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Madawaska Colonists built first church at St. Basile.

The conditions imposed on the pioneers for the titles to the granted farmlands, carried with them the obligation of paying annually to the provincial treasury two shillings per 100 subsidized acres, on St. Michael's Day (September 29). In addition, 3 acres of farmland had to be cleared within three years, on fifty acres granted and a dwelling 15 by 20 feet had to be constructed. All the swamplands had to be drained on the same conditions.

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Olivier Thibodeau Sr., Joseph Theriault, Francis Violette and others from Kennebeccassis asked for farmlands in Madawaska, and as a consequence another grant was made to Germain Saucier and 23 other pioneers in 1794. This grant extended from Green River to Grand River in Van Buren (Maine) on both banks of the St. John River. The grantees were the following:

Green River, north bank: Louis Ouellet, Olivier Thibodeau, Joseph Theriault Sr., Joseph Theriault Jr., Jean Thibodeau, Olivier Thibodeau Sr., and Firmin Thibodeau.

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Green River, south bank: Joseph Michaud, Jean-Baptiste Chaurest and Germain Soucy.

Grand Isle, south bank: Francois Cormier, Alexis Cormier, Pierre Cormier, Louis Leblanc and Gregoire Thibodeau.

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Grand River (Van Buren, Maine), south bank: Augustin Violette, Francis Violette, Joseph CYR Jr.

Grand River (St. Leonard, New Brunswick), north bank: Hilarion CYR and Joseph Soucy.

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The first settlement at Grand River was on the south bank of the St. John River, about two miles north of the present town of Van Buren, Maine where the first St. Bruno's Church was built. A cross was erected by our contemporaries, on the highway between Van Buren and Keegan, as a reminder of the place where St. Bruno's old church and cemetery were at the Grand River settlement.

From these statistics and on the testimony of Governor Carleton himself, the colony was making rapid progress. The clearing of the lands was way ahead and the crops were abundantly good. But soon the inhabitants had to leave the bank of the St. John River where they had constructed their dwellings, to move farther and higher to avoid floods which in the fall and spring threatened to submerge the houses and barns.

As people from the lowlands of Fredericton (New Brunswick) and those from the St. Lawrence area came in large number to the Madawaska Territory, the population of the region increased to such an extent that it became necessary to have a civil organization to have control over the population. The colony had`but two officers in 1790; Marshall Joseph Simon Daigle and Agent for Colonization Louis Mercure. A civil and military administration was to come into its own in the area, for no other reason than that in a well-organized society, representatives of civil, military and religious bodies had become necessary for administrative purposes. On this matter, Lord Dorchester, (Sir Guy Carleton) Governor of Canada, wrote to his brother, Thomas Carleton, Governor of New Brunswick, that he had appointed two military officers for the Madawaska District. They were Captain Francis CYR and his brother, Lieutenant Jacques CYR. These officers depended on the Kamouraska (Quebec) army commanded by Colonel Francois Dambourges, who had stopped the attack of Montgomery against Quebec in 1776. As no one knew on whose jurisdiction Madawaska depended, Canada or New Brunswick, Lord Dorchester asked the Governor of New Brunswick to confirm the appointments. The latter acceded to his brother's request and advised him at the same time, that he wished to appoint two magistrates for the territory, if Lord Dorchester agreed. His candidates were Pierre Duperry and Louis Mercure. But, he added at once, that he feared that the two appointed citizens would not accept the duties of office, on account of the Oath of Office required by law.

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The Oath of Office, introduced in England during the reign of Elizabeth and erased the Statutes of Canada by the Quebec Act of 1774, was still in force in the Maritime Provinces and was taken out of this legislation at the coming of Queen Victoria in 1837. Under this law, no one could fill the office of justice of peace, without taking the Oath to abjure the Catholic Faith and declare idolatrous Catholic dogmas and creed.

The Governor of Quebec approved the appointments, but Duperry and Mercure refused to take the Big Oath. Both governors had recourse to a compromise. Among the pioneers, there was a man by the name of Thomas Costin, Scotch and Protestant, who had studied with the Jesuits of Quebec, knew French and who, on account of his knowledge and honesty, had a very good reputation among the inhabitants of the area. He had been married to Marie Chenard at Quebec and had been living in Madawaska as a teacher. They appointed Sir Costin as magistrate, and since he was Protestant, he could take the Oath as required by law.Sir Costin became a convert to the Catholic Faith in 1825 and died at a ripe old age, at Riviere-du-Loup (Quebec).

When Father Leclerc died, the mission of Madawaska was confided to the care of Father J.A. Truteaut, pastor of Kamouraska (Quebec). A short time after. Father Bernard Panet, pastor of River Ouelle and future Bishop of Quebec, authorized Father Paquet, the new pastor of Isle Verte, to visit the mission of Madawaska.

Father Paquet reached his mission in June 1791. He advised his new parishioners to build a new church. Joseph Daigle was elected marshal for the second time, with Jacques CYR and Alexandre Ayotte as his assistants. Work on the new church was begun at once.

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The following spring, when the inhabitants of Madawaska heard that Father Paquet was unable to come to Madawaska at Easter time, all the faithful gathered at the residence of the oldest citizen in the colony and voted that all those who could make the trip to Isle Verte (100 miles away), would get there to perform their (religious) Easter duties. Two days after, they were rapping on the door of the pastor of Isle Verte. The latter, greatly surprised, received them in the rectory with all the affection of a father. The next day at Mass, where all received Holy Communion, the pastor publicly expressed his joy at seeing the faithful of his far away mission and the admiration he felt for their spirit of faith. Then addressing the faithful of the parish, he added: "Such sentiments are worthy of the first Christians, worthy of their fathers who were always noted for their piety, their sacrifices and their faith, and their devotedness toward the church and its ministers."

Before leaving, the faithful of Madawaska spoke about the construction work already done on the new church building which they hoped would be finished by the time Father Paquet's next visit, in June. The pastor replied: "I must go before then, even if I should have to walk night and day to get there." Fifteen days after their interview, Father Paquet was among his faithful of Madawaska. He read them a letter received from Bishop Hubert of Quebec, telling him to inform the inhabitants of Madawaska that they must not construct a church without first getting permission of the bishop of the diocese, who has the right to designate the place and dimensions of the new church building.

The inhabitants were summoned to a meting and a request was addressed to the Bishop on July 23, 1792. Twenty-four signed the letter; seven were absent at the time of the meeting, but had manifested a desire to approve whatever could be decided upon.

Bishop Hubert answered the letter on November 12, 1792 granting them permission to build a wooden church, the dimensions and site to be determined by Father Paquet whom he authorized to act in his name, and since the mission takes place in June, the Bishop gave as patron of the new church, St. Basile the Great, Bishop of Caesarea and Doctor of the Church whose feast day is celebrated on June 14.

Madawaska had thus been canonically erected as a parish under the patronage of St. Basile the Great on November 12, 1792. St. Basile of Madawaska is one of the oldest parishes erected in the Maritimes, since the expulsion of the Acadians. (Note: My wife's first cousin, Father Napoleon Michaud served as pastor in St. Basile from July 1984 to August 1995. He died in a drowning accident, in 1996). Two older parishes in New Brunswick, preceded St. Basile; Memramcook in 1781 and Caraquet in 1784. The oldest parishes in Nova Scotia are Halifax erected in 1784, Arichat in 1787 and St. Mary's Bay in 1792.

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In the spring of 1793, Father Paquet visited his new parish in the St. John Valley. He found his parishioners engaged in various activities, such as sowing grain and building new houses. Already a flock of sheep was grazing on the hillsides, oxen were pulling the wooden plow through the new farmlands. From the bank of the River at the foot of the hill, could be seen a new edifice in the making...the new church with dimensions of 55 by 35 feet. Instead of the belfry, one could see a big cross on top of the church.

The new church was blessed during a special ceremony and solemn High Mass. The hymns that were sung, brought tears to mothers who had heard them in Grand-Pre and Fredericton a long time ago.

After Mass, a meeting was held at which time Joseph Daigle resigned as marshal, and the citizens elected Alexandre Ayotte to replace him. Francis CYR was elected his assistant.

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At the request of the pioneers, the New Brunswick government had granted Lot 24 of the Mazerolle settlement for public buildings. On that very lot, the new church was built. The citizens on the north bank had signed a petition because it was to their advantage to have the church on their side of the (St. John) River which was at St. Basile, New Brunswick. The other group on the Madawaska (Maine) side of the St. John, had wanted the church on the south bank, but it was decided that the building would be on the north bank. A rivalry developed between the people of both banks of the (St. John) River and, as time went on, this wide divergence became more pronounced. However, this did not affect the prosperity of the colony, nor did it disturb the peace.

At this time, roads were opened between the more densely populated settlements, and old roads were ameliorated. In 1792 the government appointed road commissioners, constables and foresters. Relay stations were established between Grand Falls New Brunswick (where I was born) and Madawaska (Maine) for mail carriers and travelers.

The colony had just been organized as a religious, military and civil body; its survival was assured.


The above noted is a re-printed with permission from the L.A. Violette family (May 3, 1979) to the Madawaska Historical Society, who subsequently granted similar permission to this author in 1995.

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