The Madawaska Settlement

Throughout ones Acadian research, reference is found relating to the “Madawaska Territory”. It is important then, to know more about its location.

The “Madawaska Territory” is located in both the Province of New Brunswick and the State of Maine, at a point where these two territories border on the Province of Quebec. Spread evenly on both sides of the St. John River, the territory extends one hundred and fifty miles from Grand Falls/Grand Sault, New Brunswick (where my wife and I were born), to Sept-Isles, Maine (See note of explanation by Hugo Larsson, at end of this article). It varies in width from forty to eighty miles, forming an area of nine thousand square miles.

Before the territorial division created by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 and settlement of disputed claims between Quebec and New Brunswick over areas not claimed by the United States, the Madawaska Territory extended from Aroostook Valley to Lake Temiscouata (which is till part of the Territory. The total area in those early days, covered about twelve thousand square miles.

Although the land is very hilly, the Madawaska Territory cannot be considered mountainous country. An attempt has been made at comparing its high hills, to those of Auvergne or even those of Switzerland, but they are only hills whose average height does not exceed one thousand feet. Hilly countryside, high peaks, numerous waterways and lush vegetation, make this region one of the most attractive on the eastern Northern American continent. The area contains an important part of the biggest alluvian basin of the Atlantic Provinces and one of the most beautiful of North America…the St. Kohn Valley. The water of this river is so pure, its shores so enchanting, that it has often been compared to the Rhine or the Rhone. Although it crosses Madawaska only in the middle of its course, it appears there in all its beauty.

The St. John River and some of its tributaries, contain within their falls a remarkable source of energy that furnishes electricity to a number of towns and villages. The most important of these, still un-harnessed, are the great falls of the St. John River in Victoria County. Here through an abrupt cut in its bed, the whole river falls with a thundering roar into a narrow abyss, rebounds in enormous whirlpools that crash in clouds of foam against stone walls that imprison it and plunges it into a narrow gorge, more than a mile deep. Next to Niagara, it is one of the most imposing sights in the New World. The great falls have seventy-four feet of direct fall and forty-five feet of cascades. It is the greatest source of hydro-electric power, for the Maritime Provinces.

The geological foundation of the soil goes back to the ice age. The discovery of fossils in Siegas, near Sept-Isles and in the Lake Temiscouata region are an indication of the Cambrian Age in this region. Animal life existed here thousands of years ago. But scientific data, more or less precise, on the geology of the Madawaska Territory date only from the last Ice Age. In their report of 1886, geologists Baily and McInnes indicate that the entire St. John Valley – along with the rest of the continent – was covered by a huge sheet of ice several hundred feet thick. With the advent of a warmer climate, this huge glazier began to melt and slide down the mountains. The St. John glazier detached itself from the Appalachians and in its slow, steady march south, brought with it gravel and pebbles, organic substances and refuse of all kind. These enormous frozen masses dough deep furrows in the soil which later became river beds. The torrential rains finished the digging of the valleys. As this work of transformation was going on, the rivers were becoming narrower, leaving behind part of the beds they had occupied. Thus the tops of many of the Madawaska hills today were once the banks of the St. John River.

In other places these frozen masses forced the rivers to change course, at times through solid rock that had to yield to the constant pressure of the water. The rock, thus eroded formed great abysses such as the long falls of the Aroostook River, the Great Falls of the St. John River and the Little Falls of the Madawaska River.

The fertile soil of this country is composed mainly of clay, gravel, calcium, rich loam and organic substances from the Ice Age. Grain crops, root crops, potatoes and temperate zone fruits grow well here. The climate of Madawaska is one of the most temperate and wholesome of the Eastern Canadian Provinces. The winters have become shorter and less rigorous than they used to be; the summers are warm and spring and autumn frost, once dreaded by the colonists, are rare these days. With the warmth and frequent rainfall, vegetation is profuse.

Long before the territory was permanently established, Madawaska’s vast forests attracted lumbermen (such was my own grand-father) from New England and the Maritime Provinces. These forests have long been a source of much controversy between the State of Maine and the Province of New Brunswick. These rich timberlands still supply the lumber industries of St. John, Fredericton, Van Buren, Edmundston, Fort Kent etc. Lumber remains the principal source of income for the Province of New Brunswick.

For a long time, the St. John Valley was considered a hunter’s paradise. As a matter of fact, the wild life of the valley was the mainstay of the first settlers for many years. The rivers and lakes still abound with fish.

Note of explanation, by Hugo Larsson:

“The “Madawaska Territory” is located in both the Province of New Brunswick and the State of Maine, at a point where these two territories border on the Province of Quebec. Spread evenly on both sides of the St. John River, the territory extends one hundred and fifty miles from Grand Falls/Grand Sault, New Brunswick (where my wife and I were born), to Sept-Isles, Quebec. It varies in width from forty to eighty miles, forming an area of nine thousand square miles.”
There’s an understandable error in this paragraph.

First of all, the “Sept-Isles” Thomas Albert refers to in l’Histoire du Madawaska actually refers to a group of islands situated about halfway between the mouths of the Big Black River (Grande Rivière noire) and the Daquaam, both in the State of Maine. Both of these rivers pour into the mighty St. John.

To confuse things even further, Thomas Albert refers to Sept-Îles (without the “s” after the “I”) which probably refers to a group of islands situated between Sainte-Anne-de-Madawaska and the Grande River.

In both cases we’re dealing with geographical names that were well-known back in the 1920s but are practically unheard of today. So the confusion with Sept-Îles, Quebec, is natural.

This information is readily available to anyone who has the NEW edition of Thomas Albert’s classic work which came out in 1982. It is in the original French and, for all intents and purposes, is exactly the same as the
original, even following the original pagination. However, explanatory notes are also provided by noted historians. In some cases, there are corrections. In others, there are clarifications and suggestions for further reading.

Also, the original edition had several blank pages. This seems to be due to a chapter ending on a even-numbered page and the apparent desire to always start a new chapter on the following even-numbered page. The new edition has pictures and short texts added to these “blank” pages, including a picture of the author and a short biography, a picture of Van Morrell crossing the gorge at Grand Falls on a tightrope, the replanting of the cross at the Daigle Family Reunion, the Madawaska Flag and a comparison between it and an example of the true one John Baker probably really used. Anyone with a fair knowledge of French and interested in Madawaska history should get a copy. There were a few left at the Le Madawaska printing shop and stationary store in Edmundston last time I was up there.

This edition came out under the auspices of the Société historique du Madawaska. Unless the rules changed recently, a lifetime membership with this group gives you not only all editions for the rest of your life, but also ALL previous editions from the start. A true treasure of historical information if there ever was any.

In Thomas Albert’s book, Grand Falls is mentioned as sort of an eastern border to Madawaska. Personally, in terms of French population distribution, I think a more logical eastern border would be the Salmon River. Since it is north of the Aroostook River and effectively keeps New Denmark, Plaster Rock and Perth-Andover out of the picture, it goes well with Albert’s original definition.

Note: Hugo Larsson may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]

Re-print from “The History of Madawaska” with copyright permission from the Madawaska Historical Society.