Before Europeans came to live in this area, these shores had been home to the First Nations population for thousands of years. The native people were Mi’kmaq and they called this area Wesokegek. When the river ice broke up in the spring of the year they left their winter encampments inland and relocated to estuaries like the Walton River where fish, shellfish, birds and game were plentiful.
Settlement of Petite RiviereAcadians established Nova Scotia’s first permanent European settlement at Port Royal in 1636. By the early 1700s their descendants had migrated up the Bay of Fundy establishing villages along the Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay where Acadians built dykes and drained the fertile marshlands in preference to clearing forested land. A map drawn by hand in 1754 is the earliest map we have seen. It shows Petite Riviere, later to be called Walton, as an Acadian village with four houses on the east side of the river. There were 40 to 50 acres of dykeland. Ruins of the French dykes and a mill were still visible in Petite in1881. The conflict between the English and the French finally led to the deportation of the Acadians in 1755. It is unlikely, however, that any Acadians were deported from Petite Riviere. In 1755 British soldiers reported that they found the south shore of Cobequid Bay “completely deserted.”Acadians in this area had seen the writing on the wall and had decided to leave. There was little for the British to do except burn the houses, barns, churches, mills and even the fence rails.
The Resettlement of PetiteThe departure of the Acadians left most of Nova Scotia, with almost no European inhabitants. The agricultural economy largely disappeared since it had been based on the dyked marshlands farmed by the Acadians. The government set out to repopulate the province by offering land grants to english speaking protestants. In 1760 the first of these new settlers, called New England Planters, came to Newport Township. Some of these families and their descendants, including the Parker and Woolaver families, subsequently settled in Petite.
The process for receiving Crown land grants was similar throughout Canada: an individual or group petitioned for land; if approved and the grantee met the conditions full title to the land was granted; if the conditions were not met, the land reverted back (escheated) to the Crown.
There were few large land grants before 1763 when the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years’ War and returned Nova Scotia to Britain. In this area large blocks of land were granted to several prominent individuals including Alexander Forrester Cochrane, and the families of Winckworth Tongue and George M. Haliburton. It is unlikely that any of these individuals ever lived here.
The end of the American Revolution in 1783 resulted in land grants for a large group of Loyalists, Americans who had fought on the side of the British and were forced to leave at the end of the conflict. Many Loyalist families moved on when they learned that their military backgrounds left them ill equipped for living off the land. Some Loyalist families, however, settled in this area, among them McNeils, Terhunes, Grants and Nuttings.The land that comprised the village of Petite was known as the New Paradise Grant. It consisted of 1,500 acres given to William Shey, John Shey and William Shey Jr, in 1769. By 1829 most of the Shey lands were owned by the Parker family and the area was called Captain John Parker’s farm.