poetry and prose about place

garden escapes: lost settlements

with 2 comments

During my project about garden escapes, I have discovered just how many settlements and properties have been lost from the New Brunswick countryside. The loss has been due to struggles which are largely rural at their roots: struggles due to economics, disease, the hardships of winter, the lure of the city.


Loss of these communities and houses has an impact on us all. The value of rural community has been pointed out recently by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the reasons we have done relatively well in New Brunswick is our rural nature and the low population density.


To me, the sad side of the loss of rural community is the loss of information about these places, what it was like to live there and who the people were. What did they think about. Who did they love? What were their struggles?


The information can be knit together by a painstaking process of gathering the available puzzle bits and pulling the clues together. To illustrate, I will use the example of Kilmarnock, an abandoned community near Woodstock.


Today, Kilmarnock is a long drive on a backwoods road. There are lots of camps along the road and the road itself is kept in good condition.



the Kilmarnock Settlement Road


First, there is no one place to go to for all of the information on a community. In New Brunswick, we do have a wonderful New Brunswick Archives website called Where is Home?

The database for the settlement of Kilmarnock  is short, typical of many communities listed.

William Gibson, who immigrated from Kilmarnock, Scotland, settled here in 1843: in 1866 Kilmarnock was a small farming settlement with about 3 families.

Among other information is a cadastral map of land grants, a bit mind-numbing because it shows a map of all grants, regardless of date.


kilmarnock grant map


Another source of information is the Canada Census. In Canada, the Census is available for the first year of every decade.  I access the Census through my membership with and by knowing a name and the approximate birth year, I can usually find a lot of information on a community. In this case, I know the parish where the Census was taken (Northampton Parish, Carleton County) and I have the information from the Where is Home? site.


Because the settlement was established in 1843, I looked at the Census for 1851, knowing that some changes will have occurred in the interim 8 years. I find William Gibson and his family right away.




Name and Age

William Gibson 63

Robert Gibson 87

Jane Gibson 60

David Gibson 23

Wallace Gibson 21

Elizabeth Gibson 18

Bruce Gibson 15


Some of the notes about the family tell me that Robert and Jane were the married couple, not William and Jane, even though they were of an age. The Census also says that Robert and Jane had been in Canada since 1820 and that Robert was William’s uncle. Other notes say that William, Robert and Jane were from Scotland and William was a millright.


So, is this the William Gibson who founded the community? I think so. The ‘millright’ occupation is interesting since it explains the name of the stream, Gibson Millstream.



Gibson Millstream, looking east


Although the database says there were only three families in the settlement in 1866, the 1851 Census tells a different story. If you look for the names on the cadastral map, you can find most of them in 1851, on the pages before or after the notations for the Gibson family.  The Census shows there were at least nine families in Kilmarnock in 1851. Starting from the crossing of the stream and working southward:

  • Robert and Jane Gibson and family of 7, including uncle William Gibson, age 63
  • James and Marrion Rankin and family of 7
  • Robert and Mary Craig and family of 1
  • Thomas and Nancy McGinley and family of 7, including the grandfather Joel Young, age 82
  • John and Elizabeth Gibson and family of 4
  • John and Thankful Marsden and family of 6
  • Peter and Nancy Marsden and family of 5
  • William and Bathsheba Tompkins and family of 10
  • Joseph and Margaret Wolverton and family of 3


If you look at the cadastral map above, these names match the surnames of property owners on the map, reading from north to south and then from west to east.




A look at the Census for 1881 is also interesting. All of these families and others are represented, although some people have died in the thirty years, and some families have grown.


With regard to the garden escapes project, my discoveries were few. We did not see the south part of Kilmarnock settlement because of a cable across the road. However, the Google Earth satellite map shows that fields have been used and there is a windrow of trees between two adjacent fields (probably between the McGinley and Young properties).


The only other vegetation sign we saw was an old apple tree on the corner where the road crosses the Gibson Millstream (marked with an ‘x’) and a young apple tree along the road (also marked). Perhaps these trees are descendants of settlement times, perhaps they are apples from a wandering deer up for a visit from Woodstock.



apple tree at Gibson Millstream crossing


So much knowledge is lost from generation to generation. I find it a good argument for telling stories, keeping diaries, writing letters, keeping blogs, contributing to community endeavours.


One of the poems in the project will be the imagined walk along the Kilmarnock Road by Mary Craig and her son John, 2 years old.


This work is accomplished as part of an artsnb Creations Grant.


Get out your diary and write in it. Sort your photos.

So much to do.

If you don’t want a future poet making up stuff about you.

All my best.


Written by jane tims

August 7, 2020 at 7:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. An interesting post Jane. The homes in the rural area where I grew up are slowly being abandoned and falling down. Young people don’t stay around. Time changes everything, it seems. My original homestead is gone. All that exists in the lot are the flower beds or perennials that are spreading in the wild grass and an old Lilac bush

    Liked by 1 person

    allan hudson

    August 8, 2020 at 6:31 am

    • I have been finding similar things no matter where I go. Somethimes there is nothing, just woodland, and then, suddenly a little field weed like bindweed, growing in the woods. Doesn’t seem to take too long before there is nothing at all.


      jane tims

      August 8, 2020 at 6:13 pm

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