City of Edmundston

Edmundston Walking Bridge

City of Edmundston

Situated at the edge of New Brunswick’s “panhandle,” the City of Edmundston nestles in the northeastern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, where the Saint John and Madawaska Rivers meet in the province’s northwest. Edmundston is strategically located just a few kilometers from the Quebec border and shares a border with the United States, connected to Madawaska, Maine, by the Edmundston–Madawaska Bridge.

City of Edmundson named after Sir Edmund Walker Head
Sir Edmund Walker Head

In the early colonial era, the area served as a seasonal camping and gathering site for the Maliseet (Wolastoqiyik) Nation during their migrations. From the mid to late eighteenth century, a large Maliseet village had been established at Madawaska, which became a refuge for other Wabanaki peoples. The original Maliseet village was situated near the falls where the Madawaska and Saint John Rivers converge. Today, the City of Edmundston envelops a federal Indian Reserve (St. Basile 10/Madawaska Maliseet First Nation). Initially named Petit-Sault (Little Falls) after the waterfalls where the Madawaska River flows into the Saint John River, the settlement was renamed Edmundston in 1851 in honor of Sir Edmund Walker Head, who served as Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick from 1848 to 1854 and Governor-General of Canada from 1854 to 1861. While it began as a modest logging settlement, Edmundston’s growth is largely due to its strategic location.

The area played a central role in the Aroostook War, a conflict over boundary lines between the U.S.A. and what was then British North America. Initially a dispute between the State of Maine and the Colony of New Brunswick, the disagreement eventually involved the United States Government in Washington, D.C., and the British Colonial Administration in Quebec City, which held supreme authority over all of British North America, including New Brunswick. Following this international conflict, a small fortification (Fortin du Petit-Sault) was constructed in anticipation of potential American attacks, complementing the larger fortification at Fort Ingall (now Cabano) in nearby Canada (now Quebec). One of the central figures in the conflict’s genesis was American-born industrialist “Colonel” John Baker, who had established sawmills and other lumber-related industries on the eastern shores of the Saint John River—an area claimed by the British that Baker sought to have designated as part of Maine, given his strong American nationalist views.

City of Edmundston Republic of Madawaska Flag
Republic of Madawaska Flag

Following the treaty that concluded the conflict, Baker’s properties were confirmed to be on British territory. With no support from the US Government to challenge the decision, Baker faced the choice of relocating his facilities to the American side of the river or accepting British sovereignty. Unwilling to do either, he declared the area an independent state called the “Republic of Madawaska,” appointing himself as head of state with significant backing from the local, predominantly French-speaking and independent-minded population. Although the “Republic” was never recognized or legally established, the concept remains popular among francophone Brayon residents on both the Canadian and American sides of the border. To this day, they refer to the region as the Republic of Madawaska, and each mayor of Edmundston is still granted the title of “President of the Republic of Madawaska.” Baker’s wife, Sophie Rice, designed the Republic’s “eagle” flag, which is still in use and a familiar sight in the region.

Edmundston City Hall

In 1998, Edmundston merged with Saint-Basile, Saint-Jacques, and Verret to form the City of Edmundston. The Village of St-Hilaire was also expected to amalgamate, but the provincial government changed its mind, as it would have made the area of the new city too expansive.

Edmundston’s economy revolves around the Saint John River’s paper industry. The river historically supplied water power for mills and was used for log drives transporting pulpwood from upstream forests. Although the river still provides the water supply for paper production, environmental concerns have led to pulpwood delivery via highway and rail.

Forestry is a major industry in the city, with several sawmills and paper plants in the area. The largest of these is the Twin Rivers pulp mill, previously owned by Fraser Papers, and now owned by Norbord through acquisitions by Noranda Forest (1998) and Nexfor (2004). The Edmundston pulp mill is paired with a Twin Rivers paper mill situated across the Saint John River in Madawaska, Maine, to which liquified pulp slurry is piped. The pulp is transported across the border through a mile-long, high-pressure pipeline connecting both facilities and is made into paper in Madawaska. The Madawaska mill specializes in fine-grade papers. The city’s economy is heavily reliant on cross-border trade, so much so that Edmundston and its smaller sister city of Madawaska are often considered by residents as a single economic entity.

Edmundston hosts the regional hospital for the area, a campus of the French language University of Moncton, and a campus of the New Brunswick Community College system.

Other points of interest include:  

  • The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception built in 1924. The cathedral’s architecture is said to be a synthesis of Roman and Gothic styles. Its granite facade has been restored, and can accommodate more than 1,200 people. 

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Edmundston NB

  • The New Brunswick Botanical Garden is in suburban Saint-Jacques, on seven hectares with more than 80,000 plants, making it the largest arboretum east of Montreal. 

NB Botanical Garden

  • Fortin du Petit-Sault: Constructed in 1841 atop a rocky promontory at the confluence of the Madawaska and St. John Rivers, this modest fort supervised the City of Edmundston and served as part of the British defense system during the border disagreement between England and the United States. The conflict, referred to as the “Aroostook Bloodless War,” concluded in 1842 with the signing of the Ashburton-Webster Treaty. Struck by lightning in 1855, the blockhouse was reconstructed in 2000 following its original design.

Fortin Du Petit-Sault

Republique Provincial Park

  • Antique Automobile Museum, the Madawaska Historic Museum, and many other museums. 

Automobile Museum Edmundston NB

Every June, Edmundston plays host to the Festival Jazz et Blues d’Edmundston.  In August, there is a large cultural festival in Edmundston called the Foire Brayonne. The festival is one of the biggest French themed festivals held in Canada east of the province of Quebec. 

Click on a thumbnail to see more photos of Edmundston, Saint-Basile and Saint-Jacques. 

A few old photographs of Edmundston from the archive.

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