poetry and prose about place

garden escapes: lost settlements

with 6 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

6 Responses

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  1. Thank-you for this post, which I just stumbled on tonight. I am a 3 x great grandson of Robert Gibson (1768-1853). My information is that he had a first wife Martha Craig who died sometime between 1805 and 1808. They apparently had seven children, the first of which was Robert II, who died as an infant. He was followed by Thomas, Robert III, Agnes, Martha, John and William. John Gibson married Elizabeth Gale (1815-1859). After his first wife Martha died, Robert Sr. married Jane Cameron (1790-1873) in 1809 in Scotland. They had 13 children including my 2 x great grandfather Robert Bruce Gibson. One source says that indeed William (b 1789) was a nephew of Robert Sr.. A source says that they came to New Brunswick in 1820, possibly with or as friends of the Rankins, and started the Caledonia Mills at the mouth of the Gibson Millstream near where the Northampton Kirk stands. I think it was Robert Sr. and Jane’s sons David Smith Gibson and Wallace William Gibson who operated the Caledonia mills with their father and after his passing. I am currently working on a personal book project involving the Gibson side of our family among other things, and I look forward to learning as much as possible during 2021. By my figuring Robert Sr. would be 22 years older than his second wife rather than 27 years older, so if they did the 1851 census in the spring then Robert Sr. would have been 82 not 87. Mr. Quinn’s reply above was also very interesting.
    Sending thanks and best wishes.
    Sandy Briggs

    Liked by 1 person


    February 7, 2021 at 8:26 pm

    • hi. Thank you so much for commenting! If you contact me at, I will share the poem I wrote as a result of my research. So much can be learned from the Census, but nothing can replace your own family knowledge and traditions!


      jane tims

      February 7, 2021 at 8:31 pm

  2. My family owns the lots that were formerly owned by the McGinleys, Marstens, Gibsons, and a small piece of the Rogers lot. We have been recreating, farming, hunting, fishing that land for generations, and the history of the area (at least our mythologized, post-colonial version) is very much alive for us. We have had a camp there for over a century and have a running log book of visitors that spans that entire period. You can read the names and activities of all of those original settlers who visited my ancestors at the camp regularly – including the names above. We even have old photos of some- such as William (Billie) Nix and family, whose farm has long since grown up in trees, been harvested, and grown-up yet again. There are even colorful stories about some of these people that have been passed down. It was a right of passage when we were young to learn the locations of sites like the Rankin spring, the Billie Nix house (basement hole), and the Bulmer farm and some of the original houses still stood. Many of the features visible on the property are named – for example, the hedgerow you mention in your post is called “Pig’s Row”.

    There are many abandoned farming communities throughout new Brunswick as most of the parcels that were granted in the 19th century were not very arable – many not at all. In these suboptimal areas of Carleton and york counties, it was often Scottish and Irish immigrants who were trying to eke out a living on these small, 100-acre rocky grants. As soon as they were able to work out an easier way to make a living, they moved on. Many of the descendants of these people are now American. Kilmarnock is a good example but is unusual in that despite having no residents, it has ongoing stewardship, use, written historical records, and a continuous family tie to the area that has been unbroken for over a century.

    Liked by 1 person

    Greg Quinn

    September 21, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    • Wow. I am so pleased to hear from you and to know of this profound connection with the land. Ordinarily my project would involve talking to local people and learning their stories. But in these times… I was charmed by the Kilmarnock road and settlement before I knew much about it. I have written a poem about the Settlement, using just the information I had. Any possibility you would contact me via email and give me some comments on my suppositions? For your trouble I would tell a truer story of the community, give you a free copy of my final book and an acknowledgement. Thank you so much for your comments.


      jane tims

      September 23, 2020 at 10:31 pm

  3. 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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