Exploring Branstead Farm
in the Petawawa Research Forest

In late November, Bob and Diana took advantage of the mild and snow-free weather to explore traces of the 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.

Satellite Image

The above satellite view shows the stone fences (red) and the lot boundaries (black). The red dots indicate some of the rock piles (the ones we examined, anyway - there are more). Mouse over the Google markers to identify the two wells and the stone foundation. (The orange line is an interior stone fence that we found later. See addenda for 2009 December 16 and 2010 April 18.)

The road running diagonally across the bottom of the default satellite view is Woermke Road. The road just inside the western fence is Branstead Road. The road intersecting Woermke Road from the south is Stiell Way (2). The road just inside the eastern lot line is R5. The road running across just north of centre of the default satellite view, from R5 to Branstead Road, is R6.

Each lot is 100 acres (2 furlongs by 5 furlongs - 1330 feet by 3300 feet). The stone fence encloses an area of about 30 acres. Except for the wet area near the top right of the satellite view (where the lot line crosses R5), the entire area is covered by forest. The red pine plantation shows up as a darker, more olive, green.

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.

stone fence on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

The eastern end of the northern stone fence that starts along R6, then curves northwest into the bush and ends at Branstead Road. This view of the fence is the one most commonly seen by walkers in the Petawawa Research Forest.

stone fence on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

Away from R6, the fence wanders through the bush, and is quite overgrown in places. However it is not too difficult to follow in the late fall.

stone fence on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

The western stone fence parallels a wet area. It is quite obstructed in places.

stone fence on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

The western stone fence is quite massive and wide near its northern end. It appears that it was built to serve as a causeway through the wet area. Or perhaps there were just a lot of rocks to dispose of in this area!

stone foundation on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

The stone foundation at the corner of Branstead Road and Woermke Road. The foundation is about twenty feet six inches wide by twenty four feet long (4), with a depth of about five feet six inches at the back wall.

stone foundation on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

Close-up of the western wall of the foundation. The walls are more than two feet thick.

stone foundation on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

The depth at the front corner (southeast) is about four and a half feet. There is some evidence of mortar (cement) in this corner, but not elsewhere.

water well on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

A rock-lined water-drawing spot beside the creek just west of the corner of Branstead Road and Woermke Road.

Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

One of two depressions near the stone foundation, perhaps evidence of other buildings. This depression is about ten feet square. The other depression is about fifteen feet wide, but has been partly filled in by material bulldozed from the Branstead Road side.

water well on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map

This water well is on the east side of Branstead Road at Woermke Road.

stone fence on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

The southern stone fence parallels the northern side of Woermke Road but is neither particularly prominent nor photogenic.

stone fence on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

This is the eastern stone fence that runs from Woermke Rd (near Stiell Way) north to R6, at the location depicted in the first photograph. Similar to the western fence, this fence parallels a creek / wet area just outside of the fence.

rock pile in the Red Pine plantation in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

A stone pile in the pine plantation, east of the eastern stone fence. We assume that this area was part of the farm as well.

glacial erratic in the Red Pine plantation in the Petawawa Research Forest

( - map - explore

A glacial erratic in the pine plantation near R6 and outside of the eastern stone fence. In addition to the stone piles, there are several impressively large glacial erratics in this area. They are not related to the farm in any way (except they must have been frustrating obstructions), but they are interesting in their own right.

We are impressed by the amazing amount of manual labour that was expended in constructing these fences and rock piles.

Addendum

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.

stone fence on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

An apparent stone fence, obscured by snow, roughly following the internal lot line through the pine plantation between R6 and Woermke Road.

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.

piles of harvested red pine logs along Branstead Road in the Petawawa Research Forest

(photo by Bob: 2010-04-12 - map - explore

This is a view of some of the harvested red pine logs, looking north along Branstead Road from Woermke Road. The stone foundation is adjacent to the far corner of the first pile of logs on the west (left) side of the road.

damage to stone foundation at the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

(photo by Bob: 2010-04-12 - map - explore

This shows some minor damage to the front (southeast corner) of the stone foundation caused by the pile of red pine logs. This photo should be compared to a similar photo above.

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.

interior stone fence on the Branstead Farm in the Petawawa Research Forest

(photo by Bob: 0000-00-00 - map - explore

The stone fence interior to the pine plantation. Like the western fence, this fence is quite wide. However, our current opinion is that rather than serving as a causeway, the width provided a platform to enhance the fence by piling stumps, etc. on top. These have long since rotted away.

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.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Sources

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.