Description of Historic Place
Located at the centre of the village, the Saint-François-de-Madawaska Religious and Institutional Site extends around a hillside with an area of 3.5 hectares. First, there is the current Golden Age Club, which was the site of the first regional school in New Brunswick at the time of the school reforms around 1945. Beside that is the Filles de la Sagesse Convent, and a little further, the grotto erected in 1954. At the bottom of the hill, on the banks of the Saint John River, is an old cemetery with gravestones dating back as far as 1860 and several dating back to the time of the Spanish flu in 1918. A root cellar where vegetables were kept is still there, leading to the basement of the old church that is now demolished. Beside the old cemetery is the Ernest Lang School. The village’s library is also located on the same site. The site is still the institutional heart of the village, with the Golden Age Club, Ernest Lang school, Mgr Plourde Library, and the Filles de la Sagesse Convent.
The Saint-François-de-Madawaska Religious and Institutional Site is designated a Local Historic Place because it groups together most of the village’s institutions and religious sites since its colonization.
The first church in Saint-François-de-Madawaska, the “red” church with its charming Gothic windows, was erected beside the old cemetery in 1849. Vestiges, such as the old nails, can still be found on the site. A root cellar that provided an entrance to the basement and was used for storing vegetables is still there.
Later, this was the site of the second church, the "white” church, built by the parishioners and finished on August 23, 1886. The church’s bell tower was brought by boat and train from the Union Bell Church Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio, at a cost of $200. Unfortunately, that church was destroyed by fire on May 10, 1920. An old road still visible today makes it possible to see the church’s location. The old road is visible from the bottom of Première Street.
The building housing the current Golden Age Club was built in 1945, and was the first Francophone regional school in New Brunswick following the government’s decision to close the rural schools. The community played an important role in the matter since it carried out all the feasibility studies. There were about 20 classes of students from grades 1 to 12.
Finally, the old cemetery is also a remarkable site. It contains approximately 30 old gravestones from different eras, the oldest dating back to 1860. Visiting it provides a window onto the great misfortunes that struck the village. During the Spanish flu epidemic, the Village of Saint-François-de-Madawaska was hit hard. Many of the gravestones are from those years, and too often the dates are extremely close together.
Source: Madawaska Planning Commission, Saint-François-de-Madawaska Register of Historic Places, File 3.3 – "Site réligieux de Saint-François-de-Madawaska"
The character-defining elements associated with the site include:
- continuous religious and institutional use of the site;
- site of the first church built in 1849 and destroyed by fire in 1885, with the root cellar being the only element remaining;
- site of the second church on the hill, the white church, destroyed by fire in 1920, with the old road that lead to it still visible;
- the kitchen and community room of the old school having been maintained in the structure of the Golden Age Club, defined by the original two-storey structure with 76 feet of frontage, 45 feet wide and an annex of 30 feet by 60 feet that was used as an auditorium;
- Filles de la Sagesse Convent built on May 17, 1949, which they still occupy;
- grotto developed in 1954, made of stone, with a statue of the Virgin and a series of three crosses;
- the old cemetery, which provides a record of the trials and tribulations of the local people, including about 30 gravestones;
- potential archaeological resources.