The City of Edmundston is located at the edge of the New Brunswick “panhandle,” nestled in the northeastern section of the Appalachian Mountains at the junction of the Saint John and Madawaska Rivers in the northwestern part of the province.
Edmundston is strategically situated only a few kilometres from the border with Quebec and on the border with the United States, opposite the town of Madawaska, Maine, to which it is connected by the Edmundston–Madawaska Bridge.
During the early colonial period, the area was a camping and meeting place of the Maliseet (Wolastoqiyik) Nation during seasonal migrations. From the mid to late eighteenth century, one of the largest Maliseet villages had been established at Madawaska and had become a refuge site for other Wabanaki peoples. The Maliseet village was originally located near the falls at the confluence of the Madawaska and Saint John Rivers. Currently, the City of Edmundston surrounds a federal Indian Reserve (St. Basile 10/Madawaska Maliseet First Nation). Originally named Petit-Sault (Little Falls) in reference to the waterfalls located where the Madawaska River merges into the Saint John River, the settlement was renamed Edmundston in 1851 after Sir Edmund Walker Head, who was Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick from 1848 to 1854 and Governor-General of Canada from 1854 to 1861. Originally a small logging settlement, Edmundston’s growth is mostly attributed to the city’s strategic location.
The area was at the centre of the Aroostook War, a skirmish over boundary lines between the U.S.A. and what was then British North America. Originally confined to a disagreement between the State of Maine and the Colony of New Brunswick, the dispute eventually spread to involve the Government of the United States in Washington, D.C. and the British Colonial Administration in Quebec City, seat of the Governor General of Canada, who had supreme authority over all of British North America, including New Brunswick. In the wake of this international conflict, a small fortification (Fortin du Petit-Sault) was built in anticipation of a possible attack by the Americans, to complement the much larger fortification located at Fort Ingall (now Cabano) in nearby Canada (now Quebec). One of the central figures at the origin of the conflict 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 wanted to be declared part of Maine as he was a fiercely nationalist American.
When the terms of the treaty that was signed following the conflict left Baker’s properties firmly planted on British soil, and with the lack of support from the US Government to oppose the decision, Baker was facing the dilemma of either moving his facilities across the river on the American side, or to accept British sovereignty. Unwilling to do either, he declared the area an independent state called the “Republic of Madawaska,” declaring himself head of state with the overwhelming support of the local, mostly French-speaking but independent-minded population. The “Republic” was never recognized and never had legal existence, but nevertheless the concept has remained so popular with the francophone Brayon residents on both the Canadian and American sides of the border that they refer to the region as the Republic of Madawaska to this day, and each mayor of Edmundston still receives the title of “President of the Republic of Madawaska.” Baker’s wife, Sophie Rice, designed the Republic’s “eagle” flag that is still in use and a common sight in the area.
In 1998, Edmundston, Saint-Basile, Saint-Jacques and Verret merged to form the City of Edmundston. The nearby Village of St-Hilaire was supposed to amalgamate as well, but the provincial government changed its mind as it would make the area of the new city too large.
Edmundston’s economy centers on the Saint John River paper industry. The river historically provided water power 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.
Forestry is one of the city’s major industries, with several sawmills and paper plants in the vicinity, the largest being the Twin Rivers pulp mill, formerly owned by Fraser Papers, now owned by Norbord, by way of Noranda Forest (1998) and Nexfor (2004). The Edmundston pulp mill is paired with a Twin Rivers paper mill directly across the Saint John River in Madawaska, Maine, through which liquified pulp slurry is piped. 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 papers. The town’s economy is highly dependent upon cross-border trade, to the extent that Edmundston and its smaller sister city of Madawaska are considered by residents under many aspects, a single economic entity.
The city is the site of the regional hospital for the area. There is a campus of the French language University of Moncton in Edmundston. The New Brunswick Community college system has a campus in Edmundston.
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.
- 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.
- Fortin du Petit-Sault: Built in 1841 on a rocky outcrop where the Madawaska and the St. John River meet, this small fort overlooking the City of Edmundston was part of the British defensive line during the boundary dispute between England and the United States. That conflict, known as the “Aroostook Bloodless War,” ended in 1842 when the Ashburton-Webster Treaty was signed. Destroyed by lightning in 1855, the blockhouse was rebuilt in 2000 in accordance with original specifications.
- Antique Automobile Museum, the Madawaska Historic Museum, and many other museums.
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.
Resource: City of Edmundston
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