Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Pioneers, Ploughs, and Politics: New Brunswick Planned Settlements

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The Great Depression

On 12 September 1932 a small band wound its way into the thick spruce forest about 12 miles south of Bathurst, Gloucester County, just off the Miramichi Road. The roughly-dressed men carried axes over their shoulders. Family worries and financial concerns undoubtedly weighed heavily on their minds. Yet, they walked with determination and purpose.
Their leader was 48-year-old Father J.-A. Allard, parish priest of Ste-Marie-du-Mont-Carmel, Roman Catholic Church in East Bathurst. At a selected spot, the curé picked up an axe and swung it resolutely into the trunk of a tall tree. Several more chops sent the tree crashing to the forest floor. Father Allard's actions and his faith in the future signified hope and a new start to the small group gathered around him - hope for a way out of their poverty and a new start in the Allardville settlement they were about to establish.
The Allardville settlement was one of a number of pioneer communities created in New Brunswick, during the 1930s, as part of the back-to-the-land movement. To reduce the effects of the Great Depression and save their families from starvation, thousands of destitute New Brunswickers established farms on crown lands. Due to scarcity of funds, however, New Brunswick was unable to participate in the national back-to-the-land programme which required municipal, provincial, and federal governments to contribute $200 each per family. The province, therefore, was forced to adopt a limited scheme which left poverty-stricken New Brunswickers to survive on much less than was available elsewhere.
The back-to-the-land movement was most popular in the province's northern counties - Gloucester, Restigouche, Madawaska - where residents suffered the effects of the Depression most acutely. For the Allardville settlers, led by Father Allard, the road out of poverty was strewn with obstacles over which they had little control. Like their 18th century Acadian forefathers and the 19th century British, Irish, and Danish emigrants, many of the Allardville colonists overcame these difficulties and created a new home for themselves in the forests of New Brunswick.