Maine's Acadian heritage can be traced to 1604 and to a scrap of rock and timber in the St. Croix River - right between what is now Maine and New Brunswick. Tiny St. Croix Island held France’s first settlement in l'Acadie – Acadia in English – a colony on America’s North Atlantic coast. The St. Croix Island settlement didn’t last. But Acadia grew until it included much of today’s Atlantic Canada.
War ended the colony; exile scattered the Acadians. Then, the second chapter of Maine’s Acadian history began. In 1785, 16 Acadian families fled Fredericton, New Brunswick – pushed out, ironically, by American Tories who’d fled the American Revolution. The Acadian families traveled up the St. John River and resettled in St. David, in northern Aroostook County. The St. David Cross, which marks their landing site, is part of the Madawaska Historic Center. Also here are the Tante Blanche Museum, honoring an Acadian folk hero who fed many families during the Great Depression; the Albert Homestead; and a 19th-century one-room schoolhouse.
The Madawaska center is one of many Acadian heritage sites throughout the St. John Valley. Two are National Historic Landmarks. The Acadian Village, in Van Buren, opened on July 1, 1976 as a Bicentennial Project. It includes 16 reconstructed buildings dating from 1785 to the early 1900s. Each contains historic furnishings. In Lille, the Le Musee et Centre Culturelle du Mont-Carmel, located in a former Catholic church, includes a museum and heritage center that highlights Acadian culture.
Immerse yourself in Acadian culture at the annual Acadian Festival, a multi-day party that includes a reunion of one, or more, of Maine’s Acadian founding families. Some years, more than 5,000 far-flung descendents have returned from around the globe. An even bigger party will occur in 2014, when the World Acadian Congress convenes in the St. John Valley.
An excellent companion when touring the St. John Valley is Voici the Valley Cultureway a guidebook and CD highlighting the heritage and sites. Other good resources are the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent and the National Park Service publication Acadian Culture in Maine which also has expanded online resources.