what is now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward lsland, northern and eastern New Brunswick and portions of the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.  The Maliseet are located along the length and breadth of the Saint John River and its tributaries, within New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine with their territory extending along the Saint John River valley upward toward the St. Lawrence River and westward into what is now Aroostook County, Maine. 
  • 1000  to  1600's - North Atlantic fishery and the fur trade
  • Norsemen made the earliest voyages from Europe to America about 1000 A.D.  Over the next four hundred years, Irish, French and Portuguese sailed westward from Europe in search of a route to the fabled wealth of Asia.  What they found instead was an enormous fishery along the North Atlantic shores.  It is widely believed that Norman, Breton and Basque fishing and whaling vessels were making annual trips to Atlantic Canada well before John Cabot's historic voyage of 1497.

    After the French arrived early in the 11th century, the First Nation people were involved in an economy based upon the fur trade.  After trade with First Nations was firmly established, the French administrators turned to converting them to Roman Catholicism by bring in French missionaries.  Many First Nation people learned to speak French and most were converted to Christianity by the missionaries for whom they developed an abiding affection.  The French religion was very similar to the First Nation belief system and because of this; the First Nations easily adopted it.  The Grandmother of Jesus, Saint Anne, and the concept of a single creator were the common ties (oral comm.. Gilbert Sewell 2009 Amlamgog).  The modern day practise of honouring Saint Anne's Day in numerous First Nation communities and the number of First Nation churches that bear the name Saint Anne reflect this significance.  The French missionaries ministered to the spiritual needs of the First Nation people during the summer when the Maliseet and Mi'gmaq resided near French settlements to carry on trade. 

    The introduction of European manufactured goods meant that the First Nation people gave up older and more labour intensive ways of manufacturing stone tools.  The possession of ironware gave First Nation people more time to hunt pelts for trade.  The use of metal kettles allowed more mobility that meant First Nation people did not have to live only at places where they had hollowed out tree trunks to make kettles large enough to feed many people.  The fur hunt also changed the roll of the chiefs who became involved as intermediaries dealing with French traders and in supervising the fur hunt among their own people.  Decision making by consensus within First Nation communities weakened when the French bent First Nation leadership to their own commercial and military interests.
    Introduction of firearms among the First Nation population made the hunt for game more deadly and efficient.  As a result, the natural food supply diminished forcing First Nation people to rely more heavily upon European foodstuffs.  Foreign foods disrupted the diet of the people, undermined their constitutions and resulted in a decline of resistance to disease.  The introduction of large quantities of European wine, rum and brandy by the fishermen who traded with the native population did irreparable damage to First Nation society.  An observer in 1672 noted that the festivals attended by the men started with speeches and dancing but with the introduction of alcohol soon led to quarrelling, fighting and injury.  Alcohol abuse was widespread and it totally disrupted First Nation life.
  • late 1400's
  • Shiploads of French, Portuguese, Spanish and English fishermen arrive annually to fish offshore.
    Before the 1600's in New Brunswick, the contact between the First Nation population and the French was limited to seasonal trading but this contact was sufficient to change the Mi'gmaq and Maliseet way of life.  In 1613, the estimated First Nation population in New Brunswick was ~3,000 people, but this was long after contact with Europeans and their diseases had significantly reduced First Nation populations.  Still, the First Nation people kept their own language, remembered the tales of their ancestors, and continued to follow many of their old customs.  The First Nation people remained skilful hunters and expert fishers and knew every stream and portage, and could travel swiftly to any destination by canoe or on foot.
  • 1497
  • John Cabot arrives
  • 1534
  • Jacques Cartier arrives in New Brunswick, names the Bay of Chaleur and trades with the Mi'gmaq, who were already accustomed to dealing with French fishermen and traders.  Jacques Cartier then explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence, proceeded up the St. Lawrence River and spent the winter in New France.  In New France and Acadia, the French established a profitable fur trade with the First Nations, became heavily involved in the cod and whale fisheries and claimed the territory on France's behalf.
  • 1588
  • English defeat of the Spanish Armada meant that Spain and Portugal's involvement in the Atlantic fishery was reduced and that the 2 chief rivals for this lucrative fishery were France and England.  The struggle between France and England for control of North America, its lucrative fishery and fur trade, were major factors in a series of wars that were fought for a century and a half in North America, Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, India and on the seas in between.