Friday, March 29, 2019

New Hampshire PoutineFest - 2019

New England's original celebration of
Quebec's finest import!

June 22, 2019

Anheuser-Busch Merrimack, NH

Monday, March 25, 2019

A Community's Loss

The Mohawk of Kahnawake were renowned for their skill and agility when it came to high-steel construction. But in 1907, they were the hardest hit when the Quebec Bridge collapsed.

Shontoskwenne is what the Mohawks of Kahnawake call the Quebec City bridge disaster. It’s pronounced “soon-doe -SKWONN-nay,” and means “when the bridge fell.”

When the bridge fell, the Mohawks lost 33 of their men. Gone in an instant were breadwinners for 22 families, most of them in their 20s or 30s.

When the bridge fell, suddenly 25 women were widows, 53 children were fatherless. No other community was hit as hard.

When the bridge fell, the D’Aillaboust family suffered the biggest loss — four brothers, an uncle, a cousin and a brother-in-law all died, leaving 22 children without fathers. Ten of those were in the household of Joseph Orite D’Aillaboust, whose widow was pregnant with their 11th child.

When the bridge fell, it was also a major blow to Kahnawake’s increased economic reliance on high-steel construction, for which its workers had gained widespread acclaim.

“It is the most major event in our history;” says band elder Andrew Delisle Sr. He was chief of Kahnawake from 1963 to 1970 and 1974 to 1981, and in 1969 became the first Indigenous person to receive the Order of Canada. His uncle Mitchell Delisle, at 25, was a victim of shontoskwenne.

Delisle says Kahnawake “never has talked about it,” not because it was too painful to remember, but because “it was accepted right away” as part of Kahnawake’s proud tradition of bravery and independence.

“Young people wanted to emulate their forefathers’ bravery as voyageurs, warriors [helping the English capture Montreal without bloodshed in the Seven Years’ War] and rafters over the Lachine Rapids. Thus, they weren’t hesitant about the dangers of bridge-building. Their training as “rivet punks” began at age 12; they started by fetching equipment.

Riveting gangs enjoyed competing against one another to determine which would finish their riveting job first. Then “reservation Indians,” they never wanted to be dependent on the government, but rather to be self-sufficient. While permission was needed from the government’s Indian Agent to work off the reservation for most jobs, it was not [needed] for bridge-building, because of our skill.”

Kahnawake, its population then just over 2,000, was a close-knit community of extended families.

“Not every family had victims but everyone felt some loss because they knew a name or were neighbours,” says Billy Two Rivers, a council member from 1978 to 1998 and an organizer of a centennial commemoration to be held in 2007.

“It had a long-term impact on the family structure, creating an imbalance between men and women. It was a tremendous number of men to lose.”

Kahnawake, meaning “at the rapids,” is 10 kilometres southwest of Montreal.

Mohawks converted to Catholicism by French Jesuits established it in 1716. Until 1980, when Kahnawake was recognized as the official name, outsiders called it “Caughnawaga,” the way early Dutch settlers in America adjusted it to their language.

The phonetic English pronunciation is Guh-na-WA-geh. The chief sources of income were the fur trade, logging, farming, crafts (moccasins, snowshoes, beadwork) and river piloting, until the men got into bridge construction by chance.

In the 1850s the construction process fascinated river pilots who were delivering stone from Kahnawake’s quarries to the site of Montreal’s Victoria Bridge. Fearlessly, they clambered along the high support beams in their moccasins for a close-up view. Those in charge of the work were impressed. Until then it had been customary to hire sailors comfortable with heights. Easily trained, the Kahnawakehronon were quickly in demand, especially as riveters, the most dangerous high-steel job.

“They were as agile as goats … immune to the noise of riveting which usually makes newcomers to construction sick and dizzy,” a Dominion Bridge Company official was quoted in a 1949 New Yorker story about indigenous skyscraper builders. “Putting riveting tools in their hands was like putting ham with eggs.” By 1907, there were 70 Kahnawake bridge workers, almost half toiling on the Quebec Bridge.

The village learned of the disaster when its only phone rang in the post office at 6:30 p.m., 53 minutes after the bridge collapsed. Postmaster Antoine Glasson ran into the street with the devastating news. Desperate for information, 30 villagers went to the accident site the next morning.

“The poor old mother and two of the wives were there first thing this morning to find out if there was any hope,” the Toronto Star wrote of the D’Aillabousts. “Their quiet intense grief was most touching and brought tears to the eyes of onlookers even more than if it had been voiced. The poor things simply sat quiet in the office hardly uttering a word, but the mere look of their faces was enough to cause strong ones to lower their voices to whispers.”

Only eight Mohawk bodies were recovered. They were taken by train from Quebec City to Montreal, then transported to Kahnawake. Since the community only had two hearses, it borrowed four from neighbouring communities; the remaining two coffins were carried to St. Francis Xavier Church at Kahnawake for a Catholic mass followed by an Indigenous death chant. An overflow crowd of hundreds prayed outside the church.

Only 16 bodies [in total] were pulled out of the rubble with crowbars and tackle. All were badly mutilated, some severed in half.

When the disaster occurred, the daughters of two of the victims were in their second week at a government-sponsored, missionary-run residential English school on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, in Georgian Bay, 330 kilometres north of Toronto. Their fathers had wanted them to be trilingual.

One of them, Satekenhatie, in 1997 a 102-year-old elder whose English name is Marion Patten Phillips, recalled the time in an interview for Kahnawake’s Elders’ Calendar.

“There were several girls from Kahnawake at the school. Being together made us happy. We were all heartbroken by the tragedy and all wept together. None of the girls returned home because the distance was too far.”

Six indigenous workers survived the disaster. Alexander Beauvais, team leader of a riveting “four gang,” had a particularly amazing escape. Half an hour before the collapse he had reported to C.R. Meredith, the rivet boss, two rivets had broken off near a splice, and ribs were bending. Meredith replied that he did “not think it serious.”

Driving rivets inside a chord (part of the framework) when the bridge began falling, Beauvais could neither see nor hear what was happening. When he felt the break, he wrapped his arms and legs around the chord. Beauvais escaped being crushed because the chord landed erect.

Everything happened so quickly he didn't realize one foot and his nose had broken. Two of his rivet teammates perished; the other was off due to a leg injury. Meredith, 26, died.

Beauvais returned to construction, becoming a Dominion Bridge Company superintendent. The company supplied him with steel to erect a six-metre memorial cross at each end of Kahnawake and donated money for him to build a memorial steel portico in the cemetery where his workmates were interred.

Fifteen days’ due wages were paid to the families of the dead and to injured survivors, with one bizarre complication. “A question arose in one case in which a man seemed to have committed bigamy and uncertainty arose as to who was the proper recipient of the money,” James Macrae, inspector of Indian Agencies and Reserves, reported in a Department of Indian Affairs memorandum.

Macrae advised Kahnawake’s band council to financially help only “widows and orphans in real need,” otherwise claims for damages against the Phoenix Bridge Company “might be affected.” He also advised against sending the victims’ children to government-run industrial schools (usually small, with one teacher for several grades) “because it could be construed by the company as a mitigation of damages.”

In September 1908, Macrae, as guardian, accepted a $100,000 lump sum for the minor children of the victims from the Phoenix Bridge Company.

In poignant December 1910 correspondence to the Indian Affairs department, lawyers for victim Thomas Deer’s young widow pleaded for speedy payment of her 3-year-old son George’s $300 allowance. She had tuberculosis, didn’t expect to live through the winter and wanted assurance her son would get the money.

In 1912, George’s grandparents applied for $300 to build a house for themselves, saying it would be the boy’s property. The department refused, stating the boy “is and will be away for some years attending school.”

The compensation issue came up again in 1947, 30 years later, when some of Joseph Orite D’Aillaboust’s children said they had received no benefits and charged that the government had kept their money “on deposit.” The government responded, “Only younger children were helped.” D’Aillaboust had had no insurance.

From government and other compensation the deeply religious widows donated money for a large crucifix behind the main altar of St. Francis Xavier Church in honour of the victims.

Kahnawake’s women insisted that never again should so many of the men work together on a single high-steel project.

“The policy no longer is followed, but the disaster is always in the back of our minds,” council member Two Rivers says.

Kahnawake skywalkers have worked on such famous projects as Montreal’s Place Ville Marie, New York’s Empire State Building, the United Nations Building in Manhattan and skyscrapers in Detroit and Boston.

They helped remove victims from the entangled steel of the World Trade towers after the 9/11 attacks.

At a centennial commemoration in 2007 the people of Kahnawake unveiled a monument in honour of the victims and their survivors.

-Susan Goldberg  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Quebec Bridge Disaster

High above the St. Lawrence River, on a hot August day in 1907, a worker named Beauvais was driving rivets into the great southern span of the Quebec Bridge. Near the end of a long day, he noticed that a rivet that he had driven no more than an hour before had snapped clean in two. Just as he called out to his foreman to report the disquieting news, the scream of twisting metal pierced the air. The giant cantilever dropped out from under them, crashing into the river with such force that people in the city of Quebec, 10 km away, believed that an earthquake had struck.

Fate or just blind luck determined who survived the catastrophe. The timekeeper Huot, who had been just about to whistle the end of the work day, ran in panic as he felt the deck collapsing below him, reaching safety as the last girder snapped behind him. Beauvais went down with the bridge but managed to wriggle free from the debris, escaping with a broken leg. A train engineer plunged with his locomotive into the river but was dragged out alive by a rescue boat. A group of sightseers looked back in horror when they heard the sound, for they had only left the bridge minutes before.

Of the 86 workers on the bridge that August 29, 1907, 75 died, many of them local Caughnawaga, famous for their high steel work. Some of the dead had been crushed by the twisted steel; others by the fall. Still others drowned before the rescue boats could reach them.

The Quebec Bridge was to be one of the engineering wonders of the world. When completed it would be the largest structure of its kind and the longest bridge in the world, outstripping the famous Firth of Forth Bridge in Scotland. American engineer Theodore Cooper was chosen to design it. He was a proud even arrogant man who had numerous prestigious projects to his name, including the Second Avenue Bridge in New York.

Cooper chose the cantilever structure as the "best and cheapest plan" to span the broad St. Lawrence. That word "cheapest" would come back to haunt him. In order to cut the cost of building the piers farther out in the river, Cooper lengthened the bridge span from 490 metres to 550 metres. When Robert Douglas, a Canadian government engineer, reviewed Cooper's specifications, he criticized the very high stresses the longer span required. Cooper was outraged at the criticism by this nobody. "This puts me in the position of a subordinate," he raged, "which I cannot accept."

Cooper refused to supervise the construction on site, claiming ill health, and trusted Peter Szlapka, who was little more than a desk engineer. By the summer of 1907 the consequences of Cooper's design and of the lack of leadership on the site began to show up on the structure itself, especially in the "compression members" - the lower outside horizontal pieces running the length of the bridge.

A young engineer by the name of Norman McLure was the first to see the problem. On August 6 McLure reported to Cooper that the lower chords on the south arm were bent. Cooper wired back almost plaintively "How did that happen?" McLure reported two more bent chords on August 12 but Chief Engineer John Deans insisted that work continue. On August 27 McLure measured the bend again. The deflection had grown. He informed Cooper who wired the bridge company in Pennsylvania: "Place no more load on Quebec bridge until all facts considered." Cooper assumed that the work had stopped. Deans had read his wire but ignored it.

It took two years to clear the debris from the river. The site became a pilgrimage for engineers come to consider the vast destructive forces of human error. The Canadian government took over the bridge project and rebuilt it with much heavier (and much uglier) cantilever arms. The ill-starred bridge suffered a second disaster on 11 September 1916 when a new centre span being hoisted into position fell into the river, killing 13 men. 

The bridge was finally completed in 1917 and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) officially opened it 22 August 1919.The Royal Commission of Inquiry investigating the calamity excoriated John Deans for his poor judgment in allowing work to continue when it was obvious that the bridge was in danger. The brunt of the blame, however, was placed on the shoulders of Theodore Cooper, who had committed grave errors in design and his calculation of loads. There was criticism of the bridge company for putting profit above safety and for engineers who neglected their professional and moral duties.

Saturday, March 16, 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