St. Stephen’s first settlers arrived many thousands of years ago while inland portions of North America were still locked in the last great Ice Age. Their descendants, the Passamaquoddy people called the area Schoodic, which means “fire place” or “where it burns”. They valued it greatly as an important fishing place and tribal burial ground.
In 1604 French explorers Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain chose Saint Croix Island for the capital of L’Acadie. Their settlement there was short-lived but set the St. Croix so firmly in record that it was used to mark future boundaries, including the current boundary between the United States and Canada on which St. Stephen is situated.
After the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1780, Loyalists settled in St. Stephen and started to make it one of the Northeast’s major lumbering and shipbuilding centers. Hundreds of ships took shape in local shipyards, built from timber they would also haul to world markets. Evidence of wharves from this ‘age of sail’ still mark our town waterfront.
The communities of Calais, Maine and St. Stephen, New Brunswick have shared lives as “border towns” in a most neighbourly fashion. In fact, in 1812 the people of St. Stephen loaned Calais sufficient gunpowder to celebrate the 4th of July while both countries were technically at war.
St. Stephen was incorporated as a town in 1871. The addition of railroads to the area added another facet to St. Stephen’s heritage by providing transportation to serve the burgeoning manufacturing sector. At one time the town was home to factories producing many goods, namely soap, shoes, baskets, axes, cigars, carriages, and of course chocolate.
The architecture and some of the enterprises of this era can still be seen in St. Stephen, including the chance to sample the wares of a major candy manufacturer. While times have changed, the perseverance of the people and diversification of its economic base have allowed the town to thrive.