Shippagan, New Brunswick, Canada

The Shippagan peatland is located just south of the town of Shippagan, New Brunswick on the Acadian Peninsula (47°40'N, 64°43'W) in the Canadian Maritimes. New Brunswick possesses a long history of peat extraction, with the first documented attempt led by Lt. Governor W.F. Todd in the early 1890's where a processing plant was constructed at Spruce Lake, just east of Saint John at the Musquash bog. While the plant burned down only a few years later, Todd persevered moving his extraction site to the Todd bog north of St. Stephen where a mechanical press operated to de-water peat for the peat-fuel industry.

While the use of peat as a heating fuel declined, it prospered in finding applications for horticultural and industrial processes. Prior to the outbreak of World War two, the majority of Sphagnum peat utilized on the North American continent was imported from Scandinavian Europe, Germany and the Netherlands. The war interrupted North Atlantic shipping convoys that brought peat bales to the continental United States, the significant drop in European production a result of machinery and manpower shortages, and the inevitable chaos of war. The Canadian peat industry saw a turning point in World War two, as efforts to develop local sources of peat for export to the U.S.A. intensified. While the provincial leader in Canadian peat production has had many crowns, with production led by Manitoba Alberta, today, it was back in 1942, with the establishment of the Fafard Peat Moss Company that the modern era of New Brunswicks peat production began. 8,000 peat bales were exported to the U.S.A that year, all extracted from Peatland 530, Shippagan.

Since the peatland was abandoned by the turf-cutters and their spades, a drainage network of wide (18 m) trenches around 0.6- one metre deep, remains, separated by five meters wide raised areas known as 'baulks' of remnant peat. Spontaneous re-vegetation of previously harvested areas of the Shippagan peatland has been extensive, with Sphagnum moss species present throughout the trenched areas but largely absent from the baulks. Shippagan is an exceptional site because of the extent of spontaneous Sphagnum regeneration, it contrasts other abandoned block-cut peatlands in eastern North America, where spatial coverage of regenerated areas in trenches is typically less than 30 percent, in part thanks to a cool, very wet, maritime climate. Vascular species, mainly ericaceous shrubs and Eriophorum spp. have recolonized the baulks and many areas of the trenches at the Shippagan peatland.

Given it's unique and self-recolonizing moss recovery, Shippagan was selected as a research site by the Peatland Ecology Research Group (PERG) and its industrial partners as a site for research into Sphagnum biomass production under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair in Peatland Management program, beginning in 2003 (since renewed twice in 2008 and 2013).

The goal of the project has been to investigate large scale Sphagnum fibre production methods to supply material for "renewable commercial growing substrate production" as well as donor material for future peatland restoration projects. Existing shallow basins at the site minimized the amount of resurfacing work required, with an abundance of potential donor material within the unharvested and spontaneously regenerated areas of the peatland.

Peat plant with peat drying on racks in foreground in early 1940s at the Fafard Peat Moss Co., Shippagan, NB

Peat plant with peat drying on racks in foreground in early 1940s at the Fafard Peat Moss Co., Shippagan, NB (Photo from Warner Buteau, 2000)

Selected publications

  • Taylor, N. and Price, J.S. 2015. Soil water dynamics and hydrophysical properties of regenerating Sphagnum layers in a cutover peatland. Hydrological Processes (DOI: 10.1002/hyp.10561)
  • Taylor, N., Price, J.S. and Strack, M. 2016. Hydrological controls on productivity of regenerating Sphagnum in a cutover peatland. Ecohydrology 9 (6), 1017-1027
Neil Taylor re-wiring the TDR-100 system at Bog 527, Shippagan, NB

Neil Taylor re-wiring the TDR-100 system at Bog 527, Shippagan, NB (Photo: Catherine Brown, 2013)