Articles

THE ROLLICKING REPUBLIC THAT DOESN'T EXIST

IAN SCLANDERS October 15 1952
Articles

THE ROLLICKING REPUBLIC THAT DOESN'T EXIST

IAN SCLANDERS October 15 1952

THE ROLLICKING REPUBLIC THAT DOESN'T EXIST

A piece of Maine, a hunk of Quebec, and a slice of New Brunswick form the “Republic of Madawaska." whose capital, Edmundston, has just been named the Maritimes’ first new city in half a century

IAN SCLANDERS

W. TETLOW

IN NORTHWESTERN New Brunswick, at the hurrying headwaters of the St. John River, a rollicking lumberjack of a place called Edmundston has grown up, settled down, exchanged a town pump for an ornamental fountain, and discarded the mackinaw togs of a woodsman for a neat business suit. Last July it became a city— the first new city in the four Atlantic provinces since Sydney, N.S., got a charter in 1904.

The event was marked by a great braying of trumpets and thumping of pianos and sawing of fiddles and beating of drums, for Edmundston population, eleven thousand has more musicians than any other community of comparable size in Canada.

And the ear-splitting celebration spilled over into Maine and Quebec, because Edmundston is the capital of the "Republic of Madawaska” a gay make-believe state which includes within its

imaginary borders not only Madawaska CountvN.B.. but slices of Aroostook County, Me., and Temiscouata County, Que. Not shown on maps or recognized by governments, the republic exists in the hearts and traditions of light-hearted people who are neighbors in an isolated region of hills lakes, tumbling streams, forests and potato fields.

Edmundston reflects the character of the region. It has turned from log burling to golf, from roughand-tumble brawling to baseball, from mouth organs to pipe organs, and from whittling to the kind of wood carving that is exhibited in art galleries, but it still has a frontier ebullience. And it has the happy-go-lucky and slightly wacky atmosphere you'd expect in the part of the country that fought the Aroostook War a war in which no shots were fired and no blood was shed.

In straight-laced New Brunswick, it laughs at blue laws. Many of its residents are equally

amused by customs barriers and insist that customs officers were invented so smuggling would be more fun.

It’s typical of Edmundston, and of the Republic of Madawaska, that nobody was surprised six years ago when a letter was read at the funeral of Bibi Cyr. « hotelkeeper, inviting those present to be his guests at ^ farewell party to be held immediately after he was buried. Clipped to the letter were five one-hundred-dollar bills to pay for the drinks, so Bibi's departure was neither sad nor solemn.

On the main street in Edmundston. opposite a new city hall with ^ bubbling fountain and a willow-shaded lawn, are the offices of Le Madawaska. a weekly newspaper in which some items are in French and others in English. Stories about the activities of French-speaking individuals are generally in French, and those about Englishspeaking individuals in English. But Frenchspeaking doings have occasionally been reported in English, and vice versa.

This doesn't really matter. Edmundston, where French is spoken in ninety percent of the homes and English in ten percent, is so thoroughly bilingual that its school ch'ldren. playing together, often switch from one language to the other without being aware thev are doing it.

A French-speaking Edmundstonian, for the sake of courtesv, will invariably address an Englishspeaking Edmundstonian in English. The reply would come in French. Edmundstonians are so polite that they preserve this convention even when they are angry, the French swearing at the

English in English, and the English swearing at the French in French.

J. Gaspard Boucher, stocky affable publisher of Le Madawaska, is president of the Republic of Madawaska. He wasn’t elected—it was just a case of Madawaskans agreeing among themselves years ago that he would fill the post with tact, intelligence and the right touch of humor. The vice-president is Dr. Paul Carmel Laporte, physician, surgeon, sculptor, wood carver, contractor and philosopher.

Boucher and Laporte have as their advisers such oddly assorted but representative Madawaskans as Chief Justice J. E. Michaud, a former federal minister of fisheries; Sam Burpee, a grocer who was the first mayor of Edmundston when it was incorporated as a town in 1905; H. E. Marmen, an electrical contractor who is the first mayor of Edmundston the city; Mgr. Romeo Gagnon. Roman Catholic bishop of Edmundston: Aubrey Crabtree, president of Fraser Companies, a fifty-milliondollar pulp, paper and lumlier corporation: and Leo Poulin, a professor of music.

As members of a sort of make-believe cabinet these men don’t restrict their planning to Edmundston. They consider the welfare of such smaller centres of the republic as Van Buren. Madawaska, Fort Kent and St. Francis, in Maine: and St. Leonard, Green River, St. Basil, Baker Brook, Clair and Connors, in New Brunswick.

The realm they guide is a state of mind, not a political state, and sentimental rather than actual. They collect no taxes, have no budget, and confer casually on street corners or Continued on page 53

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in stores or across the luncheon table. Their power is the power of suggestion — and it’s a potent force. One of them once said “The republic needs a university." The others nodded agreement and said, “Let's get busy on it." They promoted the project, and in 1946 St. Louis College was started in an old army hut at Edmundston and pretty soon it had four hundred students from New Brunswick. Quebec and Maine and moved into a tvvomillion-dollar building of steel, stone and brick.

A two-bund red-bed hospital, a floodlit baseball park, an eighteen-hole golf course, a curling rink with artificial ice. and t gymnasium and swimming pool have been produced by this brand of magic.

The hospital patients, ball fans, golfers and curlers like the university students are from Maine and Quebec as well as New Brunswick. For the republic, while trisected by man-made borders, is a geographic and social entity. Towns in Maine, within the Madawaska area, are remote from other towns in Maine. Quebec villages in it are separated from the rest of Quebec hv a broad band of wilderness. New Brunswick communities in it are closer to Maine and Quebec communities than to other communities in New Brunswick.

Edmundston. for example, is a short walk across an international bridge from Madawaska, Me. (population, five thousand) and just nine miles from the edge of Quebec. A resident of the republic may have cocktails in Madawaska, Me., where bars are legal, dinner in Edmundston. where chefs are above average, and an evening’s trout fishing in Quebec.

The waves of Glasier Lake, north of Edmundston. lap gently against Maine. New Brunswick and Quebec, each of which owns a stretch of the shore.

Customs officers in the Republic of Madawaska work hard but look frustrated. for smugglers hold all the aces in the thinly settled and heavily wooded region. Madawaskans on the Canadian side who smoke Canadian cigarettes are few and far between, and there are shops where American brands on which no duty has been paid can be purchased for about half the price of Canadian brands. The St John River narrows where it forms the boundary. Radios, refrigerators, electric stoves and washing machines, cheaper in the U. S . can be rafted over it easily and relatively safely on dark summer nights, and whisked over it on sleds on dark winter nights.

The furtive traffic isn't entirely in one direction. A couple of years back potatoes wore bringing much more in the U. S. than in Canada. Border patrols in the V S segment of the Republic of Madawaska were reinforced. hut U. S. congressmen charged, and U. S publications stated, that a flood of New Brunswick spuds poured illegally into Maine.

New Brunswick Madawaskans like most Canadians who live near t lieborder I can’t understand why the things they buy should he more expensive in Canada than in the United States, nor why thev shouldn't he able to sell their farm produce where the returns are highest. Smuggling strikes the majority of them not as immoral but as thrifty, profitable and sensible. They delight in outwitting customs officers.

Maine once had a bounty on bears

and New Brunswick didn’t. Several Madawaskans, according to the tales told, trapped bears in New Brunswick and sneaked them into Maine alive and killed them there to collect the reward.

Many Madawaskans feel that what is right in one section of the republic should be right in another. Sunday picture shows and sports are prohibited in New Brunswick. But New Brunswick Madawaskans. sandwiched between Alaine and Quebec, where blue laws are a pale and relatively cheerful shade, refuse to bow to Lord's Day Alliance elements. Edmundston's two theatres are open Sundays. They appease earnest puritans by earmarking a percentage of their Sunday receipts for charity. Edmundston likewise enjoys Sunday baseball.

Aladawaskans may resist laws they consider inconsistent but they're devout and pious. Alostly Catholics, they have built imposing churches. Their cathédral at Edmundston. constructed of granite and of imported marble, is one of the most beautiful structures in the Alaritimes. and the countryside around it is dotted with outdoor shrines.

Aladawaskans marry young, have lots of children—President Gaspard Boucher has eight, and broods of a dozen or more aren't exceptional—and are seldom divorced. Their lives are well ordered but they have i natural gaiety that reveals itself even in the bright reds, blues and yellows with which they paint their houses.

They love good food and compound dishes like boudin, a dark spicy sausage: carton, i delicious variety of headcheese: tourtière, a rich and highly seasoned pork pie: and sole blanche, salt pork spiced and fried and then simmered with onions in a milk gravy.

As the capital of the republic Edmundston blends the laughter and music of French Acadians, the energy of New England Yankees, the sturdiness of Quebec Habitants, and the salty resourcefulness of Alaritimers of Scottish. English and Irish extraction.

The Acadians predominate, and were there first. In 1755, when British troops chased them off fertile farms around the Bay of Fundy, twelve families of them fled two hundred and fifty miles up the St. John River. When they reached the point where the Aladawaska River empties into the St. John—which was then covered by the biggest pines on the Atlantic seaboard and is now crisscrossed by Edmundston's tidy streets—they built cabins, cleared land, planted crops. For sugar they tapped the maples. For meat and leather they killed caribou. They brewed tea from wild herbs and dickered with friendly Indians

The world had no idea they were there. To them the American Revolution was a dim rumor relayed by Indians. Then, south of them, in both New Brunswick and Alaine, virgin stands of white pine were depleted by loggers. Timber barons like New Brunswick’s John Glasier—The Alain John—who always wore « bushy wig and a stovepipe hat and a frock coat, and Alaine's John Goddard, whose carriage was hauled by a team of tame moose, trekked north in search of new sources of supply.

They found the lost colony of Acadians. And they found trees from six to eight feet in diameter. They set up camps around Edmundston— then known as Petit Sault (Little Rapids —and the peaceful settlement was soon the stamping ground of fabulous lumberjacks like Sandy Stripes and Hot Com and Roaring Jack Niles. These iron-muscled buckoes, who ate pork and beans three times a day, drank enough rum to float the logs

they cut. and slept on bare boards, were probably the finest axemen and most daring stream drivers North America ever had.

As they felled the tremendous pines they squared them into timbers with broad-bladed axes and twitched them over the winter snow with oxen to the brow of the river. In the spring they shepherded them downstream, over thundering Grand Falls, past the Snowshoe Islands, and through the Reversing Falls to the port of Saint John on the Bay of Fundy coast.

The timbers were exported to England and brought as much as forty dollars a ton. A single tree yielded twenty, thirty or forty tons, so money flowed freely in the tall pine country and Edmundston erupted in a rash of inns and taverns. In its lusty youth it was one of the rowdiest spots on this continent.

Nobody was sure in those days whether the district since designated as the Republic of Aladawaska was in the United States or in British North America. The boundary description in the Treaty of Paris, signed by Britain and the U. S. in 1783, was vague, and in the beginning the question hadn't seemed worth arguing about. But. with fortunes being reaped in the pine stands. Alaine and New Brunswick both pressed their claims. New Brunswick loggers swooped down on Alaine loggers, beat them up, stole their timber. Alaine loggers retaliated

In 1838 New Brunswick and Alaine issued declarations of war against each other. They recruited armies and hurriedly threw up crude fortifications. Then, strangely enough, reason prevailed: it was agreed that the border should be determined by arbitration. The Aroostook War. as historians label the ludicrous affair, is perhaps the one war on record in which there were no casualties. It could hardly have been acted out elsewhere than in the dizzy and delightful Republic of Aladawaska.

' The boundary commission which resolved the dispute was composed of Daniel Webster, the great U. S. orator, and Britain's Lord Ashburton.

As Webster and Ashburton traveled through the district they left a trail of empty bottles. Folks in Alaine contend that Ashburton drank Webster under the table and persuaded him to cede territory that rightfully belonged to Alaine. New Brunswickers maintain that it was Webster who drank Ashburton under the table with the result that New Brunswick forfeited the vast tract that is now the "potato basket" of the United States.

No matter who outbargained whom Webster and Ashburton drew lines on the map between people who were neighbors, friends and relatives and had identical interests. But the people remained neighbors, friends and relatives with identical interests—which explains the Republic of Aladawaska.

Eventually all the mighty pines in the country around Edmundston were toppled and floated to the sea and a new generation of lumberjacks moved in to attack the spruce trees, smaller than the pines, which were sawn into lumber at mills along the river. Their

hero was flamboyant Robert Connors, who was born in Nova Scotia, educated in Ireland, and had a flaming mop of red hair and a red beard. Connors, who was called the Red Rover by English-speaking lumberjacks and Connors le Rouge by French-speaking lumberjacks, for years had charge of all log driving on the upper reaches of the St. -John.

Connors staked out a tovvnsite. named it Connors after himself, and put up attractive houses for his employees, a general store, a tiny hut elegant hotel which had thick rugs and mahogany furniture and sterling silver spittoons, and a Presbyterian church with a tall steeple in a place where there were no more than four or five Protestants. A bachelor, he lived in an ornate Victorian mansion.

Once, when mill owners at Saint -John complained that logs were not reaching them quickly enough the Red Rover said if he drove them faster he would plug the (irand Falls gorge. "111 bet you a thousand dollars you can't,” one mill owner challenged him. Connors did plug the gorge and it took months to break the jam.

Up to Connors' day freight for the logging camps at the head of the St. John was towed past Edmundston on flat-bottomed scows hauled at the end of tive-hundred-foot cables by horses that plodded along the shore. Connors watched the railways being constructed and influenced the choice of routes. Edmundston. where the Valley Railway and the Temiscouata Railway met. became a railroading centre.

Its inns, which had catered to lumberjacks, now catered to the traveling public, but the innkeepers were as ribald and convivial as ever. The most famous of them. Felix Hebert, was plump, had a walrus mustache, wore a broad-brimmed sombrero outdoors and in, and was pictured on the band of the Sir Felix cigar, which used to be popular in the Maritimes. His favorite joke was to wink at a man who was registering with his wife and inquire. "How's the last wife you had here.’” A guest from England left shoes outside his door at Hebert's hotel, expecting them to be polished while he slept. Felix threw them in the garbage. When the Englishman demanded his shoes. Felix, shaking with inward mirth, told him sternly. "When a customer can't stand his own shoes in his room. I certainly can't tolerate them in the hall.” The mantle of Felix Hebert descended finally to Bibi Cyr — Cyr of the memorable funeral.

But the men who did most to make Edmundston the fourth city in New Brunswick and the eighth city in the Atlantic provinces were Archibald Fraser and William Matheson. brisk efficient Scots who had no time for pranks. They came to New Brunswick on the same ship as children. In their teens they logged, streamdrove. worked as sawyers. Fraser, a stubby energetic man with a crisp incisive manner, was a born organizer, and Matheson was a born financier.

Starting with a shoestring Fraser and Matheson. with i handful of associates, acquired sawmills in New Brunswick and Quebec and incorporated Fraser Companies Limited under a federal charter. In 1917 they branched into pulp and paper and built i sulphite mill at Petit Sault. which by then had heen rechristened Edmundston in honor of Sir Edmund Head, an early New Brunswick governor, and had a population of twelve hundred. Because the l S. tariff on high-grade paper was steep Fraser and Matheson soon constructed i paper mill at Madawaska. Me., which in those days was no more than a farming

village. They laid pipeline? between their Edmundston and Madawaska milis and, to avoid tariff charges, pumped most of the pulp manufactured at Edmundston across the border in liquid form, to be finished into paper in Maine.

Edmundston and neighboring Madawaska grew around the towering smoke-stacks of the plants of Fraser Companies. The corporation has a five-million-dollar-a-year payroll and more than fifteen hundred fulltime employees in the Edmundston

Matheson and Fraser brought the community steady jobs and good wages, and reshaped its character. Edmundston. which had been proud of being wild and woolly and rough and tough, retained its Acadian love of fun but was smitten by a Scottish yearning for education, culture and civic improve-

It decided, among other things, that it should have a brass band. Leo Poulin, of Old Town. Me., a thickset happy man with a dash of genius, who had been a trumpeter with Rudy Yallee. was hired to lead the band and teach music in the schools. He has now been at Edmundston for a quarter of a century. Largely because of Poulin. Edmundstonians are as enthusiastic about music as they are about baseball, hockey and horse

Hundreds of children play piano, violin, clarinet, flute. French hom and other instruments—and practice because they enjoy practicing. And Edmundston has ~ forty-piece senior symphony orchestra, a forty-piece senior band, a thirty-piece junior girls" symphony. twenty-three piece air cadet band, a twenty-eight-piece children's sweetwinds ensemble, a mixed choir of sixty that doesn't hesitate to tackle operas, and a dozen dance bands.

During the last war Montreal and Toronto each had three or four girls in the Canadian Women's Army Corps band. But Edmundston had eleven.

Besides their flair for music Edmundstonians have a talent for wood carving, encouraged by Dr. Laporte, the vice-president of the Republic of Madawaska. For years his big home has been open to youngsters interested in a.rt and they've had the run of his basement which is equipped for arts and

One of the doctor's more spectacular protégés is twenty-one-year-old Claude Rouselie. of Edmundston. At thirteen he was carving race horses, down to the last detail of the harness. At seventeen, with only newspaper pictures to go by. he carved a charming likeness of Barbara Ann Scott on skates. The Edmundston Lions Club paid his expenses to Quebec City where he presented this to Barbara Ann

As an office boy for the Fraser Companies Claude carved a plaque forty inches by thirty inches which depicts all phases of paper production, from the cutting of the tree to the shipping of the product. The corporation's president. Aubrey Crabtree, was so impressed that he made it possible for Rouselie to go to l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Montreal, where he is studying both painting and carving.

The rowdy village by the river, where lumberjacks fought and swilled rum. has come a long way in a short time. And if the capital of the Republic of Madawaska is not yet a glittering and glamorous metropolis it at least has a spirit and an atmosphere and a lot of promise, and it manages to be serious without taking itself too seriously, industrious without being grim. -*■