The Franco-American Collection regularly holds in person exhibits in its reading room on the USM LAC campus. The Collection is also a participant in the Maine Historical Society's Maine Memory Network (MMN), a collection of online exhibits from around the state. Collection's exhibits on MMN are highlighted below (clicking on these links will open a new window to the Maine Memory Network):
La Basilique Lewiston
Image: Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Lewiston, photo by Dan Philbrick, 2005.
The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul dominates the skyline of Lewiston. It is the only Catholic church in Northern New England to bear the title of basilica, and its history provides insight into the Franco-American community of Lewiston, and also into the struggles among ethnic groups for accommodation within the Roman Catholic Church in Maine.
Image: St Peter's School ('Ecole St Pierre') was the first parish school in Lewiston, class of 1910. For more information: https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/74893
It was meant to be temporary. Once they had earned enough money, they planned to go home to their families in Quebec. But for various reasons, the French Canadians who immigrated to Maine after 1860 put down roots, invited their families to join them, and made new lives in the United States. The majority of these first-generation immigrants continued to think of themselves as Canadians, even after decades in their new country.
But what about their descendents – their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren?
Image: Arsene Cailler at left and two other snowshoers at a snowshoe convention in Lewiston in the 1930s.
The history of snowshoeing in North America starts with Native Americans, whose development and use of snowshoes inspired French settlers to use them as well. The French Canadians named snowshoes "raquettes" because they resembled tennis rackets.
Lewiston once boasted more than 15 snowshoe clubs, and Biddeford at least two, all of which were French-Canadian or Franco-American in origin. The clubs served as athletic, social and cultural hubs for the French Canadian and Franco-American community. Snowshoe clubs and their international conventions also helped preserve important ties to Canada for Franco-American immigrants.
Image: Tancrel House, 24 River Street, decorated for the St Jean Baptiste Day celebrations, 1895. For more information: https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/18399
The festival of St. John the Baptist, (or St. Jean-Baptiste, in French), the patron saint of Quebec, was a very public display of ethnic pride for Franco-Americans. St. Jean-Baptiste Day was Lewiston-Auburn's biggest festival for over a century.
Image: Three actresses from a production of Les Cloches de Corneville, produced in Lewiston in 1896, and directed by Jean-Baptiste Couture.
Lewiston, Maine's second largest city, was long looked upon by many as a mill town with grimy smoke stacks, crowded tenements, low-paying jobs, sleazy clubs and little by way of refinement, except for Bates College. Yet, it was also a cultural and artistic community, as evidenced by noted Québec historian, Robert Rumilly, who described Lewiston as "the French Athens of New England" for its vibrant art scene in the 1920’s and 30’s. Theater, in particular, was popular among Lewiston's Franco-American population.
View more than 100 photographs from the Collection on the MMN (opens in new window)