The picturesque Town of Sackville nestled on the edge of the expansive and fertile Tantramar Marshes is one of New Brunswick’s oldest communities. The Town has a European settlement history dating back nearly 300 years, while aboriginal peoples have used the area for over 3000 years.
The first permanent settlers were Acadians. In 1708 the eldest sons of five families (Haché, Bourque, Bernard, Richard and Gaudet) from Acadian settlements near Nappan/Maccan (just south of present Amherst, Nova Scotia) pioneered the Sackville area setting up homesteads from Westcock to Middle Sackville. The settlement prospered and by 1752 a few hundred people occupied the sinuous marsh edge bordering on the Tantramar River. The largest village was “Tintamarre” in present day Middle and Upper Sackville.
British forces captured Fort Beausejour in June of 1755 and shortly thereafter most Acadian residents were expelled from the area. Harassment of British military installations by French guerillas and their Micmac allies continued until the fall of Quebec in 1759 which ended all hopes that Acadians may have been able to repossess their lands. The end of guerilla warfare thus lead to a greater sense of security for potential settlers.
Nova Scotia’s Governor Lawrence issued a proclamation in 1758 inviting New Englanders to come to Nova Scotia (which at the time included all of present day New Brunswick) and take up free land grants. Military personnel completing their enlistments at Fort Cumberland (formerly Beausejour) were offered land grants in 1760 and some stayed to establish homesteads in the area. Governor Lawrence’s proclamation led to the arrival of the New England Planters or colonists to Nova Scotia. The first major wave of “Planters” to the Sackville area occurred in 1760-61 when 25 families arrived. Family names such as Tower, Estabrooks, Cole, Finney, Seaman, Robinson, Brownell, Ward and others came to the area – largely from Rhode Island. Additional waves of immigrants from New England arrived in 1762-63 (Oulton, Tingley, Ayer, Richardson and others)as well a group of 13 Baptists from Swansea, Massachusetts who established the first Baptist church in Canada.
The Township of Sackville, along with the neighbouring townships of Cumberland and Amherst were laid out in 1759 each containing 100,000 acres and the first formal grants were issued in 1765. Sackville Township held its first meeting on 20 July 1762, and first steps were taken towards establishing municipal government. The name Sackville was chosen by Governor Charles Lawrence in 1759 to honour George Sackville (1716-1785), a commander of British Forces. The Township of Sackville consisted of 20 families in 1763 and expanded only modestly to 349 persons by 1767. Nearly all were from New England.
Settlement of the granted lands did not proceed as quickly as hoped by British authorities and some New Englanders were wanting to sell their properties to return home. Thus in 1769-70 Lieutenant Governor Michael Franklin went to north Yorkshire, England to seek immigrants for Nova Scotia. His efforts prompted the “Yorkshire Immigration” of 1772-75 when over 1000 settlers left Yorkshire bound for Nova Scotia. In contrast to the New Englanders, the folks from Yorkshire were mostly tenant farmers in old England and left for Nova Scotia “in order to seek a better livelihood”. For the most part Yorkshire settlers did not receive grants from the government, but they came with money and purchased their lands from New England settlers who were beginning to leave.
The Chignecto region, including the Township of Sackville, felt the greatest impact of the Yorkshire immigration. Families settling in Sackville were ; Dixon, Bowser, Atkinson, Anderson, Bulmer, Harper, Patterson, Fawcett, Richardson, Humphrey, Wry, and others. The Yorkshire folk established prosperous farms and erected the first Methodist chapels in Canada including one in Sackville in 1790.
Many of the Yorkshire families found themselves caught up in the Eddy Rebellion of 1776 when a group of New Englanders and sympathizers laid siege on Fort Cumberland. Yorkshire loyalty and assistance to British forces helped quell the rebellion and prevent the Province from becoming the 14th State in the Union. Following the American wars of independence United Empire Loyalists came into the Province (1784) with a few families settling in Sackville including; Knapp, Palmer, Purdy and others.
The centre of the Town of Sackville as we know it today only began to emerge around 1840 with opening of the new bridge across the Tantramar River and the new “post” road across the marsh. Prior to that the centre of the community was in Middle Sackville clustered around the Mills (sawmill, grist and carding) and Millpond that is now known as Silver Lake. The Mills were established as early as 1764 and may have been a mill site used by Acadians prior to 1755. The Morice family operated the Mills and a large woodworking shop from 1821 to 1939. While agriculture was the mainstay of the community, associated businesses included tanneries, leather goods factories, carriage factories and blacksmith shops. Samuel Black built a large store in Middle Sackville in 1839 which developed into Joseph L. Black and Sons – a large lumber, mercantile and eventually a food wholesaling business.
Middle Sackville was a thriving community in the 1830s while Lower Sackville (the town centre today) was mainly scattered large farms. The man largely responsible for changing that was William Crane, a son of a Planter family from Grand Pre, N.S. He moved to Sackville in 1804 and established a successful store and trading business on the Lower Fairfield Road (near the present Estabrooks Service Centre). When fire destroyed that business he re-established to what is now the centre of the Town and is still know locally as Crane’s Corner. His new store was built on the site of the present Sackville Town Hall and in 1836 he constructed his magnificent stone mansion across the street. The mansion is now the home of a cafe and bakery.
William Crane had been a member of the NB House of Assembly since 1824 and in the mid 1830s he began to lobby for a new more direct road to Nova Scotia, rather than the old High Marsh Road into Middle Sackville. When the new bridge and road were opened in 1840, he also secured a postal contract for mail distribution to New Brunswick. Thus stage coaches no longer rumbled through Middle Sackville and a shifting of the communities’ economic base was initiated.
Coincident with Crane’s 1840 endeavours was the establishment of the Port of Sackville and the emergence of a significant shipbuilding industry along with the establishment of Mount Allison University. The first public wharf was constructed in 1841 on the edge of the Tantramar River at the end of Landing Road and was an active trading and business centre until the early 1920s when the Port became unusable due to a change in the course of the River. Shipbuilding had begun in 1824 when William Crane had the 129 ton Brig “Charlotte” built by the Boultenhouse family. The last vessel built was the 32 ton Schooner “Three Links” in 1898 and during the intervening years a total of 165 ships were launched from local yards. The three largest yards: Boultenhouse, Dixon-Wood and Purdy were established on the Tantramar River at Sackville beginning in the early 1840s. The largest vessel was the Sarah Dixon (1468 tons), built by Charles Dixon in 1856 and named after his wife Sarah (Boultenhouse) Dixon.
Sackville as a community began to mature in the 1840s with a shift from an agricultural orientation to a commercial one. The first of two foundries, Enamel and Heating Products Limited opened in 1852 followed by the Enterprise Foundry in 1872. Both foundries produced a full line of cooking and heating appliances that were shipped all over the world. In 1984 the two foundries were merged and the company Enterprise Fawcett Inc still produces heating and cooking appliances.
The beautiful campus of Mount Allison University, that today contributes so much to the unique character of the Town of Sackville dates back to 1839. That year Charles F. Allison, a business associate of William Crane, proposed the establishment of a Mount Allison Wesleyan Academy for boys in Sackville. The institution opened in 1843 followed eleven years later by the Mount Allison Ladies Academy. In 1862 Mount Allison Wesleyan College was established and was a full degree-granting institution. One of its first two graduates was Josiah Wood, who later became a lawyer, prominent businessman, politician, developer of the NB-PEI Railway, Lt. Gov. of New Brunswick, and possibly Sackville’s most prominent native son.
In 1886 the name Mount Allison Wesleyan College was shortened to Mount Allison College and in 1913 to Mount Allison University. One of the oldest Art Galleries in Canada, Owen’s Art Gallery, was moved to the Mount Allison campus in 1893.
The downtown business core blocks were mostly constructed at the turn of the century and one of them, the Wood Block, has a Provincial Heritage site designation. Sackville was booming at the turn of the century and with a population approaching 2000 a move was afoot to be incorporated as a Town. That incorporation occurred in January 1903.
The twentieth century saw the rise and fall of a number of businesses including boot and shoe manufacturing, stone quarrying, food wholesaling (Atlantic Wholesalers originated in Sackville), several government services and a general erosion of the downtown business core. Nonetheless, Sackville has been able to attract a number of new businesses and services to sustain its employment base, and an infrastructure to capture the growing interest in nature and heritage tourism.
In 2003 the Town celebrated 100 years since incorporation. In 2012 it celebrated the 250th anniversary of the first town meeting of Sackville Township.