Québec Peat Moss Producers Association

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The history of peat in Quebec and around the world

The early mentions of the use of peat go back to Roman times as a fuel in homes.

Peat played a significant role in the European economy. Peatland covers vast areas of northern and eastern Europe. Peat harvested from poor wetlands was often a replacement for wood, both for farm buildings and homes as well as for heating. In Ireland and Scotland, peat is an important energy source.

Peat production through the ages

1864
First peat moss exploitation in the Eastern Townships. After drying in the sun, the peat pulp was cut into small blocks for fuel in the Grand Trunk Railway locomotives for the return trip to the United States.

1901
Construction of a processing plant in Cacouna, in the Bas-Saint-Laurent, where the peat pulp was mixed with crude oil to form fuel.

1929-1935
Energy peat harvested using a hydraulic excavator in the Saint-Hyacinthe area. The peat was intended to heat houses and the lime kilns in Saint-Dominique.

1933-1960
Harvesting of horticultural peat in trenches where blocks are cut with shovels and stacked for drying. The blocks were then cut into chips at the plant and pressed into bales. Toward the end of the period, European-designed machines for cutting peat blocks were brought into Quebec.

1960-1970
'Modernization' of the industry: an important turning point. Producers slowly abandoned the traditional method of block cutting for a method of extraction by vacuum harvesting.

From 1970

Introduction of growing media with vermiculite and perlite.

The Université de Sherbrooke increased its research on the chemical and physical properties of peat moss. Several peat based processes were finalised: the absorption of used oil and crude oil; the manufacture of light, soundproofing, insulating blocks of cement, and the production of methane.

80's and 90's

  • Development of specialized potting soil intended for specific types of cultivation (greenhouse production, plantation, horticultural designs, etc.).
  • Automation of the stages of production and handling.
  • The industry makes use of biotechnology, perfecting biofilters and growing media inoculated with endomycorrhiza.

1992
Horticultural peat producers initiate the first research project on the restoration of peatland in Quebec, conducted by the Peatland Ecology Research Group(PERG) at Université Laval. Duration of the project: 3 years. Two subsequent phases (1996-1998 and 1999-2001) allow for the development of Quebec expertise. A new industry with a worldwide reputation comes into being: that of peatland restoration.

 

From the 12th and 13th centuries
Peat becomes an energy source of ever-growing importance in Europe. In those days, peatland in the Netherlands was worth three times as much as land for cultivation.
In the 1600s
Peat begins to be used as fuel in the textile, earthenware and beer brewing industries. It was also used to improve soil.
1730
At the end of the 1730s – A new product appeared: ash from Holland peat. The ash left after burning peat for home heating, high in salt content, was applied as fertilizer. Ash was used in Holland, England, France and Belgium. The Traité élémentaire d’agriculture by J. Girardin and A. Du Breuil, published in 1863, describes the effect of the ashes on clover as “really surprising.”
In the 19th century
Germany develops the technology for harvesting and pressing peat into small bricks. In Canada, peatland begins to be used for energy production. In the 1930s, the horticultural advantages of peat are recognized.
In the 20th century
A new peat harvesting method uses industrial vacuums.
Today
The use of peat for fuel has ended in most countries, except in Scotland, Ireland and Norway, where it remains part of tradition.
In Quebec and in Canada, peat is for all intents and purposes reserved for horticultural uses .