The founding of New Brunswick

By Valerie Casbourn

On June 18, 1784, British authorities ordered that the colony of Nova Scotia be divided in two. As the American Revolution ended in 1783, some 30,000 Loyalists (American colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown) travelled north to flee persecution in the United States. Almost half of these Loyalists settled in the region west and north of the Bay of Fundy. This dramatic influx of settlers prompted the British to create the new colony of New Brunswick.

A hand-coloured print of a map of the province of Nova Scotia dated 1781. The map shows the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the lands now known as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, the Gaspé and the southwest part of Newfoundland.

A new and accurate map of the province of Nova Scotia in North America from the latest observations [1781] (e007913197-v8)

Changing population: The arrival of the Loyalists

New Brunswick is part of the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), the Mi’kmaq and the Passamaquoddy First Nations. Prior to the Loyalists’ arrival, the region had about 5,000 inhabitants. This included First Nations, Acadians, and small numbers of settlers from the American colonies and from Great Britain.

In 1783–1784, after the end of the American Revolution, about 14,000 Loyalist refugees arrived in this region. The Loyalists included Americans of British or other ancestry, Black Loyalists and people who remained enslaved (sometimes identified as “servants” in colonial records). Some were civilians, while others had fought for the British during the war, either in various Loyalist regiments (often known as Provincials) or as members of the regular British military forces.

British authorities promised the Loyalists and British military veterans land grants. As such, the British surveyed the land for settlement and some Loyalist associations travelled ahead to scout the land. When the Loyalists arrived, they began to claim land and establish farms and settlements, particularly at Saint John and along the Saint John River Valley.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds a variety of records related to the Loyalists’ arrival. You can search for the names of individual Loyalists in LAC’s four Loyalist databases. The Ward Chipman (senior and junior) fonds (MG23-D1) is especially relevant to the story of New Brunswick. Many records from the Ward Chipman fonds are available on the Héritage Canadiana website as digitized microfilm reels.

The new province of New Brunswick

Influential groups of Loyalists who settled in the Saint John River Valley did not wish to be governed from faraway Halifax and asked for the colony of Nova Scotia to be divided. This demand for a separate province began even before some Loyalists left the United States and it continued to grow. Loyalists found support for their campaign in London, England, and New Brunswick was created on June 18, 1784.

Black and white image of the first page of a handwritten letter of thanks to Edward Winslow from representatives of Saint John River Loyalists, dated June 19, 1784.

The first page of a two-page letter of thanks to Edward Winslow from representatives of Saint John River Loyalists, dated June 19, 1784. (MG23-D1 volume 11 page 524, microfilm reel C-13151)

Black and white image of the second page of a handwritten letter of thanks to Edward Winslow from representatives of Saint John River Loyalists, dated June 19, 1784.

The second page of a two-page letter of thanks to Edward Winslow from representatives of Saint John River Loyalists, dated June 19, 1784. (MG23-D1 volume 11 page 525, microfilm reel C-13151)

LAC holds copies of the British Colonial Office’s correspondence about Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Loyalists’ arrival. Of particular importance are the 1783–1784 records in the series “CO 217. Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, Original Correspondence” (MG11-CO217NovaScotiaA). The correspondence is described in the Report on Canadian Archives, 1894, and the Héritage Canadiana website has transcribed copies on digitized microfilm reels.

As large numbers of Loyalists settled on lands in New Brunswick, they encroached on the traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), the Mi’kmaq and the Passamaquoddy. The First Nations lost the use of much of their territory, which was essential to their traditional way of life, as they were displaced by rapidly expanding colonial settlement.

More information

Try using LAC’s Collection Search to explore other documents, maps and images related to New Brunswick. The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick holds many resources, including records of land grants in the province.

The Loyalists’ arrival in 1783 had a deep and lasting effect on the land and peoples of the Maritimes, and triggered the creation of the province of New Brunswick the following year. As time passed, the people of New Brunswick built up settlements, farms and fishing, timber and shipbuilding industries in the province.

A coloured print of an engraving looking towards the city of Saint John, New Brunswick, with sailboats in the harbour and a few people in the foreground.

The City of Saint John was incorporated in 1785. “View of the City of St. John, New Brunswick.” No date, Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana. (e002291761)

Related resources

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Valerie Casbourn is an archivist based in Halifax with Regional Services at Library and Archives Canada.

Plaisance: A French fishing colony in Newfoundland

By Valerie Casbourn

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds records related to the French colonial period in early Canada, and some of these records are available online. Included are records about the French cod fishery in the Atlantic region and the French colony of Plaisance in Newfoundland (1662–1713).

During the 17th century, the cod fishery in Newfoundland became increasingly important to the European fishing industry. France was one of several European countries competing for a share of this fishery, and in 1662, the French established a garrison town at Plaisance, on the western side of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. The French wanted to secure their merchant fishing fleet’s access to the fishery and their share of the European market for cod.

The site of Plaisance was chosen for its proximity to rich fishing grounds, its sheltered and relatively ice-free harbour, and its strategic location. Eventually, the colony of Plaisance grew to have a small permanent population, with military fortifications, and served as a base for the French Atlantic cod fishery.

A hand-drawn and coloured illustration that shows the shore with people on a wooden stage working on curing and drying cod in Newfoundland.

A view of a stage and also of the manner of fishing for, curing and drying cod at New Found Land […] (c003686) A digitized copy of the map L’Amerique, divisee selon l’etendue de ses Principales Parties, et dont les Points Principaux sont placez sur les Observations de Messieurs de L’Academie Royale des Sciences. Dressee Par N. de Fer, Geographe de Monseigneur le Dauphin can be seen at the Osher Map Library website.

The French and English established colonies along the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, which encroached on the Indigenous territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq. The French had little recorded interaction with the Beothuk, who withdrew from the coast and its resources to avoid contact with the European fishermen and colonists. Before the arrival of the colonies the Mi’kmaq navigated the waters between Cape Breton and Newfoundland by canoe. They established friendly relations with the French, becoming important trading partners and military allies.

The colony of Plaisance encountered many difficulties, particularly during its first few decades. Its population was small and poorly supplied, and its early governors were ineffective. However, in the 1690s, the colony became stronger, and the French administration highly valued the Atlantic fishery.

The economy of Plaisance was largely based on the cod fishery. The colony’s small permanent population with its “habitants-pêcheurs” was bolstered each year with the arrival of a large seasonal workforce on the merchant fleet from French ports. All worked intensely to catch and preserve cod during the summer months. The residents of Plaisance relied on the merchant fleet to bring extra labourers, food and manufactured goods, and to ship their dried catch back to Europe to be sold.

During this period, there was ongoing conflict between the French and the English, as well as between the Mi’kmaq and the English. In the 1690s and early 1700s, both the French and the Mi’kmaq conducted raids, sometimes jointly, on English settlements on the Avalon Peninsula. The War of the Spanish Succession culminated in the Treaty of Utrecht, signed in 1713, in which France ceded its claim to Newfoundland to England. The English took over the settlement of Plaisance, changing its name to Placentia. Most of the French colonists moved south to the colony of Ile Royale (now Cape Breton). There they established themselves in the new French settlement of Louisbourg and continued their work in the French cod fishery. The French also retained the right to fish off the coasts of Newfoundland and to process their catch along stretches of the shoreline, known as the French Shore.

Nautical chart, on vellum in coloured ink, of the coastline of Newfoundland, Acadia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Nautical chart of the coastline of Newfoundland, Acadia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Produced after 1713, the chart shows both Plaisance and Louisbourg (e011182107)

Records at Library and Archives Canada

LAC holds records related to the colony of Plaisance, among other topics, in the Fonds des Colonies (MG1). This fonds includes copies and transcriptions of selected records related to the French colonial period in early Canada. The records are in French, and the original documents are held at the Archives nationales d’outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. The Fonds des Colonies consists of records including correspondence, reports, journals, instructions, records of fortifications and commerce, civil registers, and notary documents.

Many records in the Fonds des Colonies have been digitized and are available directly on the LAC website. Use LAC’s Collection Search to search for records about the colony of Plaisance. Try keyword searches, such as “MG1 Plaisance” or “MG1 pêche” (without quotation marks), and use the drop-down menu to search “Archives.” Including “MG1” will limit your search results to records in the Fonds des Colonies; you can search more broadly by not including it. Because the original records are in French, try using French keywords such as “pêche” (fishing), “Terre-Neuve” (Newfoundland), or “morue” (cod).

Related resources


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist based in Halifax with Regional Services at Library and Archives Canada.