Since the signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842, Franco-Americans and French Canadians have peacefully shared northern Maine’s international border. At one time prior to the treaty, the territory was known as Madawaska.

A program sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council in northern Maine last weekend focused on what it means to live near a border.

Although the boundary line settlement divided the Madawaska region, families and businesses on both sides of the border continued their usual relationships, from family reunions to commerce. The border became more pronounced after 1922, when international tariff laws were enforced.

Sheila Jans, a cultural development consultant, said some changes along the border are more recent. She has seen some since she moved to Madawaska 14 years ago.

“There was a time when traffic across the international border was fluid. Our border is really only a river, but there seems to be diminished interest in crossing it in recent years,” she says. “The enforcement of the border is especially significant when the division is between friendly countries where families were and still are interconnected.”

That’s the reason Jans suggested that the Maine Humanities Council and the National Council on the Humanities sponsor a discussion about borders in northern Maine. Jans is on the MHC board representing northern Maine.

“What Do Borders Mean?” was the first community program sponsored by the MHC in northern Maine. The program, presented on Sept. 16-17, in Houlton and in Frenchville, explored the history of the Canadian-American border, and how living near it impacts residents and families.

“This program resonated with the communities here,” she says.

Scott See, a Libra Professor of History at the University of Maine, opened the program with an academic lecture. Discussion was facilitated by Kathyrn J. Olmstead, editor of Echoes Magazine: The Northern Maine Journal of Rural Culture.

Two poetry readings were “They’ll Say: ‘She Must Be From Another Country,’ ” by Imtiaz Dharker, and “What Will Stand,” by Wendy Burk and Eric Magrane.

A videotape is available from WOWL community cable.

Planning the discussion was part of the MHC intention to design programs of interest to local populations, said Martina Duncan, assistant director of the MHC.

“Obviously we didn’t try to look at every issue or idea in such a short program, but the focus provided some background and readings to help attendees share thoughts and listen to their neighbors discussing feelings about living along the border,”  Duncan said.

“This program was suited for northern Maine. Our border is rooted in our historic ties to French-speaking Canada. Changes in border relations are impacting our northern Maine communities,” says Jans.

Jans says people on both sides of the border are experiencing a sense of loss because of the enforcement of recent crossing laws.

“Nonetheless, along with the new world challenges of living on a border, discussion also focused on how a cultural richness is brought to the international region between Maine and Canada. Although we began talking about the history, Scott See took the concept to larger issues. We were thoughtful and reflective about the diversity of the region and the abundant opportunities we have to keep our international relationships going,” says Jans.

For more information, contact Martina Duncan at mduncan@mainehumanities.org