Maine’s Acadian culture can be seen in the predominance of French names, the local architecture, the cultivation of potatoes and buckwheat and in local arts. It can also be tasted in traditional foods and heard in casual conversations.
Some Maine Acadians still speak “Valley French,” a mixture of old French and English with some Québécois terms from neighboring Canada. “Valley French” is mainly spoken rather than written.
The Acadians can be traced to 1604 near the St. Croix River, between what is now Maine and New Brunswick. Here, St. Croix Island held France’s first settlement in l’Acadie – or Acadia in English.
Franco-American culture also flourished in 1860 when thousands of French Canadians from Quebec and New Brunswick immigrated over the border to work in Maine’s growing mill and lumber industries. Many of these French Canadian immigrants changed their names to English translations to blend in with their American neighbors and escape prejudice.
Today, 30 to 40 percent of Mainers are estimated to be of French Canadian ancestry, and French makes up more than 60 percent of languages other than English spoken in Maine.
To experience the lasting influence of Acadian culture today, Francophiles can visit the Acadian Village (U.S. Route 1, Van Buren, ME 04785) where 17 reconstructed buildings dating from 1785 to the early 1900s overlook the St. John River. Each building also contains historic furnishings.
The Franco American Heritage Center (46 Cedar St., Lewiston, ME 04240) is also a great resource for keeping up-to-date with local events, education and heritage related to the region’s Franco-American culture.
The annual Acadian Festival (Madawaska, ME 04756) is a multi-day celebration that includes a reunion of Maine’s Acadian founding families with over 5,000 far-flung descendents from around the globe attending in some years. An even bigger party will occur in 2014, when the World Acadian Congress convenes in the St. John Valley.
To experience a taste of an original Acadian recipe, check out Bouchard Family Farms (3 Strip Road, Fort Kent, ME 04743). For generations, the Bouchard Family has been milling a light buckwheat flour to prepare “Ployes,” which resemble crepes or pancakes. Their recipe is based on one created by the French Acadian exiles who settled in Northern Maine. For store locations or to order online, visit ployes.com.
Photo credit: iStockphoto/Lebazele