At the time, most Canadians were farmers who cultivated the land. After clearing their censive, they farmed it first and foremost to feed their families. Any surplus crops were used to buy goods from France, like salt, textiles and wine, or from local artisans, such as horseshoes, shovels and shoes.
Bread was the main staple of the peasants. To have enough flour, they had to grow a lot of wheat. Peas were also important to their diet, and made up a good portion of their crops. Farmers also grew oats to feed their horses. Depending on the region, people also grew rye, barley or buckwheat.
During the summer, cows, oxen and horses grazed in the fields. But hay was needed to feed them during the long winter months. As there was only enough hay to feed a few animals, the others were slaughtered or sold at the beginning of winter.
Manure was used as a fertilizer to improve crops. Since the farmers did not have enough animals to spread manure over all their fields, they only cultivated half their land each year, and left the other half fallow. Manure was also reserved for the garden where onions, squash, cucumbers and other vegetables were grown, along with a bit of tobacco.
What was sold at the market? Only food that stored well. Farmers who lived very close to town could sell fruits, vegetables, butter and fresh eggs, but others could only sell wheat to be exported to Louisbourg and the West Indies.
Daily life, eating and farming all revolved around wheat. Wheat was harvested in late summer and stored in the barn. During the winter, it was thrashed to separate the grain from the chaff. Farmers would bring a few bags of gain to the mill each month to grind into flour. It was then taken back home where it could be used to make bread, which was baked in a bread oven.
It took about 10 years for a newly settled family of colonists to live entirely off their land. Being a peasant was hard work, but Canadian farmers fared better than their French counterparts.
Author: Léon Robichaud
See also – Traces of the past:
French (If available)