One of my on-going projects is to research and write about an important aspect of the Acadian and French-Canadian culture in the Madawaska region: their mills. The result will be a book titled “Moulins du Madawaska” (Mills of Madawaska) which will be published in 2019. Here is the Introduction to the book.
After their eviction in 1755 from Acadia, the Acadians migrated to the Madawaska territory in 1785 in search of a new home. Acadia had been their homeland since 1604. Among those settlers were the millwrights and millers who would respectively build and operate the mills that produced the construction lumber, ground their corn, wheat, oats and buckwheat and carded their wool. We will go into their 200-year story and show how some of the mill families helped each other by passing on the technology of building and running mills in the St-John River valley.
The history of ‘Moulins du Madawaska’ (Mills of Madawaska) focuses on a few ‘Meunier’ settlers , who influenced the direction of the milling industry in the St-John Valley. We begin with an Acadian, Firmin Thibodeau and his father Olivier, who with François Violette, Joseph Theriault and other Acadians built the first mills in the St John valley around 1790. Later, the two American brothers, Nathan and John Baker built the first sawmill in 1817 on the Méruimticook brook ,
present-day Baker Brook. We will progress our milling history through some of the key mills in the valley on both sides of the river including Pierre Plourde’s saw mill and later his grist mill in St Jacques, George Corriveau’s grist mill in Coron Brook and Upper Frenchville, Benoni and Regis Thériault’s saw mill in St Basile, Savage in Fort Kent, Bob Connors in Connors, Don Fraser in Baker Brook, Edmundston and Madawaska. We will conclude with an-other Acadian, my great-grand-father Joseph Theriault whose modest family mill in Baker Brook eventually morphed into the giant Irving commercial mill complex today at that same location in Baker-Brook.
Our focus in ‘Moulins du Madawaska’ is on the Acadian and French-Canadian mill families. So, we will examine Joseph’s earlier experience in St Jacques as a foster child and mill apprentice and the story of his grand-uncle Pierre Plourde who was the first to introduce milling to Saint Jacques around 1845. After some important improvements to the mill works by Pierre’s son-in-law, David Rousseau, the operation of the mill was passed on to Pierre’s grandsons, Philias Morneault and Charles Morneault in the hamlet of Moulin Morneault in Saint Jacques.
We include a survey of some two hundred mills (most located with GPS coordinates) that were built on both sides of the St John River from Connors to Grand Falls on the Canadian side and from St Francis to Van Buren on the American side. The survey identifies the original builder and its operators which continue in a chronological history. The location, including geographic coordinates, along with a description of the mill is included.
It is an interesting turn of events that Baker Brook saw the early days of the milling industry in the region with Nathan Baker’s mill, who later benefited from Don Fraser’s innovative and entrepreneurial strategy with two Fraser mills, and later yet, the Theriault Mill which today is the J.D. Irving Scierie de Baker Brook, one of the largest and most productive commercial lumber mills in the province of New Brunswick.
We made a special effort to give this book its bilingual personality. While the format is a little more complicated, it reflects the bilingual culture of our Theriault family and helps us ‘brush up’ on the ‘other’ language.
One more note on our convention: to help our reader know the exact locations of the places that we discuss in this book, we include the geographic coordinates of important locations in footnotes. To find a location, simply copy the coordinates into the address field of an Internet map. Finally, for the reader’s convenience, we include all maps in the Table of Contents. J.R.T.