Exploring Branstead Farm
in the Petawawa Research Forest
2009 November 24
In order to establish the Petawawa Military Camp (now Canadian Forces Base Petawawa) in the early years of the twentieth century, the federal government took over a large area of land in the upper Ottawa Valley. Subsequently, the Petawawa Forest Experiment Station (now the Petawawa Research Forest) was created on the western portion of this land. We have previously described (see: Abandoned Homestead) how the original settlers were forced from their farms in the expropriated area.
Since posting that article, we have come across more traces of old stone fences and rock piles in the Petawawa Research Forest. As the bush is very open in the late fall, we decided to take advantage of recent mild weather to explore and map some of these features of the Branstead Farm (1) in more detail. We spent much of one day following stone fences through the bush, examining rock piles and looking at the old stone foundation at the corner of Woermke Road and Branstead Road, returning a second day to investigate some areas more thoroughly.
We started with a stone fence along Forestry Road R6, and followed the fence line through the bush. From the apparent end of this fence at Branstead Road, we did not have to walk far to pick up the line of another fence, and then another. Eventually we arrived back at our starting point. We realized that the various section of fence we had noticed previously were all part of a single fence enclosing an area slightly more than 30 acres. The fence is continuous except where interrupted by modern road crossings and by a gap in the northwest corner. Whether this gap has always existed or whether it too is a result of road construction (Branstead Road) (3) is not clear. Perhaps we have just not found the fence in this area.
The area contained by the fence encloses much of the current red pine plantation along Branstead Road, which was planted in the 1920s. However, the plantation extends outside of the fenced area to the east, and it seems reasonable to assume that this area was also part of the farm and had also been cleared. Outside the fence, the cleared rocks were collected in piles rather than being used for fence construction.
The only traces of buildings that we found were in the southwest corner of the fenced in area, that is, near the corner of the modern roads, Branstead and Woermke. Here there is a stone foundation and two adjacent rectangular depressions. There are also two wells, one close to the creek west of the foundation, and one on the east side of Branstead Road.
We are impressed by the amazing amount of manual labour that was expended in constructing these fences and rock piles.
2009 December 16
We were intrigued by the coincidence that the northern fence departs from the R6 just where the interior lot line crosses R6. Further, in the satellite view, if you use your imagination, you can convince yourself that you can see evidence of the lot line in the pine plantation. We wondered whether there might be a fence running along the lot line through the middle of the pine plantation.
This morning, Bob was out snowshoeing and decided to have a look along the lot line. Although the ground was obscured by perhaps a foot of snow, it does appear that there is indeed a fence running approximately along the lot line. It appears that the fence runs from R6 south to the vicinity of the southern extent of the pine plantation along that lot line; that is, the fence appeared to follow the lot line about two thirds of the way to Woermke Road. Bob noted the apparent southern end of the fence but did not note whether perhaps another fence headed west from that point. Clearly there is more exploration to do, but that will have to wait until next spring or fall when the bush is not obscured by snow, bugs or underbrush.
2010 April 17
Throughout the winter of 2009/2010 there has been harvesting (thinning) of the red pine plantations of the Branstead Farm and the plantation south of Woermke Road. For some photos related to these logging operations see Loggers Lunch Spot, Red Pine Logs, Logs, Snowshoeing Through The Slash, Logger's Truck and Branstead Farm Stone Foundation.
Much of the red pine plantation north of Woermke Road and east of Branstead was not touched this season. The slash from the logging operations will probably preclude, for the time being, the mapping of additional rock piles.
2010 April 18
Bob and Diana returned to further explore the interior stone fence through the pine plantation that Bob had discovered during the winter. This fence follows the interior lot line through the pine plantation from R6 to about two thirds of the way to Woermke Road (see orange line on the satellite image above). It simply ends abruptly; we could not find any continuation either along the lot line or perpendicular to it. It is interesting that the end of the fence is roughly coincident with a corner of the pine plantation.
We noted in exploring this fence that trees right up to being adjacent to the fence have been marked for cutting. We hope that this old fence will not be destroyed in the process.
- Brenda Lee-Whiting explicitly identifies the farm as having belonged to August Branstead (or Branstadt) and states that it was acquired by the government in 1909. I.C.M. Place refers to the site of the red pine plantation as Branstead's Field.
- Stiell Way continues north of Woermke Road through to R6, although this unnamed section of road is becoming overgrown. However, it appears that the original construction of this part of the road resulted in the destruction of the northern end of the eastern stone fence.
- We assume, but do not know for certain, that Branstead Road was constructed after the inhabitants were ousted, but this may not be the case. Woermke Road appears to be an old road, since it follows the lot lines.
- A requirement for settlers to receive title to their land was to live on it and, within four years of arrival, construct a house 18 by 20 feet, and bring under cultivation at least 12 acres.
- We did not explore the interior of the pine plantation, so there may be other rock piles that are not indicated on the satellite map.
Clyde C. Kennedy (1970), The Upper Ottawa Valley, a glimpse of history, The Renfrew County Council.
Jennifer Mercer(1998), Staying the Run, A History of the United Townships of Rolph, Buchanan, Wylie and McKay, The Rolph, Buchanan, Wylie and McKay Historical Society.
I.C.M. Place (2002), 75 Years of Research in the Woods, A History of Petawawa Forest Experiment Station and Petawawa National Forestry Institute, General Store Publishing House.
Brenda Lee-Whiting (1985), Harvest of Stones, The German Settlement in Renfrew County, University of Toronto Press.