Friday, March 15, 2019

The Little Canadas of New England

Dozens of Little Canadas have contributed a significant but often ignored part of the character and history of New England since the 19th century.

They’ve given us magnificent churches, Catholic hospitals and sports heroes like Springfield’s Leo Durocher and Woonsocket’s Nap LaJoie. They’ve produced writers like Annie Proulx, who comes from Norwich, Conn., and chefs like Emeril LaGasse, a native of Fall River.

People from the Little Canadas have toiled in textile and paper mills, defense factories and logging camps. They’ve sent politicians like Norm D’Amours from New Hampshire and Fernand St. Germain from Rhode Island to Congress.

Even today, New England’s Little Canadas celebrate midnight Mass at Christmas with pancakes afterward and serve poutine – French fries, gravy and cheese curds – in restaurants and social clubs.

Creating Little Canadas

By 1990, Massachusetts had the highest number of Franco-Americans in the United States, with 310,636 – and nearly half of all Franco-Americans in New England. New Hampshire ranked fifth, with 118,857, Connecticut sixth with 110,426 and Maine eighth with 110,209. French speakers comprise at least 14 percent of the residents of Coos County in New Hampshire and Androscoggin and Aroostook counties in Maine.

They didn’t all come at once. Some were expelled by the British in the Great Roundup of 1755. Some fled the fighting between the French and British in the Patriots Rebellion of 1837.

In the 19th century, most French Canadians who left for New England’s Little Canadas were young adults fleeing poverty, unemployment and backbreaking toil on subsistence farms.

Between 1840 and 1930, about 900,000 French-speaking Canadians left Québec to work in New England's factories, mills, potato fields and logging camps. The mythical figure Paul Bunyan was a Franco-American ( ‘Bunyan’ is similar to the Québécois phrase "bon yenne!").

By 1850, most Franco-Americans lived in Vermont, named from the French words vert mont, or green mountain. The state’s most famous Franco-American export was the wildly popular singer and actor, Rudy Vallee, born in Island Pond. Even today, 26 percent of the residents of Canaan, Vt., speak French.


By 1860, another 18,000 Canadian immigrants moved to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This time, the economic boom after the Civil War attracted waves of French Canadians. They came to the huge textile mills in Lewiston, Maine, in Woonsocket, R.I., in Berlin and Manchester, N.H., and in Lowell, Worcester, Holyoke, New Bedford and Fall River, Mass. They were the only major ethnic group to arrive in the United States by train.

By 1875, Quebec started luring its young people back by offering them free land. As many as half returned. They were called Canucks and resented by the Irish, who had arrived earlier and viewed them as interlopers willing to work for lower wages and take their mill jobs, tedious though they might be.

By 1900 they were still clustered in crowded Little Canadas like Woonsocket and Biddeford, Maine, both 60 percent Franco-American. The densest Little Canadas, not surprisingly, are along the Maine-Canada border in the St. John Valley. There, 79 percent of Frenchville residents speak French.


In the first decade of the 20th century, the population of Salem, Mass., was more than one-fifth Quebecois and their children. In South Salem’s Little Canada, children attended French schools like Sainte-Chrétienne. They built French churches like Église Sainte-Anne and they started French businesses like St. Pierre’s Garage, Ouellette Construction and Soucy Insurance.

Franco-Americans were almost all Roman Catholic, and strict ones at that. They believed that abandoning the French language meant abandoning their religion, and they clung to their language and customs longer than many other immigrant communities. They called it la survivance. Battles often erupted between French parishes and the Irish-dominated parishes over their desire to hire French-speaking priests.

Life in Little Canadas

Life in the Little Canadas revolved around the neighborhood parish and the home, where families were often large. By the 1920s, Little Canadas supported thriving French-language newspapers, Catholic schools, social clubs and fraternal organizations. They established Rivier College in Nashua and Assumption College in Worcester. They built the first Catholic hospital in Maine, St. Mary’s in Lewiston, and started the first credit union in the United States, also named St. Mary’s, in Manchester, N.H.

St. Ann Roman Catholic Church was built with nickels and dimes from Franco-American millworkers and painted with such magnificent frescoes it earned the nickname ‘the Sistine Chapel of Woonsocket.’

Manchester, N.H., had perhaps the most well-known of the Little Canadas on its west side, where Peyton Place author Grace Metalious and Revlon founder Charles Revson grew up. West Sider Rene Gagnon participated in the most celebrated flag raising in history, on Iwo Jima during World War II.

The most famous Franco-American author, Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac or Jack Kerouac, was born in Lowell’s Little Canada.

Tensions with the Irish continued into the 1920s, as well as with the Ku Klux Klan. Anti-Catholicism fueled the resurgence of the Klan in New England, especially Maine, and  Franco-Americans stayed in their houses when the Klan roamed through Little Canadas looking for trouble.

By then, New England’s mills were in decline, and Quebec’s economy was booming. Franco-Americans began to drift back to Canada, emptying out some of New England’s Little Canadas. Finally, World War II ended their cultural isolation.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Irish Catholic Churches in Quebec City

During the first half of the 19th century, thousands of immigrants from the British Isles arrived at the port city of Quebec. Most were fleeing poverty, famine, and overpopulation. Although most of the newcomers continued westward, a number, including many of the Irish Catholics, chose to remain in Quebec City.

In response to the sudden growth in population, the authorities encouraged the opening of new townships around the city. The Irish settled in Portneuf, Lotbinière, Dorchester, Lévis and Québec counties, north and south of the city.

In 1819, the Irish population of Quebec City numbered nearly 1000; by 1830, there were an estimated 6000 to 7000 Irish in the area, representing nearly a quarter of the total population. By 1861, 40 percent of Quebec City’s 10,000 inhabitants were English-speaking, largely because of the Irish families who by now made up 30 percent of the total population...more

Monday, February 25, 2019

HIstory of Mardi Gras. A celebration created by French immigrants

Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday," (or actually Fatty Tuesday if you translate directly). It celebrates the last day of "sinful living" before the Lent period begins for Christians. The tradition of partying before Lent is nothing new. It actually has its roots in Medieval France where alcohol and gluttony were considered sinful so in order to prepare for the lent period people would go all out and binge- kinda like pigging out before you go on a diet right before the diet actually begins.

Mardi Gras festivities started in North America when French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and his crew sailed to present day Louisiana under the orders of King Louis XIV. Iberville entered the mouth of the Mississippi river on the evening of March 2, 1699. Meanwhile another French explorer, La Salle, claimed all the land along the Mississippi river for France and called it Louisiana. d'Iberville went on to found Mobile, Alabama in 1702 and declared it the capital of French Louisiana (comprising numerous present day states). The first Mardi Gras celebration (one could say party) was organized in 1703. The celebrations took place each year without fail and the first informal mystic society, or krewe, was formed in Mobile in 1711 (the Boeuf Gras Society). 

More French settlers arrived from France AND other French possessions e.g. the Acadiens (say it fast and you get 'cajun') from Canada and French from Saint Domingue (modern day Haiti) and they all brought their own brand of Mardi Gras to La Louisiane.

It has definitely evolved over the years!

-courtesy Americans of French Descent

Monday, February 18, 2019

Quebec church records show grandmothers were 'essential to survival' in early days of New France

Researchers drawing from a vast data set of Quebec church records from the 17th and 18th centuries say the steep population jump in New France may have been prompted by an unlikely category of people: grandmothers.

The data shows that the closer in geographic proximity a woman lived to her daughter, the more children her daughter was likely to have — and the more likely those children were to survive...more

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Monday, February 4, 2019

Canada Census, 1926 (Family Search Historical Records)

The Census of the Prairie Provinces, 1926 (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta). 

Other Census years of the Prairie Provinces include the 1906 and 1916.

The national government of Canada has taken censuses every ten years since 1871 and every five years since 1971. The 1871 census covers the four original provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. The first coast-to-coast census was taken in 1881. Newfoundland was not part of Canada until 1949. For Newfoundland, there are few, found 19th-century censuses that list names. They mostly contain statistical summaries.

These censuses list a large quantity of the population in the areas surveyed. However, portions of some have been lost, and some areas within the provinces were missed by the census takers.

To Browse This Collection

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for Canada Census. 1926.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Earl Grey's Famine Orphan Scheme - What was it?

Earls Grey's Famine Orphan Scheme 

Between 1848 and 1850 over 4000 adolescent female orphans emigrated from Irish workhouses to the Australian colonies, arriving at Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Their emigration has become known as the ‘Earl Grey scheme’ after its principal architect, Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies in Lord John Russell’s Whig government at the time of the Great Irish Famine...more

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Missing Friends - Thomas McLaughlin

3 February 1832  Information Wanted

Son of Terence McLaughlin and Susan O'Brien, a native of the Parish of Dromore, Tyrone, Ireland, arrived about 14 days ago, at St. John's New Brunswick.

He visited Pennsylvania and Maryland. He has not been heard of for the last eight years.

Any information concerning him will be thankfully received by his sister, Mary Potts, Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Missing Friends - John Delahunty

Information Wanted: 12 November 1831

Of John Delahunty of Clonmore, Co. Tipperary, who arrived in America in 1818, and boarded at the house of Mr. William Gleeson, in Boston, at that time. 

His nephew has arrived in Boston, and has something of importance to communicate to him. Any information respecting him, directed to Mr. William Gleeson, or Michael Delahunty, Boston, will be thankfully received.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Search for Missing Friends

The tidal wave of Irish immigration to North America in the several decades after the potato famine of the 1840s is one of the great epic sagas of nineteenth century history. 

The thousands of immigrants who surmounted incredible hardships to reach Quebec, Montreal, Boston, New York City, or other ports often hoped to join relatives who were already here. Some families became separated at dockside or later, and many recent arrivals were "lost" to kinsmen in Ireland who wanted to hear from them. 

For eighty-five years, from 1831 to 1916, the "Missing Friends" advertisements in the Boston Pilot, the city's major Irish newspaper, helped bring immigrants and kin together. 

The First 7 Volumes contain collections of the advertisements in print in the Boston PILOT as follows: Volume I: 1831-1850, Volume II: 1851-1853, Volume III: 1854-1856, Volume IV: 1857-1860, Volume V: 1861-1865, Volume VI: 1866-1870, Volume VII: 1871-1876.

1 October 1831

Information Wanted

NOTICE: PATRICK MCDERMOTT a native of County Kildare, and who was married in Kingston, near Dublin, is hereby informed, that his wife and four children have arrived in Boston. They understand that he left Roxbury, in the State, about twelve months since, to obtain work as a stone mason, they are extremely anxious to hear from him. He is hereby requested to write or come for his poor family. to the city, as soon as possible.

Editors, with whom we exchange, will perform an act of charity by giving the above notice a few insertions.