Photo by Collections of Ste. Agathe Historical Society
In far northern Maine, four things in life are certain: death, taxes, hard winters, and the persistence of francophone culture. Three of those four things explain Denis Martin’s horse-drawn corbillard (which means “hearse” in English). A casket-size cabin mounted on sled runners came in handy in the mortuary biz in places like Frenchville, where snow covered the roads for long stretches of the year. The tiny border town rests along a sharp bend in the St. John River, across from New Brunswick. In the 1920s, the North Woods lumber industry was booming, Frenchville had a crucial water-filling station for steam engines on the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, and the local population hovered around its historical high of 1,500. Work would have been slow but steady for Martin, who kept his ornately detailed corbillard in a garage at what’s now the intersection of Route 1 and Saint Agatha Avenue. Today, a corner grocery sits at that intersection, its clientele decidedly more concerned with sustenance in this life than the next.