The Acadians come to Madawaska
"(After) ten tiring days on the river, "when finally they heard the distant sound of the great falls which marked their entrance into the Promised Land, they were delirious. With a portage of a mile around the falls the little fleet reached a hill which gave them a panoramic view of the Upper St. John Valley. Looking up river they could see the Valley widen into a soft rolling landscape enclosed by mountains. They were on the threshold of a new country, the country of peace which they had only so often seen in their dreams."
from "The History of Madawaska" by Thomas Albert pg. 38
image: "A View of the Great Falls on the Height of Lands on the River St. John's" by Henry Holland: The Library and Archives of Canada: C-149840
For the govenors of the remaining English possesions in North America, the end of the War for Independence brought with it the great burden of resettling the "Loyalists" who had been expelled from the new United States. Since the area of Northern Nova Scotia- what is now New Brunswick- was generally unsettled, surveyors were ordered into the area. They found 61 French families at Ecoupag. Interestingly, they were both Acadian and Canadian- among the Cyrs, Daigles, Thibodeaus and Martins were Ayottes, Michauds, and Fourniers. Regardless, they were all considered by the British to be squatters who held no title to their lands. As such, they were treated with much disdain from the Loyalists, so much so that it raised concern from Nova Scotia's Govenor. He was John Parr, and while he was sympathetic to the Acadians situation, he was not going to choose them over the newly arrived Loyalists. Parr wrote to Frederick Haldiman, Governor of Quebec, seeking a solution. Haldimand immediately knew what to do, he had "long nurtured a plan to establish colonies in the St. John Valley to protect the postal routes and safeguard travelers. Haldimand answered Parr with a letter dated November 27, 1783
"The Acadian, Mercure, recently arrived from your province informs me that many of his compatriots wish to emigrate to this province (Lower Canada) because of their religion which they hope to practice here with more liberty and less difficulty. My plan is to cede to them some land in the neighborhood of the Grand Falls, which could stretch to the St.Lawrence, and which would contribute greatly to facilitate communications between the two provinces."
The Acadians, for their part, had been noted in the Survey of the St. John River as worthy of recommendation to the governor for service rendered to the English cause during the War of Independence. Not wanting to remain in an area inundated by newly arrived Loyalists, the Acadians began to send a series of petitions to the governments of both New Brunswick and Quebec for land in the Madawaska region.
It was at this time that Jean Baptiste Sire and his nine sons affixed their marks in a petition to the Governor General of Canada, expressing their "insurmountable perplexity" over the uncertainties surrounding titles to the lands they had cleared in their present locations and their concern over the arrival of the Loyalists. The petition was also signed by others who would later become prominent in the colony, including Joseph Simon Daigle, Pierre Duperre, and the Mercure brothers.
On June 21, 1785 the Province of New Brunswick promised the Acadians grants of 200 acres to each head of family. They were given permission to sell their lands in the St. Anne area as best they could. A meeting was then held among the French residents at the home Jean Baptiste Sire. It was decided that half of the population would go to Madawaska, while the other half would make their way to what would become the Acadian Coast of New Brunswick- Caraquet, Mirimachi, and Bathurst. There was no time to lose, crops needed to be planted as soon as possible. The first contingent left for Madawaska immediately. (Leo Cyr, "Madawaskan Heritage" pg.165)
"Acadians on the St. John" painting by Robert Dafford
There is no written record of the Acadians' journey up the river. As Roger Paradis writes: we only have oral traition to enlighten us. The exodus to arrival took ten days. The people migrated as a group, except for a few families, which made food gathering easier. An advance party hunted, set up camp, laid out fishing lines and snares for small game. They would leave caches of food by the river side for the trailing groups to use. They finally arrived at their chosen location, on the South Bank of the river, two and a half miles from the Village of the Maliseets. It was here that Joseph Simon Daigle erected the famous cross made of birch, which has come to represent for the settlers of the Valley and their descendants hope for the future.
" We, the children of these tormented founding fathers, in the prosperity they have left us, earned by their bravery and virtue: let us never forget this somber troop entering our valley. Let us never forget the stripes of their flesh left on the thorns along all their roads of exile. Let us never forget their feet, mangled by the stones of foreign lands. Let us remember their courage and strength under an avalanche of hostility...They had, deeply etched in their hearts the desire, not of revenge, but of Resurrection. Let us never forget..."
Thomas Albert "The History of Madawaska" pg. 39