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Madawaska's History

Welcome to Madawaska's Rich History and Vibrant Community

Madawaska derives from the Algonquin word, "Madoueskak" which means "Land of the Porcupine."

Madawaska is a town located in Aroostook County, Maine, United States. The population was 3,867 in the 2020 Census. 
Madawaska is a border town to Edmundston, Madawaska County, New Brunswick, Canada to which we connect by the Edmundston-Madawaska Bridge over the Saint John River.
Madawaska prides itself on its strong sense of community and friendly atmosphere. Despite being a small town, it boasts a rich social and cultural scene. The annual Acadian Festival draws people from near and far to celebrate Acadian heritage through music, dance, delicious cuisine, and lively parades. It is a time when the town truly comes alive with festivities that embody the warmth and unity of Madawaska's residents. On warm summer evenings you can find many families in one of their outdoor parks enjoying music and dancing; or hanging out along the shores of Long Lake.

Acadian Archives
Madawaska Historical Society
“The Valley (to use the local term for the Upper St. John River Valley) is an unusual place in a number of respects... This is the region where Acadian and French Canadian settlers met and blended. Despite the Valley being split between different powers in the 19th century (see second paragraph), its residents have done a remarkable job of behaving as if this division did not exist. As a consequence, they have developed a sense of being... different.
Inhabitants had not been asked their opinion on the matter (of a border) and were therefore disinclined to inconvenience themselves to fit diplomats' notions of territoriality... Economically speaking as well, Northern Aroostook County was really part of New Brunswick, not the United States until the construction of the Bangor and Aroostook Railway in the 1890s... At about this time, American and Canadian tariff and immigration policies began to drive a wedge between the two halves of the Valley. In this same period, however, cultural bonds between the two were being strengthened by the ideology of “La Survivance” and possibly of the Acadian Renaissance movement... Thus its people faced many choices and challenges in finding an identity that was operational in a contemporary world.”

During the early colonial period, Madawaska was a meeting place and hunting/fishing area for the Maliseet (Wolastoqiyik) Nation. Later, it was the center of the bloodless Aroostook War. The final border between the two countries was established with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, which gave Maine most of the disputed area, and gave the British a military vital connection between the province of Quebec and the province of New Brunswick, Canada. Many families were left divided after the settlement.

Map of the Provinces of Lower & Upper Canada. Bouchette, Joseph Jun. ; Wyld, James, 1831.p

General area of the "Madawaska Territory". Detail from Map of the Provinces of Lower & Upper Canada. Bouchette, Joseph Jun. ; Wyld, James, 1831

The Madawaska Territory included all the present town on both sides of the River St. John as far north as Lake Temiscouata and westerly to Seven Islands and as far south as the Aroostook River in northern Maine. The New Brunswick counties of Madawaska, York, Restigouche, and Victoria formed part of this territory, an area 150 miles long, 40 to 80 miles wide, or approximately 9,000 square miles. (Roger Paradis)

Madawaska's roots go back to the early 19th century when French Acadian settlers (mostly from the Grand Derangement of Nova Scotia) established a thriving community due to the region's fertile soils and strategic location along the St. John River. These early settlers relied heavily on agriculture, particularly potato farming, still part of the local economy today.

The area's history is deeply linked to the Franco-American heritage, with French being widely spoken and cultural traditions still cherished. Madawaska's unique blend of Acadian and American influences creates a distinct cultural identity celebrated through various festivals, music, and mouthwatering cuisine.

"Maine Acadians, notably, hold themselves distinct enough that even though there are numerous similarities between them and their Cajun cousins from Louisiana, the Maine Acadians do not think of the two groups as closely related.  Maine Acadians more frequently recognize their cultural kinship with Acadians and Quebecois in Canada... However, they also feel distinctly American. They point to their active long-time participation in the American political and educational systems, along with exemplary military service as evidence of their identification with the United States...
(From Acadian Culture in Maine , North Atlantic Region, National Park Service. pg. 2-3)

Madawaska is a rural town whose economy centers on the Saint John River paper industry. The river historically provided waterpower for the mills and was the route of log drives bringing pulpwood from upstream forests. The river still provides the water supply for paper manufacture, but environmental concerns encourage pulpwood delivery by highway and rail.
Canadian corporation Twin Rivers (originally Fraser Papers) has a large facility located in Madawaska which processes the pulp produced by the mill's other plant in Edmundston. The pulp is shipped across the border through a mile-long high-pressure pipeline running between both facilities and is made into paper in Madawaska. The Madawaska mill specializes in fine-grade and food-grade papers. The town's economy is highly dependent upon cross-border trade, to the extent that Madawaska and its larger sister city of Edmundston are considered by residents under many aspects, a single economic entity.

Tourism is the other economic driver.  A nature lover's paradise, surrounded by stunning landscapes that provide endless outdoor recreational opportunities. The town's proximity to the 3.2 million-acre North Maine Woods ensures that visitors can immerse themselves in pristine wilderness, from hiking and biking along scenic trails to fishing and boating in sparkling lakes and rivers.
Madawaska also borders the north and east sides of Long Lake, a long body of water that covers 6,000 acres and reaches 163 feet in depth, making it the deepest lake of the Fish River Chain. Enjoy a day of sun and swimming at it's public beach or a day of fishing, boating or paddleboarding, or simply wonder at majestic Eagles nesting along the shores or flying overhead.
If winter is your game, Maine ITS Trails 81 and 83 begin in Madawaska and snowmobile, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing impeccably groomed for the outdoor enthusiasts.  Also, Madawaska is home to one of the Four Corners of the United States (other three corners are: San Ysidro, California / Blaine, Washington / Key West, Florida).  

This region has a large seasonal temperature difference, with warm to hot (humid) summers and cold (sometimes severe cold) winters.

Ashley Hebert - The Bachelorette, Season 7
Roland Joseph White (LeBlanc) - American Bluegrass musician
Kevin St. Jarre - Novelist (pen name: Michael Hawke)
Patricia Cyr - 1975 Miss Maine 

Interesting Facts

  • French Heritage: Madawaska has a rich French heritage and is home to a large population of French-speaking residents. The town is often referred as the "Acadian Capital of the United States" due to its strong Acadian roots.
  • Border Town: Sharing the shores of the St. John River with Edmundston, New Brunswick, Canada, the two communities are tied by family bonds, dual citizenships and similar heritage.
  • International Bridge: The Edmundston-Madawaska Bridge which is one of the busiest land border crossings between Canada and the USA, serves as an important link between the two countries and allows for cross-border travel.
  • Outdoor Paradise: Madawaska is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and offers bountiful outdoor activities throughout the year. From hiking trails and camp sites along the water in the summer to snowmobiling and snowshoeing in the winter...there's something for every outdoor enthusiast.
  • Acadian Festival: Madawaska hosts an annual Acadian Festival, celebrating the town's French heritage. This lively event features music, dancing, traditional food, and various cultural activities. It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Acadian culture.
  • Friendly Community: Madawaska is known for its warm hospitality, friendly and welcoming community. Residents take pride in their town and make visitors feel right at home. It's common to experience the famous Acadian hospitality during your stay in Madawaska.