The phrase "Down East" is used in several ways. Most broadly, it refers to areas from northeastern New England into Canada's Maritime Provinces. Sargent F. Collier wrote that Down East extended from Maine into Canada as far as Chaleur Bay. This area is similar to the boundaries of the historical French colony of Acadia; Collier regarded this as a cultural legacy of the former colony. According to Maine author John Gould, Down East is "a never-never land always east of where you are". The term is relational, with Boston being the traditional referent for determining what is "Down East". As such, sailors going from one port in Maine to another nearby may have said they were going "down Maine" or "east'ard", reserving "Down East" for farther points.
Within New England, "Down East" often refers specifically to Maine, especially the coastal areas. The phrase has widespread use in the state; Maine's largest monthly magazine is titled Down East. Amtrak named its passenger train service between Boston and Brunswick, Maine the Downeaster.The term "Down East" provided the name for a prominent type of sailing ship developed in Maine in the later 19th century, the Down Easter. Down Easters were a modification of the earlier clipper, with new lines and rigging enabling it to carry substantially more cargo. Primarily used to transport wheat and other goods from California to European markets, Down Easters were characteristically built in Maine, and their captains often came from the state. A significant part of Maine's maritime legacy, they were among the last prominent sailing ships built before steamships came to dominate the industry.
In Maine, "Down East" may refer more narrowly to the easternmost section of the state along the Canada–US border. This area, also known as "Down East Maine" or "Downeast Maine", lies on the coast roughly between the Penobscot River and the border, including rural Hancock and Washington counties and the towns of Bar Harbor, Machias, Jonesport, and Eastport.This was among the last parts of the state settled by Europeans. Due to its thankless climate it saw little settlement by the French, and British colonists arrived only after French control ended in 1763. Initially attracted by the availability of land for farming, the early British settlers soon turned to fishing to survive; fishing remains a significant economic driver. Largely due to its inhospitable climate and remoteness, Down East Maine has remained one of the state's least developed areas.
In Canada, "Down East" typically refers to the Maritime Provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.Newfoundland and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec are sometimes included. The term gave its name to Down East fiddling, which developed in the Maritimes and has become one of the most prominent styles of Canadian fiddling. The style is closely associated with New Brunswick native Don Messer, who hosted a radio show on Prince Edward Island beginning in 1939 and had a wide influence over fiddle music in Canada. The Down East style is distinguished by simple playing and dance-ready rhythms. [Learn More]
"The name appears to owe something to a cultural convergence between Verrazzano's idyllic land of "Arcadia" and the Mi'kmaq term "quoddy" signifying land or territory. By the early 18th century the predominantly French-speaking population referred to themselves as "le peuple acadien", and the story of the dispersal and reconstruction of their society is one of the epics of regional history; by the 1880s they had established institutions and traditions that would guarantee their survival into the 20th century; in addition, the Acadian identity was being popularized by a New England poet by the name of Longfellow, although his principal theme was not so much the survival of the Acadians as the fidelity of womankind. Meanwhile, the term "Acadia" was also receiving scientific approval as a convenient description of a geographic region; the best example perhaps is the classic Victorian scientific text, Acadian Geology (Edinburgh, 1855), by J. W. Dawson, the Nova Scotian who was the principal builder of McGill University in this era and arguably the most important Canadian scientist of the 19th century. It is clear that in 1901 the founders of Acadiensis were not thinking of "le peuple acadien" but of "Acadia" when they explained the meaning of the name: "Acadia is a title now recognized by the scientific world as applying to the territory embraced within the areas of the Maritime Provinces, including a small portion of the Province of Quebec and the State of Maine, immediately adjacent." [from Acadiensis online]