In the St. John Valley, the Tante Blanche museum is the very center of Acadian culture. The museum—the first in the valley–opened its doors in 1970 and is run by the Madawaska Historical Society.
The museum itself is a log building, so named in honor of Marguerite Blanche Thibodeau Cyr. TanteBlanche, or Aunt Blanche, as she was affectionately known, is considered the Aunt of Madawaska for her care and consideration of the Acadian people during the black famine in 1796. Flooding and a terrible winter had destroyed the crops that the Acadian colonists were depending on to survive. Many of the men left in search of game to hunt and those left behind were in danger of starving or freezing to death. TanteBlache singlehandedly kept the colony alive by going from house to house in that terrible winter to check on everyone. She found herself tending to the sick, finding food for the hungry, and giving clothes to those who were cold. Her “powers” became legend—she could simply wish for good luck and be granted it. When she died, she was buried in the churchyard at St. Basile in New Brunswick—which was unheard of at the time, and incredibly rare since.If you ever visit the Madawaska Historical Society, this cabin is the place to start. You’ll find ground guides, artifacts, and a knowledgeable and friendly local historian who will answer any questions you may have.
Behind the Tante Blanche museum, you’ll find the Madawaska School District #1 building. This schoolhouse, built 100 years before the museum, is the last remaining schoolhouse in the area from the 19th century. The building structure is virtually the same as it was upon its opening. The interior has the original teacher’s chair and desk, as well as the original blackboard. It’s kind of fun, especially for young kids, to see what school would have looked like back then.
Nearby is the Albert House, built about 1840 and donated to the historical society in approximately 1970. The house was relocated to property near the Tante Blanche museum. A special cutaway into the wall helps visitors see what home construction looked like in the time period—including the attic, which is framed with inverted ship’s knees. You can also see classic period furniture like bedroom sets and cribs, kitchen implements, as well as tables and chairs. There’s also a toolshed on the grounds, containing colonial farming tools and other period items.
The Arcadian Cross Shrine is just down the road a bit from there. It commemorates the 1785 arrival of the Acadians. So happy that they had found a good location to live, they erected a wooden cross. After several replacements, the cross was made out of marble so that it would be more durable.
As you can see, there’s a lot to do at the Tante Blanche museum and the surrounding area. If you are interested in the colonial period or Acadian culture, this is a fantastic way to spend a day.