The 32nd Annual Acadian Festival will take place June 25-28 in Madawaska, Maine. The festival celebrates the culture and heritage of the Acadians who, driven from Nova Scotia during the 18th century, ultimately arrived in the St. John Valley and established settlements that later became American and Canadian towns.
Much of the Festival will take place at St. David Church on U.S. Route 1. I paid close attention when I read about that location as I have many ancestors who were christened, married, or eulogized in that church. I have been to the church myself for a couple of family weddings. If you don't know where Madawaska is, get out a map of Maine and look at the northern part of the state, the very northernmost tip. That's where you'll find Madawaska.
Activities throughout the weekend include a quilting show at the high school, a town-wide yard sale, Acadian Valley guided bus tours from the Tante Blanche Museum in Madawaska and Acadian Village in Van Buren, historical presentations by Guy Dubay (an expert French-Canadian genealogist who has helped me in my research efforts in the past), Judy Paradis and Ross Paradis; an encampment and drill display by the 20th Maine Volunteers re-enactors and the Marquis Talent Show on Friday evening.
Many people think of the Acadians as all being in Louisiana; indeed, many of them are. However, their ancestors all were once in Acadia in an area that now consists of Nova Scotia, a part of present-day New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. All of Acadia was once French territory but was ceded to Great Britain by the treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
On September 5, 1755, at Grand-Pre, 418 unarmed Acadian men and youths were assembled and marched into the local church. There General Winslow of the British Army told the Acadians they had been called together to hear the decision of the King of England in regard to the French inhabitants of the province. "Your lands and tenements," he said, "cattle of all kinds, and live-stock of all sorts, are forfeited to the crown, and you, yourselves, are to be removed from this province. I am, through his Majesty's goodness, directed to allow you liberty to carry off your money and household goods, as many as you can, without discommoding the vessels you go in. You are now the King's prisoners."
Indeed, a few boarded ships and went to distant lands, including some who eventually went to Louisiana, which was under French control at the time. Many more, however, simply walked into the woods to escape the British. Indeed, there were not nearly enough available ships to transport all the Acadians.
Many of those who walked into the forest eventually traveled up the St. John River and past Grand Falls, which was a barrier to the British troops. The Army typically traveled in river boats, and the falls at Grand Falls were too high for those boats. A portage by land around the falls was out of the question. As a result, the falls at Grand Falls became the demarcation point separating British control from a more-or-less independent lifestyle, free from the British Army.
The Acadians soon settled along both shores of the St. John River. Technically, it was still British territory at the time, but government agents and soldiers were rarely seen. Ironically, many years later the river became the boundary between the United States and Canada: those who settled on the west and southwest bank found themselves living in the United States while those who settled on the eastern and northern shore remained British citizens and later became Canadian citizens when Canada became independent in 1867. There are numerous stories about families who lived within a few hundred yards of their relatives, but the families suddenly found themselves living in different countries.
The St. John River Valley still maintains a strong sense of Acadian heritage, and French is often spoken in the streets and shops.
This year’s Acadian Festival will coincide with the Marquis Family Reunion, with descendants of the original Acadian Marquis traveling to Madawaska from throughout North America — and perhaps points beyond.
Events will take place throughout downtown Madawaska, including Bicentennial Park overlooking the St. John River. Among the scheduled activities are:
• June 25
9 a.m.: Merchant sidewalk sale in downtown Madawaska;
10 a.m.: Quilt show at Madawaska High School;
6-8 p.m.: Official opening ceremony at Bicentennial Park. The Pride of Madawaska Band will perform, and a new festival mascot will appear;
8-10 p.m.: La Famille LeBlanc providing music at Bicentennial Park.
• June 26
9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Townwide yard sale;
9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.: The "My Acadian Valley" bus tour will stop at such locations as the Tante Blanche Museum, the Acadian Village, and Madawaska’s oldest homestead;
11 a.m.: Les Chanteurs Acadien providing music at Bicentennial Park;
12 noon, 2:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m.: Great State of Maine Lumberjack Show at Bicentennial Park;
6-7 p.m.: Bed race on Main Street, with each team requiring five participants;
Throughout the evening: Various groups providing music in downtown Madawaska.
• June 27
6:30-11:30 a.m.: Acadian Breakfast at Four Seasons Trail Lodge, Spring Street, Madawaska;
9 a.m.: Top O’ Maine Mountain Bike Race at Four Seasons Trail Lodge;
9 a.m.- 4 p.m.: Open house at Martin Acadian Homestead on St. Catherine Street, Madawaska;
10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Show n’ Shine Classic Antique Car Show at Dead River Co., Madawaska;
10 a.m.-1 p.m.: Held at the Acadian Cross Landing Site on Route 1 in Madawaska, a Welcoming Ceremony will feature a re-enactment of the first Acadians arriving in the St. John Valley in 1785;
1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 9 p.m.: Great State of Maine Lumberjack Show at Bicentennial Park;
2-4 p.m.: Family Fun Day at Bicentennial Park;
6:30 p.m.: Fashion show at Four Corners Park on Main Street, Madawaska;
7-9 p.m.: La Famille Arsenault performing "Ca Swing Encore" at Bicentennial Park.
• June 28
10:30 a.m.: Firemen’s Chicken Barbeque at Madawaska Fire Station;
1 p.m.: Acadian Festival Parade on Main Street, Madawaska;
3:30-7 p.m.: Closing ceremonies at Bicentennial Park;
10 p.m.: Fireworks display launched over Madawaska.
Sadly, I will not be able to attend this year's Annual Acadian Festival as I will be 2,700 miles away in Burbank, California.