French-Canadian Americans

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
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French-Canadian Americans

Marianne P. Fedunkiw


French-Canadian Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Canada who descend, in turn, from seventeenth-century French settlers. The majority of French Canadians live in Quebec, which covers only one-sixteenth of Canada's land area but holds one-fourth of the country's total population. Commonly known as Quebecois (kay-beh-KWAH), these French Canadians are culturally distinct from Acadians, the mixed-race descendants of the native Wabanaki people and the French who settled in France's colony of Acadia, which spanned the eastern coast of Canada, including present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. There are also small groups of French Canadians living throughout Canada, though they tend to identify more with their regional heritage (e.g., Franco-Ontarian) rather than with the more general term French Canadian, which is becoming less used as an ethnic identifier. Covering an area of approximately 3.9 million square miles (9,984,670 square kilometers), Canada is the second-largest country in the world, outranked only by Russia. Canada is bordered on three sides by oceans: the Pacific to the west, the Atlantic to the east, and the Arctic to the north. To the south lies the United States, and the two countries' border, 5,525 miles (8,893 kilometers) in length, is the longest undefended border in the world. The terrain of Canada varies between the plains of the west and the lowlands of the southeast. Converging air masses from the three oceans generate cyclonic storms east of the Rocky Mountains, and the northernmost area is covered with permafrost. As a result, 90 percent of Canada's population is concentrated within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the Canadian/American border.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of Canada was estimated at 34.3 million in 2012. That same year, Quebec, Canada's largest province, recorded its population at 8.1 million. Some 28 percent of Canadians are of British origin, and 23 percent are of French origin. Another 15 percent are of other European origins, 2 percent are native peoples, 6 percent are of other ethnicities (mostly Asian, African, and Arab), and the remaining 26 percent report mixed ethnic backgrounds. Both English and French are official languages of Canada. English is spoken by 58.5 percent of the population, and 21.6 percent speak French. While many Canadians continue to be bilingual, the number of native French-speaking Canadians has declined slightly in recent years, dropping from 23.5 percent in 1996 to 21.6 percent in 2012. Almost one in five Canadians speaks a language other than English or French. Roman Catholicism is the majority religion of Canada (42.6 percent), followed by Protestantism (23.2 percent), other Christian religions (4.4 percent), and Islam (1.9 percent). Canada has the twentieth-highest standard of living in the world, with a per-capita income of $41,100 (2011). More than three-fourths of the workforce is engaged in service occupations. Canada's low income cutoff (LICO), which represents approximately the same measurement as a poverty level, was 9.4 percent in 2008.

The first and largest wave of Canadian immigrants swept into the United States in the last four decades of the nineteenth century, along with the Industrial Revolution. Those immigrants included both English- and French-speaking Canadians. By 1900 there were 1.2 million Canadian Americans living in the United States. In the 1920s another 920,000 arrived. Most French Canadian immigrants came to work in the mills, factories, and logging camps of New England. Because of the proximity of their homeland, these immigrants maintained strong cultural ties with Canada, frequently traveling back and forth between the two countries. French Canadians played a major role in shaping the cultures of factory towns such as Lowell and Fall River, Massachusetts; Lewiston, Maine; and Manchester, New Hampshire. So-called Little Canadas sprang up throughout the area. Predominantly Roman Catholic, this first wave of immigrants largely maintained their religious beliefs, which were in some ways different from American Catholicism, which had been largely shaped by Irish Catholic immigrants. Over time, however, French Canadian immigrants came to be integrated into the general American population. By the post-World War II era, the group had come to be known as Franco-Americans. Whereas some French Canadian women Page 168  |  Top of Articlehad worked in mills prior to World War II, the war forced more females to work outside the home than ever before, while the G.I. Bill allowed more males to partake of higher education. Because both academia and the workplace required them to speak English, many French Canadians stopped speaking French, and some converted to various Protestant religions. With greater assimilation, the economic status of the group soon mirrored that of other Americans. In the early twenty-first century, Canadian Americans were the fourth-largest group of American immigrants.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 2,138,601 persons of French Canadian heritage living in the United States in 2010, composing 0.7 percent of the total population. French was the fourth most spoken language in the country, following English, Spanish, and Chinese. Data from the 2000 Census reveals that the states with the largest French Canadian populations were New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, California, and Louisiana. Despite the fact that French Canadian immigrants and their children tended to speak their native language far longer than most other immigrant groups had in U.S. history, assimilation had become so complete by this point that some historians were bemoaning the invisibility of French Canadians as a distinct group of American immigrants.


Early History The European credited with discovering the Canadian mainland is French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491–1557). Although seeking riches from the Far East via the famed (but never found) Northwest Passage, he instead reached Newfoundland in May 1534. He made another journey to Canada in 1535 and, unlike earlier explorers, continued west along the St. Lawrence River as far as modern-day Quebec City and eventually to the future site of Montreal. This first foray into the interior was difficult—particularly because of the harsh winter conditions in Quebec City and the rampant scurvy that killed many of his men. Others were said to have been saved from this disease of vitamin C deficiency by the native peoples, who advised them to drink a tea made from the bark of the native white spruce tree.

Permanent settlement of Canada did not occur until the burgeoning and lucrative fur trade provided added incentive for making the dangerous voyage. Samuel de Champlain (1567–1635) finally established the first trading post on the site of Quebec City in 1608. Champlain, too, had sought the Northwest Passage, but he soon realized that beaver pelts were potentially more important in enticing potential settlers. He set up a system of business monopolies to systematically hunt the animals and sell their pelts in exchange for 300 settlers coming to the new land annually from 1627 until 1642. Champlain's early settlement was attacked by English and native rivals.

In addition to founding Quebec, Champlain ventured into what is now northern New York, where in 1609 he discovered the lake now named for him. He also explored the Atlantic coast as far south as Massachusetts, including many of the larger rivers in Maine. Champlain's efforts to establish a successful French colony in the United States, however, were thwarted by bad weather, battles with the English and certain native groups, and limited support from France.

Despite all of the hardships, Louis XIV, the king of France, did not give up his colonization efforts. In 1665 he sent two ships to Quebec containing the first regular troops to be sent to Canada. Aboard was Alexandre de Prouville, the Marquis de Tracy (1596–1670), who was made lieutenant general for all French possessions in North America. The government changed from Champlain's business monopolies to a Sovereign Council composed of the governor of New France, a bishop, and an intendant (the chief representative of royal power in a French colony). France shipped boatloads of demoiselles bien choisies (young women of good health and upbringing), or filles du roi (king's girls), to raise the numbers and help settle New France. Jean Talon (1626–1694), the first intendant of New France, was instrumental in doubling the population, between 1666 and 1678, to 7,605 settlers. He was joined in his efforts by the first bishop, François de Montmorency-Laval (1623–1708), who established the seminary that became the University of Laval, and the governor of New France, Louis de Buade, the Comte de Frontenac (1622–1698).

Talon also successfully implemented the seigneurial system, in which feudal land tenures were granted to settlers (called seigneurs) free of charge in exchange for clearing the land and pledging loyalty to the king of France. The seigneur, in turn, subdivided his acreage to tenants who paid a nominal rent, cleared, and farmed the land. These settlers, called habitants, were the first French Canadians. Soon the settlements had, at their center, a parish church and an established curé (priest) to meet their religious needs. In addition to the habitants, there were the coureurs des bois (literally, “runners of the woods”), traders who negotiated for furs with the Indians in the upper reaches of the Ottawa River and around the Great Lakes.

The French settled in other parts of North America as well. In the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), France ceded Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, and Acadia to England, which had a much larger presence in North America due in large part to the fact that the French government allowed only Catholics to settle in the New World, while no such restrictions were imposed by the English. The French, however, retained control of present-day Cape Breton Island on the eastern end of Nova Scotia, where they built the fortress of Louisburg (1720–1740) to defend their remaining territory. In addition to Acadia (later to be known as the Maritime Provinces), the French could Page 169  |  Top of Articlebe found in the coastal region of northern Maine. The first Acadian settlement was established in 1604 by Pierre du Gua, Sieur de Monts, at St. Croix Island in the Bay of Fundy. Sixty-five hundred Acadians were deported to the American colonies in 1755 for having refused to take an oath to the king of England. Many of them later found their way to Louisiana where they came to be known as Cajuns, a derivation of the name Acadian. Other early French towns in the United States included Detroit, Michigan, founded in 1701 by Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac (1658–1730), who also served as colonial governor of the Louisiana territory.

Finally, the majority of French settlers outside of Quebec were concentrated in the areas that became the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois. The Louisiana Territory was claimed for France in 1682 and named for King Louis XIV by explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle (1643–1687). French forts along the Mississippi River spread north-ward from New Orleans. A pair of French Canadians founded and helped to colonize this southern French territory. Pierre le Moyne d'Iberville (1661–1706) established the city of Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1699, and Jean-Baptiste le Moyne de Bienville, established New Orleans in 1718. In 1803 the United States bought the Louisiana Territory, which spread from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, from France for $15 million in what is known as the Louisiana Purchase.

There are many other place names in the United States that tell of French influence and settlement. The state of Maine is said to have been named for the province of Mayne in France, and Vermont comes from the French words vert mont, meaning “green mountain.” Duluth, Minnesota, is named for Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Lhut (1636–1710), who claimed Lake Superior and the upper Mississippi region for France. Likewise, Dubuque, Iowa, is named for Julien Dubuque (1762–1810), a pioneer settler of Iowa. Vestiges of its French origins remain in Minnesota's state motto, L'Étoile du Nord (Star of the North).

The English, French, and Spanish all wanted to claim North America for their own. After a series of smaller skirmishes, the French and Indian Wars of 1689–1763 pitted the French against the English, finally leading to the fall of the French colonies. These battles, offshoots or extensions of various European wars, culminating in the Seven Years' War, saw the French and native peoples aligned against the British and their American colonists. In 1745 English forces captured the fort at Louisburg, which was returned to France in 1748. The most renowned battle, however, took place on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 in modern-day Quebec City. By the time the assault


CENGAGE LEARNING, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED U.S. Census Bureau, 2009–2011 American Community Survey

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The grandmother of French Canadian potato farmer Patrick Dumond is depicted, c. 1940.

The grandmother of French Canadian potato farmer Patrick Dumond is depicted, c. 1940. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

was over, both the French general, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (1712–1759), and the British commander, Brigadier General James Wolfe (1727–1759), lay dead on the battlefield. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, and France ceded its Canadian and American territories east of the Mississippi to England, as well as much of its Louisiana Territory to Spain as compensation for Florida, which Spain had yielded to England. This temporarily ended immigration from France to the Canadian colonies—the French numbered around 75,000 in 1763. During the American Revolution, some French Canadians moved to the United States to escape British rule, while many American Loyalists (British sympathizers) were granted land in Quebec and the Maritime Provinces.

In recognition of the differing interests of English and French Canadians, what are now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec became Upper Canada and Lower Canada, respectively, in 1791. Lower Canada had its own legislature, and French Canadians were allowed to practice their Roman Catholic religion. Nevertheless, tensions over the settlers' demands for a local government that was responsive to their needs culminated in a revolt in 1837. After the rebellion was quelled, the two halves were joined in 1840. A small number of the French rebels fled to the United States, particularly to New England. Finally, the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867.

The battle to maintain French Canadian culture and language under British rule also surfaced outside of Quebec. Resentful of the encroaching power of the English from the east, Louis Riel led a group of French Canadian Métis (individuals who are part French and part American Indian) in an attack on Upper Fort Garry, the main camp of the Hudson Bay Company, in 1869. Riel was one-eighth Native Canadian and seven-eighths French Canadian, and his Métis followers were of similarly mixed native and French ancestry. They captured the fort and used it as leverage to bargain for special rights for the French and the Métis in Manitoba.

Riel's actions—including the execution of Thomas Scott, a Protestant who fought the French Canadians and Métis—led to a growing hatred on the part of the English in the east. Although Manitoba entered the Canadian confederation in 1870, Riel was banished from Canada in 1875. He settled in Montana temporarily, but returned to Canada in 1884 to participate in the fight for French Canadian and Métis independence. He was charged with treason and later executed for his part in the Saskatchewan Rebellion of 1885.

Modern Era French Canadians' resentment of having to subordinate themselves to British rule continued into the twentieth century. When World War I broke out in 1914, French Canadians fought against conscription, refusing to fight in what they perceived to be Britain's war. French-speaking Canadians also fought to have their culture and language recognized and maintained. The 1960s saw a resurgence in the so-called Quiet Revolution to preserve “Québec for the French Canadians,” and French Canadians in this province began to increasingly self-identify as Quebecois. In 1976 the Parti Québécois (PQ), a group of militant separatists, was elected to national office for the first time. Their leader was René Lévesque (1922–1987). The year after gaining power, the PQ declared French to be the official language of the province of Quebec. This was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1979, but French continues to be used as the language of government in Quebec and is the province's only official language.

A number of referenda have been taken in Quebec to gauge popular support for the idea of seceding from Canada. In 1980 the vote was against secession, but just two years later the province refused to acknowledge the new Canadian constitution. To address this Page 171  |  Top of Articleissue, the premiers of the provinces met in 1987 and drew up the Meech Lake Accord (named for the site of the meetings). The accord recognized Quebec as a “distinct society,” but changes to the constitution were not forthcoming since many English Canadians were opposed to special treatment for Quebec. The accord failed to be ratified by all the provinces. The Quebec electorate narrowly defeated a referendum that would have allowed Quebec to secede from Canada in 1995. In 2012 the Parti Québécois, which continues to be nominally separatist in nature, returned to power in the provincial government. During a victory speech, violence broke out, and one person was killed and another critically wounded. Such violence, however, is not indicative of a vibrant separatist movement in Quebec; while the Parti Québécois won election at the provincial level in 2012, the 2012 national election saw most of the province's seats in Parliament go to the pro-Canada New Democratic Party rather than the nationalist party Bloc Québécois.


The first French Canadians to arrive in the United States were fur traders and missionaries who came to the area that is now Michigan. Between 1755 and 1762, Acadians, the first large group of French Canadians (although they did not identify as French Canadian at the time since Acadia was separate from the rest of Canada) to immigrate to the United States, left the area that later became Nova Scotia to escape ethnic and religious harassment. Others fled Canada in the aftermath of the Patriote Rebellion of 1837, when hostility toward the French again intensified. The large number who crossed the border in the nineteenth century, particularly to the New England states, generally came seeking the opportunity for a better life. These immigrants were predominantly young adults, and many already had families. Traditionally, French Canadian Americans had large families, and these numbers, coupled with dismal economic conditions, drove them southward. Some estimates put the extent of the migration at 900,000 people between 1840 and 1930, which had the effect of draining Canada of a whole generation.

They were drawn to the work in textile mills and the logging industry—for some as a means of escaping the backbreaking farmwork that shaped their lives in Quebec, and for others as an opportunity to save money before returning to their lives on the farms. Six mills opened in Lewiston, Maine, between 1819 and 1869, drawing a large number of French Canadians to the area. Wherever they settled, French Canadian Americans sought to build a sense of community similar to those of French Canadian communities in Canada. For French Canadian Americans of this period, family life was centered on a parish church and school, thus combining both the nuclear family and the extended family of the ethnic community. By 1850 about 20,000 French Canadians had settled in the New England area, with the majority living in Vermont. By 1860 there were another 18,000, including clusters in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

The influx of French Canadians in the years following the American Civil War resulted from the initiative of American businessmen to expand the textile and shoe industries. Although the French Canadian population was largest in Vermont throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Massachusetts claimed the majority after 1870. In The French-Canadian Heritage in New England, Gerard J. Brault notes that French Canadians “have the distinction of being the only major ethnic group to have immigrated to the United States in any significant number by train.” Most French Canadians settled in a circular pattern radiating out from Boston—in towns such as Lewiston, Maine; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Lowell, Massachusetts, to the north; Worcester and Holyoke, Massachusetts, to the west; and Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Fall River, Massachusetts, to the south. New York State also attracted some settlers, as did the midwestern states of Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota. The majority of Franco-American settlements were established from the 1860s to the 1880s, though some areas of Vermont had high numbers of French Canadian Americans as early as 1815.

Quebec did not enjoy losing its youth. Starting in 1875, the Canadian government made fairly successful efforts to bring them back by offering either free or cheap land. In fact, up to half of those who had emigrated had returned to Canada by 1900. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, recessions in the United States and relative prosperity at home meant that immigration to the United States declined, and some French Canadian immigrants returned home.

French Canadian settlers in the United States maintained a high level of concentration and a low level of mobility. Census data for 1900 reveals that there were 1.2 million individuals of Canadian ancestry living in the United States, which was equal to one-fourth of Canada's total population. By that time, towns such as Woonsocket, Rhode Island (60 percent French Canadian American), and Biddeford, Maine (also 60 percent), were very much French Canadian. The most outstanding example is the area in Maine along the Canadian border, known as the St. John Valley, which was almost entirely Franco-American, populated both by French Canadians from Quebec and Acadians from New Brunswick. This level of concentration heightened the sense of community for the new immigrants and facilitated getting French Canadian priests to serve the thriving parishes. Spiritual guidance and a sense of community became all the more important because, for those who toiled in the mills, “home” was no longer fresh air and open land but crowded, dingy tenement houses.

According to The Canadian Born in the United States (1943), which used American census data, 47 percent of those reporting themselves as “French Page 172  |  Top of ArticleCanadian born” had immigrated to the United States earlier than 1900. Almost 16 percent of those in the United States through the year 1930 had arrived between 1901 and 1910, while about 10 percent had arrived between 1920 and 1930.

The fact that French Canadians formed such large groups meant that they were able to set their own pace for assimilation. Many chose to retain their Canadian citizenship. Unmarried female immigrants, on the other hand, were more likely than other French Canadians to become naturalized U.S. citizens. The 1920s and 1930s were decades of strength for French Canadian Americans. By that time, French Canadian organizations had been established, French-language newspapers had begun to thrive, and there had been successful battles against attempts to abolish teaching in French within French Canadian schools. Mount Saint Charles Academy, a Franco-American diocesan high school in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, was established in 1924 and hailed as a strong academic school. Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, continues to offer Franco-American studies as well as French-language instruction. Founded in 1904, it was built upon the model of the French Canadian collège classique, in which liberal arts were taught with traditional values and Catholic doctrine.

Elementary schools were set up in great numbers in the 1920s and 1930s. These were parochial schools, supported by the parishes, and they offered a half day of exposure to French language and culture. Such organizations, and the Franco-American community as a whole, came under increased scrutiny in the interwar period as extreme nativist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan decried the presence of French-speaking and Catholic institutions in the United States.

French speakers in Canada have retained the language in its more archaic form, while the language has evolved in France to include numerous idioms and entirely new words. In turn, Canadian French has been influenced by words from Native American languages as well as from English.

Maintaining French identity continued to be a challenge after World War II. The initial immigrants had established a tenuous community of French-language parishes, schools, press, and fraternal organizations, but the group was slowly assimilating or abandoning its French Canadian identity under pressure from nativist groups, and there was no large wave of immigration to keep up the enthusiasm. Immigration to the United States dropped off after the Great Depression of the 1930s. At the same time, many French Canadian Americans took advantage of the proximity of their home country, choosing to live in whichever country had the better economic conditions at the time.

The French were also regarded differently in Canada than in the United States—in Canada they represented one of the two founding nations, while in the United States they were just one of many ethnic groups within the American “melting pot.” After World War II, the original incentives to maintain a tight community faded away. With the help of the GI Bill, more French Canadian Americans had the opportunity to get a higher education, for example, and their economic situations improved so that they no longer had to huddle in tenement houses while working long, hard hours in the textile and shoe mills. As a result, many began to drift outside of traditional Franco-American enclaves and into ethnically diverse suburbs. For example, most of the once-numerous French-speaking parochial schools near Albany, New York, had ceased to exist by the 1960s, having been demolished for urban renewal or sold to other denominations.

This trend reversed in the 1970s and 1980s, however, with a move toward reviving French Canadian traditions and language taking hold particularly among the educated elite. Many books have been written, in both English and French, on the Franco-American experience, and a number of historical centers, such as the French Institute at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, support Franco-American studies.

Historically, most of the French Canadian immigrants settled in the New England states, geographically closest to the province of Quebec, and most Franco-Americans continue to live in New England or in the Great Lakes area. Franco-American New England is often divided into three regions: (1) central and southeastern New England, which includes southern Maine; (2) western Vermont and upper New York State; and (3) northern Maine, particularly the area known as the St. John Valley. French Canadians make up from one-half to three-fourths of the populations of several cities in Maine, including Madawaska, Frenchville, Van Buren, Fort Kent, and Lewiston, and they compose 58 percent of the population of Berlin, New Hampshire. Massachusetts has fallen to fifth place in per-capita population among states that are home to large numbers of French Canadians, outranked by New Hampshire (25.2 percent), Vermont (23.3 percent), Maine (22.8 percent), and Rhode Island (17.2 percent).

It is interesting to note that the number of individuals citing their ancestry as French Canadian for the 1990 U.S. Census was substantially larger than for the census a decade earlier. One possible explanation given by census takers was that French Canadian was listed among sample response categories—intended to help those who were uncertain of their ethnic origin—in 1990, but had not been in 1980. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Americans identifying themselves as French Canadians rose from 2,167,127 to 2,349,684, but by 2010, the number of French Canadian Americans had fallen slightly to 2,138,601. Page 173  |  Top of ArticleOnly 91,000 of that group had been born outside the United States, and only 47,000 were not American citizens, suggesting that most French Canadian Americans consider themselves permanent residents. However, these numbers are somewhat complicated by the fact that many people of French Canadian descent identify as French on census forms, while others identify as simply Canadian.


French belongs to the Romance, or Latin, subgroup of Indo-European languages. There are approximately 98 million people around the world who consider French their native tongue. In addition to France and Canada, those people generally live in Belgium, Switzerland, and parts of Africa. The biggest difference between the French spoken in France and in Canada is in accent, just as there are distinct differences in the English spoken in England and in the United States. Even within Canada, there are distinctions between the language of Acadians and other French-speaking Canadians. French speakers in Canada have retained the language in its more archaic form, while the language has evolved in France to include numerous idioms and entirely new words. In turn, Canadian French has been influenced by words from Native American languages as well as from English.

In addition to the people of Quebec, some 300,000 Canadians living in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island speak French as their first language. Because of the extent of both English and French speakers, Canada has evolved as a bilingual country. In 1867 the Parliament of Canada passed the British North America Act, now known as the Constitution Act, which legitimized parliamentary debates in French as well as in English. In 1969 Parliament passed the first in a series of Official Language Acts that recognized both English and French as official languages of Canada, cementing the country's bilingual nature. Today, everything from bank notes and postage stamps to street signs and legal documents are written in both English and French.

Greetings and Popular Expressions Some of the most common French Canadian sayings are similar to those of France. Greetings and popular expressions include: bonjour or salut—each of which can be translated as “hello” depending on what degree of formality is intended; au revoir—goodbye; bonne chance—good luck; merci—thank you; de rien or il n'y a pas de quoi—you're welcome, or (literally in the first case), it's nothing; félicitations—congratulations; bonne fête or joyeux anniversaire—happy birthday; bonne année—happy new year; joyeux Noël—merry Christmas; and à votre santé—to your health.


Religion is at the heart of French Canadian life. In Canada, French Canadians were staunch Roman Catholics, and this did not change when they immigrated

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Many French Canadian proverbs are similar to those found today in English, although several are French Canadian in origin. Some well-known examples include: Each to his/her own taste; God dictates and women decide; Better to prevent than to heal; If the young knew and if the old could …; To leave is to die a little; Speech is silver, but silence is golden; Better late than never; Slow but sure; After the storm comes good weather; Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are; and, One you have is worth more than two you think you may get.

Mieux vaut manger un pan debout qu'un stak a genoux.

It is better to eat a scrap of bread standing up than to dine on steak on your knees.

Ce qu'on laisse sur la table fait plus de bien que ce qu'on y prend.

What you leave on the table may be better for you than what you take away.

Ça commence par un baiser, ça finit par un bébé.

What begins with a kiss may finish with a baby.

L'amitié, c'est l'amour en habits de semaine.

Friendship is love in weekday clothes.

to the United States. In fact, as was true in Canada, the church was an integral part of the early settlements—often the priest acted as counselor in secular matters in addition to serving as spiritual leader. Some of the earliest parishes were established in the 1830s and 1840s in rural northern Maine. By the turn of the century, there were eighty-nine Franco-American parishes.

In Ethnic Diversity in Catholic America, Harold J. Abramson states that the completeness with which French Canadian Americans transplanted their religion, especially to the New England area, was partly due to being close to Canada. Basically, the immigrants set up the same sort of parish-centered social organization that had existed in their home country. In his tale of Franco-American life in New England, The Shadows of the Trees, Jacques Ducharme writes, “The Franco-Americans are profoundly attached to their parish church, and there one may see them every Sunday. … From Maine to Connecticut these churches stand, forming a forest of steeples where Page 174  |  Top of Articlemen, women and children come to pray in French and listen to sermons in French. When the tabernacle bell rings, know that it proclaims the presence of le bon dieu [the good God].”

Despite their proximity to Canada, French Canadians in New England experienced many of the trials typical to new immigrants, including religious and linguistic discrimination. The church offered them a place where their language could be freely spoken and celebrated. But in the early days, parishes were often served by priests who spoke little or no French. Because of this, many attendees could not understand sermons, risked getting their fast days wrong, and gave little for special collections because they did not understand what they were for. To address this problem, a number of French Canadian nuns traveled to New England, where they became teachers in the newly built parochial schools and helped to kindle a sense of community among French Canadian immigrants.

The fight for French-speaking priests began in earnest in the late nineteenth century. For example, in October 1884 parishioners at the Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes Church in Fall River, Massachusetts, began a two-year struggle with the Irish American bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, in whose diocese they lived, to regain a French-speaking priest after the death of their French Canadian pastor. Their battle was finally successful, ending what became known as the Flint Affair.

Often it was the Irish Americans who opposed French-language services. In May 1897, for example, French Canadian Americans in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, wrote to the papal delegate to tell him that their Irish American priest would not allow religious services or teaching in French, but it was not until 1903 that a French priest and French services were permitted. Such fights also went on in communities in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine. It was also some time before French Canadians assumed positions of power within the Catholic Church. The first Franco-American bishop was Georges-Albert Guertin (1869–1931), who was named bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1906. He was followed by, among others, Ernest J. Primeau (bishop from 1960 to 1974) and Odore Joseph Gendron (1975–1990).

These battles with Irish Americans over religious issues continued into the 1920s. One of the most notable was the Sentinelle Affair of 1924–1929. A group of French Canadian Americans, most from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, had been concerned about their religion, language, and culture surviving in the United States. They resented the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the United States, which was mostly Irish, and militantly defended Franco-American parochial schools and the fragile autonomy of French-language parishes. While other French Canadian Americans in these regions supported assimilation efforts, militant Franco-Americans vocally opposed the construction of English-language schools in the area and were subsequently excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1928, although they would ultimately relent and be accepted back into the church.

Religion played another role in Franco-American communities through religiously affiliated fraternal organizations. Like other ethnic groups, French Canadian Americans set these up to offer insurance as well as language and cultural activities to new and recent immigrants. The older of the two most prominent mutual benefit and advocacy organizations is the Association Canado-Américaine, founded in 1896, followed by the Union St. Jean Baptiste in 1900. Both have been incorporated into parent companies, with the former affiliated with ACA Assurance and the latter affiliated with Catholic Financial Life (formerly Catholic Family Life Insurance).

Although French Canadian Americans have been assimilated into American society over time, there are still a handful of French Canadian churches in existence in the United States in areas that are home to large French Canadian populations, including some that have their services in French.


Traditions and Customs French Canadian life, in Canada and in the United States, centered on the community—first that of the family (which tended to be large), and then that of the larger French-speaking community, particularly the church and school. One thing French Canadian Americans had in common with their French Canadian ancestors was resistance to other ethnic influences. In Canada, French-speakers long opposed all things British, and in the United States, Irish or English Americans often viewed the newest immigrants as interlopers. This lack of acceptance helped to draw Franco-Americans closer together and resulted in the maintaining of traditions, customs, and language through the generations. Many of the traditions and beliefs are also tied to a strong sense of religion. To be a Franco-American immigrant was for most to be a strict Catholic, especially for the early settlers.

Because of the proximity of Canada—at least to the large pockets of French Canadian Americans in New England—many French Canadians in the United States still have strong ties to their home country. However, family ties have seemed to diminish with each passing generation: many third- and fourth-generation French Canadian Americans have lost touch with relatives who remained in Canada or who returned there. French-language newspapers and Franco-American studies programs continue to help French Canadian Americans keep abreast of what is going on in Quebec. There is also a major effort to preserve the French Canadian heritage in areas where it is an important part of state and local history, and Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont all hold annual Franco-American Day festivals to keep that culture alive.

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Cuisine French Canadian farmers ate hearty, simple meals. Breads and other baked goods were popular and readily available. Breakfast items included pancakes, fried eggs, salt pork spread on slices of bread, coffee, and tea. Soup, made from peas, cabbage, or barley, was a staple for lunch and dinner meals. Daily menus also frequently included potatoes, bread and butter covered in maple syrup, pork, and seasonal vegetables. In keeping with Roman Catholic tradition, no meat was served on Fridays.

More elaborate meals were prepared for special religious holidays and celebrations. Tourtière (pork and spice pie), cretons (pork terrine), ragoût boulettes (a stew of chicken, beef, or veal), boudin (blood sausage) and sugar pies are some of the dishes associated with French Canadians. In fact, one French Canadian dish, poutine (french fries covered with gravy and cheese curds) is now being served in some North American fast-food restaurants.

Traditional Dress Traditional French Canadian clothing harkens back to the days when the coureurs des bois hunted for beaver pelts and the voyageurs explored Canada. Most recognizable were the brightly colored woven sashes, or ceintures fléchées.

Early French Canadian settlers wore more common clothing, however, opting for flannel shirts over loose-fitting pants fashioned of droguet, or drugget, a durable, coarse woolen fabric. The pants were held up by suspenders or a broad leather belt. On his feet, a man wore stockings and moccasin-style boots. To combat the cold, the French Canadian farmer added a vest or sweater, a tuque (woolen cap), and an overcoat made of wool or animal skins fastened about his waist with a ceinture fléchée.

Women made many of these materials, such as the drugget. They too wore woolen stockings and moccasins in addition to a flannel skirt over a heavy slip, or jupon, as well as a long-sleeved bodice and sturdy apron. In the winter, women wore heavier blouses and skirts, shawls, and a cotton or woolen capuche (hood) on their heads to keep warm. Since most French Canadian Americans today live in towns or cities rather than on farms, these clothes are worn only for cultural festivals. Part of the assimilation process was to adopt “American” clothing.

Dances and Songs Rounds were a popular form of song for French Canadians. Round dances, in which the participants, often children, danced in a circle making certain actions as they sang, were also popular.

Among the most popular traditional folk songs were those that told stories of settlers, voyageurs, or kings, as well as courtships between maidens and young men. For example, “À Saint Malo” told the tale of ladies and sailors who argued over the price of grain until the women eventually won and got the grain for nothing. Perhaps the best-known song

Three French-Canadian farmers stand together outside a potato starch factory.

Three French-Canadian farmers stand together outside a potato starch factory. CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

is “Alouette,” which came from France but is identified with Quebec. Often sung by schoolchildren, the song, which tells the tale of a lark, can be sung as a round.

Traditional French Canadian dances include the quadrille and the gigue (jig). Square dancing, with many of the calls in French, also became popular in the twentieth century. All of these involved musical accompaniment—with fiddles, harmonicas, and, later, accordions. As part of the tight family and community structures in French Canadian life, music and dancing were featured at every celebration.

Holidays Some of the major French Canadian holidays are part of the Christmas season, from Advent (a time of fasting and prayer beginning four Sundays before Christmas) to Christmas Day with its midnight mass followed by a réveille (a repast designed to “wake you up”). There is also the feast of New Year's Day (a holy day of obligation for Catholics on which they must attend mass) that includes family visits and the bénédiction paternelle, in which the father blesses all of his children and grandchildren, and finally Epiphany (called la Fête des Rois) on January 6. For the evening meal on January 6 it is a French Canadian tradition to serve the Twelfth Night Cake (le gâteau des Rois—“the cake of the kings”). Inside the cake are a pea and a bean; whoever gets the slice with the bean is deemed king and whoever finds the pea is named queen. La Chandeleur, or Candlemas, another winter holiday, celebrated on February 2, included a candlelit mass and pancake parties in the evening.

In addition to the religious services of Holy Week and Easter in the spring, there is Saint Jean-Baptiste Day on June 24. John the Baptist was declared the patron saint of French Canadians by the pope in 1908, and a society was established in the saint's name in 1834 to promote patriotic celebrations. November features both All Saints' Day (on the first) and Saint Page 176  |  Top of ArticleCatherine's Day (on the twenty-fifth); on the latter it is a French Canadian custom to pull taffy.

Although devout Franco-Americans still observe a number of these traditions and holidays, the French Canadian population in America, as in Canada, has become increasingly secular in recent years and tends only to observe the major religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

Health Issues In the early days of French Canadian immigration, there were no ailments specific to French Canadians in the United States, with the exception of occupational maladies related to the fact that many of the newly arrived immigrants worked in dusty, grimy mills or quarries. Dr. Paul Dufault (1894–1969) and Dr. Gabriel Nadeau (1900–1979), both French Canadian immigrants, were leaders in the treatment of tuberculosis, spending the better part of their careers at the Rutland Massachusetts State Hospital, the first state hospital for tuberculosis patients in the United States.

By the late twentieth century, physicians had begun diagnosing familial hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol levels in the blood) among descendants of French Canadians living in the United States. There are two forms of the disease: the most common form is the heterozygous, which results in cholesterol rates two to three times the normal range, whereas the homozygous form results in rates six to eight times the normal range. In some areas of Quebec, the disease is occurring at six times the average rate elsewhere, whereas within the United States, physicians are most concerned about the Lewiston-Auburn area of Maine, where incidences are occurring at a rate of ten times that of the rest of the country. Physicians recommend that descendants of French Canadians begin testing for the disease at the age of five. Once diagnosed, many need to begin taking medication, often starting the medication in childhood. Without that medication, those suffering from familial hypercholesterolemia may suffer potentially fatal heart attacks.

Since modern-day French Canadian Americans often speak only English, they avoid the problems with American health care that is common among immigrant populations for whom language is a barrier. Likewise, the similarity of the cultures of the United States and Canada also preclude cultural problems involved in obtaining health care.

Death and Burial Rites Gerard J. Brault states that early French Canadian immigrants to the United States feared sudden death, or la mort subité, mostly because it meant there would be no time to prepare for death, particularly for the administering of the last rites by a priest. When a person died, the church sexton signaled the death by ringing the church bells to inform the town that there had been a death: one stroke signaled the death of a child; two, of a woman; and three, of a man.

The wake lasted for three days, during which visitors consoled the family at home. Until it became the practice to carry out wakes in “funeral parlors,” the dead were laid out in the family home. Flowers were not part of the setting, although it was customary to shroud the room in white sheets so that it resembled a chapel and to hang a cross between a pair of candles at the person's head. Visitors came to pray with the family, gathering every hour to recite the rosary.

After the wake, a morning funeral was held, complete with a mass in church, and then the body was taken to the cemetery for burial. The priest accompanied the family and other mourners and said a prayer as the casket was lowered into the burial plot. Everyone then returned to the family's home for a meal in honor of the deceased.

In contemporary America, the assimilation of French Canadians means that there are few differences in death and burial rites between them and other Americans of the same religion.


The family is at the center of the French-Canadian American's world. In previous decades this meant not only the nuclear family but also the extended clan who came together to eat, play cards, sing, drink, and dance.

Courtship and Weddings The tradition for French Canadian immigrants at the turn of the century was a conservative courtship where a potential suitor might visit a young woman's home on Sunday evenings to spend time with the entire family. As the relationship progressed, these visits might become more intimate, while still remaining public, including taking a buggy ride or sitting on the porch swing. Eventually, the young man, or cavalier, asked the father for the hand of his blonde in marriage (blonde being a French Canadian term for “girlfriend”). Often the young man was at least twenty-one years old, although his fiancée could be as young as sixteen.

The wedding itself was a festive affair marked by feasting and dancing. In parishes, the marriage banns (announcements) were read for three consecutive Sundays, proclaiming the intention of that particular couple to marry. With all parishioners being so informed, anyone who knew of any impediments to the upcoming marriage could reveal them during that time. In rural Quebec, the banns might only be read once because this procedure was viewed as embarrassing to the couple.

Much like today, the groom was given a stag party in his honor. In this case it was called the enterrement de la vie de garçon, or “burial of the bachelor (literally, ‘boy’) life,” and was symbolized by a mock funeral in which the groom lay on planks while a eulogy, sincere or in fun, was read over him. The bride, in turn, was usually honored with a bridal shower.

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Wedding attire was influenced by the fashion of the time. The elaborateness of the ceremony was dictated by the wealth of the participants. The church bells pealed for the morning nuptial mass, and a reception followed. Honeymoons often meant a few days' stay at a relative's home. After marriage, French Canadian women were often expected to dress more conservatively and in darker colors, while men displayed their marital status by growing a mustache or wearing a gold watch and chain. Today, many of the marriage practices reflect a greater assimilation into American culture as well as a move away from a predominantly rural way of life.

Baptisms Until recently, French Canadian Americans tended to have large families, often with ten or more children. Baptisms, as a religious rite, were an integral part of life. In cases where there was risk that the newborn might not survive, the priest was called immediately to baptize the baby. Otherwise the ceremony was performed within the first week. Traditionally, boys were given the name Joseph as part of their name, and girls' names included the name Marie. Often one of the other given names was that of a godparent.

The role of godparent, as in other cultures, was and still is filled by close relatives or friends. They are responsible for bringing up the child if the parents die, part of which includes ensuring that the child is brought up in the Catholic faith. After the baptismal ceremony, the parents, godparents, child, and guests returned to a family home for a celebratory meal. Godparents brought gifts for the child and, in the past, for the mother also. The church sexton rang the church bells to mark the occasion.

Interactions with Other Americans Some tension has existed historically between French immigrants, who were not particularly numerous in New England, and French Canadians because, while French immigrants tended to be well-educated, most of the first French Canadian immigrants were farmers and received little, if any, formal education.

Because French Canadians immigrated to the United States in such large numbers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they became the majority group in towns such as Lowell, Massachusetts; Lewiston, Maine; and Manchester, New Hampshire. That majority status, coupled with the proximity to their homeland and the strength of tightly knit communities, eased the pain of assimilation faced by many other immigrant groups.

Although French Canadian Americans worked with Irish Americans in the mills and had religion in common, the language barrier and the sense that the Irish were established immigrants, having come a generation earlier, led to tension between them. In his 1943 account of New England immigrants, The Shadows of the Trees, Jacques Ducharme writes that “many were to feel the caillou celtique, or ‘Kelly Biscuit,’ for in the early days the Irish were not averse to violence by way of showing their distaste for the newcomers.” There was opposition to lessons being taught in French in schools, and it spilled over into the workplace, where there was favoritism based upon background, and into the church, where it took years before American bishops brought French-speaking priests to Franco-American parishes.

There was also rampant prejudice against Catholics and Jews in New England in the 1920s. By 1925 the Ku Klux Klan numbered more than half a million members in New England alone. It supported the Protestants in the area and their efforts to “take back what was their own.” This resulted in cross burnings and hooded klansmen fighting with French Canadian Americans throughout New England. Many French Canadian immigrants hid in their houses while the Klan stormed through the streets.

By the early twenty-first century, extensive assimilation, as well as a greater tolerance for diversity in American society, meant that little tension existed between French Canadians and their neighbors or between Protestants and Catholics. Second- and third-generation Franco-Americans often intermarried with Irish Americans, as their shared religions and similar experiences as immigrant groups gradually eased the initial tensions of the early and mid-twentieth century.


Immigration to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries effectively drained Quebec of a large number of its young adults. Economic times were tough in Canada, and the newly opened mills in New England offered employment for both women and men—although this was backbreaking, often unhealthy work. Many children joined the labor force in the mills as well. Women also earned money by taking in boarders. Another group of French Canadians settled near the forests of northern Maine to work in the logging industry.

While life improved economically for French Canadian immigrants after leaving their homeland, life in the rapidly industrializing United States tended to be harsh. Few French Canadians owned property, and almost none rose to supervisory positions in the mills and lumber camps in which they labored. They tended to live in overcrowded tenements. One study of the wages of cotton mill employees revealed that French Canadians earned an average of only $10.09 a week, less than the earnings of English, Irish, and Scottish immigrants doing the same jobs. In Lowell, Massachusetts, 52 percent of French Canadians in 1875 were considered impoverished. Poor health often accompanied poverty and overwork, making French Canadians susceptible to epidemics. In 1886, for instance, a diphtheria epidemic that swept through Brunswick, Maine, killed seventy-four French Canadians, mostly children. In Newburyport,

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French Canadian lumberjack in the North Woods of New Hampshire.

French Canadian lumberjack in the North Woods of New Hampshire. PHILIP SCALIA / ALAMY

Massachusetts, a study conducted in 1935 indicated that only 15.3 percent of French Canadians had achieved lower-middle-class status. Forty percent, on the other hand, ranked in the lowest economic group.

Although the first major wave of immigrants was made up predominantly of farmers, mill workers, and lumbermen with little education, there was also a select group of educated individuals, such as priests, doctors, and lawyers who came to serve the needs of their people. Of course, as Franco-Americans became more established, the numbers of professionals grew. There is a rich history of French-language journalism, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, in the early 1870s, Hugo Dubuque (1854–1928) of Fall River, Massachusetts, led the way in refuting U.S. labor commissioner Carroll D. Wright's description of French Canadian Americans as “the Chinese of the Eastern States”; Dubuque became a Massachusetts Superior Court justice after serving ten years (1888–1898) in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Another judge, Alfred J. Chretien, who was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1900, attended Harvard University after spending his adolescence in Quebec. After graduating, he established a law practice in Manchester, New Hampshire, and went on to be named chief justice of the Manchester Municipal Court in 1940. He played an active role in the formation of the Legal Aid Society of New Hampshire and was a member of the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges.

A number of French Canadian Americans distinguished themselves in labor unions and syndicates. J. William Belanger (1902–1986), born in Newmarket, New Hampshire, began his working career at the age of fourteen in the Hamlet Mills. As an employee of the Hope Knitting Company in Central Falls, Rhode Island, he founded a union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) during the Great Depression, and later became director of the Textile Union of Massachusetts, affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). In 1948 he was elected president of the Massachusetts CIO.

The first financial institution controlled by French Canadians in New England, the Banque Coopérative Lafayette, was set up in 1894 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Not long afterward, the first Franco-American Credit Union in the United States, La Caisse Populaire Sainte-Marie, opened in Manchester, New Hampshire, on November 24, 1908. Credit unions were founded in most of the important Franco-American centers of New England because Anglo banks in the area were hesitant to loan money to French Canadian immigrants. Initially parish-based, they later became independent entities that did much to support small businesses and to encourage home ownership. Today, credit unions are considered one of French Canadian Americans' most significant contributions to American life.

Because of the extensive assimilation of French Canadian Americans over time, the economic status and employment patterns of the group have come to mirror those of the general population. Some states, however, have continued to compile statistics on French Canadians. In 2010, for instance, Maine used federal census data to develop a profile of French Canadians who continued to cluster in the Saint John Valley of rural Aroostook County. With a total population of 321,994, French Canadian Americans were somewhat younger (at 39.1 years of age) than the state's general population (at 43.7 years). They were most likely to be employed in sales, production, natural resources, farming, and manufacturing than in other occupations. Their mean annual household income ($58,014) was only slightly lower than that of the general population ($61,648), indicating a high level of employment and economic assimilation.

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Historically, Franco-Americans supported the Democratic presidential candidate following the election of 1928 when the Catholic Al Smith was defeated by Herbert Hoover. Franco-Americans also voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, but by the elections of 1952 and 1956, most voted for the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. There are also regional trends: most today are Democrats, with the exception of French Canadian Americans in New Hampshire and Vermont, where many are “dyed-in-the-wool Republicans.” The Franco-American elite have also supported Republican candidates in the past, and even the working class has voted the Republican ticket, as they did in Rhode Island in 1908, to elect one of their own, Aram Pothier, as governor or to distinguish themselves from the Irish who usually voted the Democratic ticket, as in Worcester, Massachusetts. In both 2008 and 2012, large numbers of French Canadians expressed support for Democrat Barack Obama. In 2012 polls indicated that most Canadians shared that view, indicating that 90 percent would cast their vote for Obama if allowed to vote in the American presidential elections. Voting patterns usually take into account religious and economic considerations, with French Canadian Americans choosing the candidate who is most supportive of their views.

In addition to being involved in local politics—Maine alone boasts of more than 500 Franco-American mayors and state legislators in the twentieth century. There were also a number of Franco-Americans elected to state and federal politics as well. Aram J. Pothier (1854–1928), a Republican, was chosen governor of Rhode Island in 1908 and served two terms, from 1909 to 1915 and from 1925 to 1928. Subsequent Franco-American governors also served in Rhode Island, including Democrats Emery J. San Souci (1857–1936) from 1921 to 1923 and Philip W. Noël (1931–) from 1973 to 1977. The current governor of Maine, Republican Paul LePage, is also of French Canadian descent and is a native French speaker.

On a federal level, Franco-American Félix Hébert (1874–1969), a Republican U.S. senator from Rhode Island, was elected in 1928 and served until 1934. Jean-Charles Boucher (1894–1960) was also a U.S. senator. Born in Rivière-Ouelle, Quebec, Boucher's family moved to Lewiston, Maine, around the turn of the century, and he was elected a U.S. senator from Maine in 1935. Journalist Antonio Prince (1894–1973) made a run for the U.S. Senate in 1935 as a Democratic candidate but was not successful. Georgette Berube (1928–2005) of Lewiston, Maine, a member of the state legislature, also made a run in the Democratic primary of June 1982, but was defeated.

French Canadians elected to the U.S. House of Representatives include three French Canadian Americans from Rhode Island (Louis Monast from 1927 to 1929; Aime J. Forand, 1937–1939 and 1941–1961; and Fernand J. St. Germain from 1961 to 1982) and two from New Hampshire (Alphonse Roy from 1938 to 1939 and Norman E. D'Amours from 1975 to 1984). Internationally, editor Elie Vézina (1869–1942) was named a special ambassador to Haiti by President Hoover as a member of a commission of inquiry in 1930. Vézina, born in Quebec, founded the newspaper Le Devoir in Michigan. Franco-Americans were also named to consular posts in France; Alphonse Gaulin Jr. (1874–1937) of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, was consul to LeHavre in 1905 and to Marseilles in 1909, and Eugene-Louis Belisle was named consul to Limoges in 1906.

Military Service Franco-Americans have served in all of the major wars, including the American Revolution; some 800 French Canadian Americans are believed to have fought for American independence. Rémi Tremblay (1847–1926) fought in the Civil War and wrote about his experiences in a novel titled Un Revenant (1884). There are also many tales of French Canadians being tricked into enlisting in the Union Army. After being offered jobs in the United States and given gifts of money, many signed a document they could not read and traveled south only to find themselves put in uniform and bullied into taking part in the Civil War. For many who survived, it was a natural decision to stay in the United States, and if they were married, they sent for their families as soon as they were able.

One of the most famous images of World War II features a Franco-American, Private René A. Gagnon (1924–1979) of Manchester, New Hampshire, one of three American soldiers raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. It was captured on film by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. Gagnon survived the battle and returned from the war to settle in Hooksett, New Hampshire.


Academia Professor Gérard J. Brault (1929–) was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. A specialist on the Middle Ages, he is also interested in the language and culture of Franco-Americans. In 1986 he published The French-Canadian Heritage in New England, an important English-language work on Franco-American life in the United States.

Armand Chartier (1938–), born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was a professor of French at the University of Rhode Island until he retired in 2000. He published Histoire des Franco-Américains de la Nouvelle-Angleterre in 1991, a thorough compendium of facts and figures on Franco-Americans in New England from 1775 to 1990.

Claire Quintal (1930–) was a professor of French at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, as well as the founding director of the college's French Institute and the director of the graduate school. A native of Central Falls, Rhode Island, she is a scholar Page 180  |  Top of Articleof Franco-American, French, and French Canadian culture. Under her direction, the institute organized eleven colloquia, publishing the proceedings of these between 1980 and 1995.

Eloise Brière (1946–), born in Northampton,

Massachusetts, has taught at Rutgers University and the State University of New York at Albany. Among her published work are The North American French Language in New York State (1982) and Franco-American Profiles (1984).

Leslie Choquette is a professor of history, L'Institut français Professor of Francophone Cultures, and the director of the French Institute at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her published works include Frenchmen into Peasants: Modernity and Tradition in the Peopling of French Canada (1997) and “Center and Periphery in French North America,” in Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the New World, 1500–1820 (2002).

Mark Paul Richard is the associate director of the Center for the Study of Canada/Institute on Quebec Studies at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh. His major publication is Loyal but French: The Negotiation of Identity by French-Canadian Descendants in the United States (2008).

Art Cartoonist Garry Trudeau (1948–), the creator of the popular Doonesbury comic strip, is of French Canadian descent.

Broadcasting Born to French Canadian American parents, standup comic Dave Coulier (1959–) is best known for his portrayal of Joey Gladstone in the television sitcom Full House. Television personality and singer Kathie Lee Gifford (1953–), known chiefly for her turn as cohost of Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee (1985–2000), is the daughter of a French Canadian mother. Actor Matt LeBlanc (1967–), whose father is French Canadian, played Joey Tribbiani on the long-running sitcom Friends and its short-term spin-off Joey. Master chef and cooking-show host Emeril Lagasse (1959–) is the son of a French Canadian father and a Portuguese mother.

Film Actor Brendan Fraser (1968–), who is known for films such as The Mummy series and Journey to the Center of the Earth, is the son of French Canadian parents. Onetime rapper and current actor Mark Wahlberg (1971–) has a French Canadian mother. Wahlberg is best known for films such as The Perfect Storm and Planet of the Apes. After beginning her career on teen television shows such as The Secret World of Alex Max, actress Jessica Alba (1981–) went on to star in the popular Fantastic Four series and other films. Her mother is Danish/French Canadian, and her father is Mexican American. Actress Kelly Le Brock (1960–), who starred in Woman in Red and Weird Science, has a French Canadian father. Also of French Canadian ancestry, actor Mark Ruffalo (1967–) has proved his versatility in romantic comedies such as Just Like Heaven with Reese Witherspoon and action movies such as the 2012 remake of The Hulk, in which he plays physician-turned-monster David Banner.

Journalism Marthe Biron-Péloquin (1919–2012) came from a family of journalists. Her father, Louis-Alphonse Biron (1861–1947), was born in Saint-Louis-de-Lotbinière, Quebec, but after moving to Lowell, Massachusetts, he founded L'Impartial in 1898 and later acquired L'Étoile (1939–1957), a local daily. Marthe Biron-Péloquin wrote for L'Étoile and served as an editor for Bulletin de la Fédération féminine franco-américaine (Bulletin of the Federation of Franco-American Women) from 1973 to 1986. Wilfred Beaulieu (1900–1979) of Worcester, Massachusetts, was the longtime editor of the Franco-American newspaper Le Travailleur.

Literature Among the best-known Franco-American authors is “Beat Generation” novelist Jean-Louis “Jack” Kerouac (1922–1969). In addition to On the Road, he profiled his youth spent in the French-speaking community of Lowell, Massachusetts, in books such as Doctor Sax (1959), Visions of Gerard (1963), and Vanity of Duluoz (1968).

Annie Proulx (1935–) won the National Book Award (1993) and the Pulitzer Prize (1994) for The Shipping News. The novel also received the Heartland Prize from the Chicago Tribune and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize and was made into a major motion picture in 2001. She also wrote the short story “Brokeback Mountain,” which was also made into an Oscar-nominated movie in 2005. Proulx was awarded a Pen/Faulkner Award in 1993 for her first novel Postcards. David Robert Plante (1940–), who was born in Providence, Rhode Island, is a prolific writer with nine novels to his credit. He regularly publishes in prestigious magazines such as the New Yorker and the Paris Review. Robert B. Perreault, the only Franco-American to publish a French-language novel since 1938, wrote L'Heritage (1983) and Franco-American Life and Culture in Manchester, New Hampshire: Vivre la Différence (2010). Playwright Grégoire Chabot serves as the director of the Franco-American theater group Du Monde d'a Côté.

Music Celebrated worldwide for her mezzo-soprano voice, Alanis Morissette (1974–) is the daughter of a French Canadian/Irish father. Since its 1995 release, her debut album, Jagged Little Pill, has sold 33 million units. Although retaining her Canadian citizenship, singer Celine Dion, who was born in Quebec in 1968, is one of the top-selling recording artists in the United States. She spent much of the first decade of the twenty-first century living in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she was a headliner at Caesar's Palace.

Politics Born to a mother of French Canadian ancestry, Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947–) is a former First Lady of the United States (1993–2001) Page 181  |  Top of Articleand a former Democratic senator from New York (2001–2009). She was named U.S. secretary of state by President Barack Obama in 2009. Former United States senator Mike Gravel (1930–) represented Alaska from 1969 to 1981. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Born to French Canadian parents in Lewiston, Maine, Paul LePage (1948–) was elected governor of Maine in 2011.

Sports In addition to such legends as Napoléon “Nap” Lajoie (1874–1959), who was among the first ten members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Leo Durocher (1905–1982), who led the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the New York Giants to three National League pennants in 1941, 1951, and 1954, and the Giants to a World Series victory in 1954, French Canadian Jeff Francoeur (1984–) has made a name for himself in the world of Major League Baseball. Francoeur began his career with the Atlanta Braves in 2005 and later played with the New York Mets and Texas Rangers before signing with the Kansas City Royals in 2010.

Joan Benoit Samuelson (1957–) is a marathon runner who won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics and holds the record for fastest time in both the Olympic and Chicago marathons.

Martin Brodeur (1972–), goaltender for the New Jersey Devils professional ice hockey team, became an American citizen in 2009. He has the most wins of any National Hockey League goaltender in history. Other notable Franco-American hockey players include Mario Lemieux, John LeClair, and Brian Boucher.


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The first French Canadian newspaper published in the United States was Le Patriote Canadien, the first issue of which was printed in Burlington, Vermont, on August 7, 1839. The Franco-American press served not only to disseminate news, but also as a forum for ideas. French-language and bilingual papers flourished in the United States until the 1930s, when many were abandoned by readers in favor of English-language dailies. Others survived somewhat longer, including Le Canado-Américaine, which ceased publication in 1957, and Le Travailleur, which ceased publication in 1978. Raymond J. Barrette established Le Journal de Lowell in 1975 at a time when French-language newspapers had virtually died out in the United States. It survived until 2003 before shutting down. Union Saint Jean-Baptiste (formerly L'Union Saint Jean-Baptist d'Amerique) merged with Catholic Family Life Insurance in 1991. By the twenty-first century, French Canadian Americans had access to a plethora of newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations in the French language via the Internet. Consequently, many venues have opted for providing a web format rather than print ones. For instance, Telévision de Radio-Canada, which is owned by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, regularly streams its programs on the web.

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Le Forum (formerly Le F.A.R.O.G. Forum)

A bilingual quarterly first printed in 1972, it is published by the University of Maine's Center for Franco-American Studies with a circulation of more than 4,500. The journal offers articles on the activities of prominent Franco-Americans, book reviews, genealogy information, and scholarly pieces on Franco-American studies.

Yvon Labbé, Director
Franco-American Centre Franco-Américain
110 Crossland Hall
University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469-5719
Phone: (202) 581-3764

Le Soleil de la Floride

This monthly, founded in 1983 and with a circulation of 65,000, reaches French-speaking readers throughout Florida, Quebec, and parts of the Caribbean, especially French Canadian “snowbirds” who spend winter in warmer climates.

Louis S. St. Laurent, II, President and Coeditor
2117 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, Florida 33020
Phone: (954) 922-1800
Fax: (954) 922-8965


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WFEA-AM (1370)

“Chez Nous” with Roger Lacerte broadcasts from 9:00 a.m. to noon on Sundays.

Ray Garon, President/General Manager
500 Commercial Street
Manchester, New Hampshire 03101
Phone: (603) 669-5777
Fax: (603) 669-4641

WHTB-AM (1400)

Broadcasts every Sunday from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Bernard Theroux
1 Home Street
Somerset, Massachusetts 02725
Phone: (508) 678-9727
Fax: (508) 673-0310

WNRI-AM (1380)

Broadcast on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to noon.

Roger Laliberte
786 Diamond Hill Road
Woonsocket, Rhode Island 02895-1476
Phone: (401) 769-6925
Fax: (401) 762-0442

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In addition to the organizations listed below, there are many local historical societies and genealogical societies that target Franco-Americans.

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American-French Genealogical Society (AFGS)

Formed in 1978, the AFGS helps members of French Canadian extraction to trace their lineage and discover aspects of Franco-American culture.

Normand T. Deragon, President
78 Earle Street
Woonsocket, Rhode Island 02895
Phone: (401) 765-6141
Fax: (401) 597-6290

Union St. Jean-Baptiste (USJB)

USJB, which serves over 40,000 members, has local branches throughout New England. It is now a division of Catholic Financial Life (formerly Catholic Family Life Insurance).

259 Park Avenue
Woonsocket, Rhode Island 02895-9987
Phone: (401) 769-0520
Fax: (401) 766-3014


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Alliance Française de Los Angeles Cultural Center (AFDELA)

A part of the Alliance Française global network, AFDELA promotes the Francophone cultures through language classes and cultural activities.

10390 Santa Monica Boulevard
Suite 120
Los Angeles, California 90025
Phone: (310) 652-0306

Boston French Cultural Center

In association with the Alliance Française global network, the center is dedicated to promoting the French language and cultures in the New England area through language classes, cultural events, and an extensive library.

Catherine von der Branden, Executive Director
53 Marlborough Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Phone: (617) 912-0400

Centre Franco-Américain (Franco-American Center)

Established in 1991, the center is now part of St. Anselm College. It has been loosely affiliated with the fraternal organization Association Canado-Américaine. This resource center has an art gallery with featured exhibitions, a library, and offers French-language classes. The center is also affiliated with the Fédération Américaine Franco-American des Aînés/Francophone American Federation of the Elderly (FAFA), founded in 1981 to promote the interests of Franco-American seniors in both local affairs, as well as on a state and national scale.

Tina Dittrich, Executive Director
100 Saint Anselm Drive
Manchester, New Hampshire 03102-1310
Phone: (603) 641-7114
Fax: (603) 641-7229

Centre Franco-Américain de l'Université du Maine (Franco-American Center).

As part of the University of Maine since 1972, the center's resources include library and video materials on Franco-Americans and their publications, F.A.R.O.G. Forum and Maine Mosaic.

Yvon A. Labbé, Director
Crossland Hall
University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469-5719
Phone: (207) 581-3775

Conseil International d'Études Francophones

Founded in 1981, this research center conducts studies of Franco-American literature, history, culture, and language. There are approximately 300 individual members and twenty-five organizations.

Thierry Léger, Director General
Kennesaw State University
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
1000 Chastain Road
MD 2201
Kennesaw, Georgia 30339
Phone: (770) 423-6124

Franco-American Women's Institute

Established in 1996, the institute promotes the history and interest of French Canadian women as well as those of other French-speaking groups in the United States. It has an extensive archive of French Canadian history.

Rhea Côté Robbins, Founder and Director
641 South Main Street
Brewer, Maine 04412
Phone: (207) 989-7059

The French Institute

Founded in 1979, the institute is associated with Assumption College. It has organized eleven colloquia and published twelve books dealing with the French experience in New England. These include The Little Canadas of New England, as well as books on schools, religion, literature, the press, women, and folklore. The center collects documents on Franco-Americans, and its holdings contain such archival materials as Page 183  |  Top of Articlemanuscripts, newspapers, and books. The archives include material on organizations such as Association Canado-Américaine and L'Union Saint Jean-Baptiste d'Amerique and videos of episodes of Bonjour.

Leslie Choquette, Director
Emmanuel D'Alzon Library
3rd Floor
Assumption College
500 Salisbury Street
Worcester, Massachusetts 01609
Phone: (508) 767-7415
Fax: (508) 767-7374

Museum of Work and Culture

Maintained by the Rhode Island Historical Society, this museum is dedicated to the history of French Canadian immigrants in the Blackstone River Valley.

Ray Bacon and Anne Conway, Site Codirectors
42 South Main Street
Woonsocket, Rhode Island 02895
Phone: (401) 769-9675


Brault, Gerard J. The French-Canadian Heritage in New England. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1986.

Bumsted, J.M. Canada's Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003.

Je Parle Français: A Portrait of La Francophonie in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Heritage, 1999.

Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York: HarperPerennial, 2002.

Hamilton, Janice. Canadians in America. Minneapolis: Lerner, 2006.

Lee, Anthony W. A Shoemaker's Story: Being Chiefly about French Canadian Immigrants, Enterprising Photographers, Rascal Yankees, and Chinese Cobblers in a Nineteenth-Century Factory Town. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Louder, Dean R., and Eric Waddell, eds. French America: Mobility, Identity, and Minority Experience across the Continent. Translated by Franklin Philip. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.

Purnell, Larry D., and Betty J. Paulanka, eds. Transcultural Health Care: A Culturally Competent Approach. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 2003.

Richard, Mark Paul. Loyal but French: The Negotiation of Identity by French-Canadian Descendants in the United States. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008.

Simpson, Jeffrey. Star-Spangled Canadians: Canadians Living the American Dream. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

Takai, Yukari. Gendered Passages: French Canadian Migration to Lowell, Massachusetts, 1900–1920. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300075