If you spend any time in Madawaska, you’re going to hear about the Acadians. If you’re not familiar with the term, here’s a crash course:they are the descendants of French colonists who lived in an area called Acadia in the 17th and 18th century. They lived fairly independently from France itself, even avoiding France’s regulations on their language—to the point now where some of the elements of Acadian French are considered archaic by modern French speakers who live in France. What do they know, anyway?
At that time, Acadia was made up of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and parts of Quebec in Canada; it also included part of Maine. The Acadians lived there for about 80 yearsalongside their indigenous neighbors, until the British invaded in 1710. The Acadians refused to be loyal to the British crown and were summarily kicked out of Acadia in a Great Expulsion. To make a very long and sad story shorter, times were difficult for them, and they were kicked around quite a bit. Some Acadians wound up back in France, others went south to Louisiana (where they were responsible for creating the Cajun culture), and still others were resettled in other places around New England. One of the places they wound up was…Madawaska. The Acadians refused to be assimilated and still consider themselves to be a separate nation—they have their own flag and anthem, speak their own language, and have their own folklore.
Homes and livelihoods were destroyed and families were torn apart during the Great Expulsion and its devastating aftermath. It is only because the Acadians back then were determined to remain true to themselves that the language and culture survive to this day. It becomes more and more important as time goes on to preserve this link to the past, and efforts continue to be made through genealogy, interviews with people to record their family stories, and the passing down and preservation of the language and culture.
To that end, Madawaska hosts an annual Acadian Festival. Held now for 40 years, it welcomes all remaining Acadian families (as well as the general public). They traditionally have an “honored family” for the festival, and people can host international reunions. Many of the events are at the Multi-Purpose Center and others are held around town. There are reenactments of the historical landing, church services, quilting shows, a Party du Main Street, and a poutine eating contest. There are games and races. I always enjoy the different musical performances and craft vendors. You’ll find your typical festival stuff like face painters and bounce houses for the kids, but we’ve also had BMX riders entertaining the crowds. There’s also a lot of food. I already mentioned the poutine eating contest (part of poutine palooza), but there’s also a seniors picnic, a dinner gala, and a farmer’s market. And what would a festival be without a parade?And to top it all off, there’s fireworks!
Most people in town are descendants of the Acadians, so feel free to ask questions and if I don’t know the answer, somebody around here will!