For generations Franco-Americans have been the largest ethnic group in Maine. As the second largest metropolitan area in the state, Lewiston has a population of sixty percent French-Canadian ancestry and Auburn over thirty percent. The primary workers in Lewiston’s textile mills after 1890 were French Canadians from Quebec or Acadians from New Brunswick and the Maritimes who came by the hundreds to seek a better life. Those who came from Canada sought employment in the mills, and it is their diligent labor and skill that formed the backbone of the Franco-American community.
The French Canadians brought a cultural identity to Lewiston that is characterized by: a strong connection to the Catholic Church, a distinct language identity, close family and community ties, a strong work ethic, a rich musical heritage, and a dedicated interest in education. To reflect this community identity, the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College promotes interest and study of local culture and history for students, faculty, and the community. This archive is an important resource for the University of Southern Maine and the Franco-American community. Doctoral dissertations, oral history projects, French songs and fables, recipes for tourtieres, and more can be found in the Collection. The Collection not only preserves the history of the Franco-American community, but also connects via events and exhibits to the Franco-American and immigrant experience in Maine today. This is evident in materials in the Collection relating to sociological studies of Franco-American culture on a state-wide and regional level and covering ethnicity, community demographics, and work and labor issues.
In 1972, a collection of historical materials concerning the Franco-Americans of the Lewiston-Auburn area was begun at St. Dominic's High School. The creation of the collection was sponsored by the Lewiston Historical Commission, the French-Canadian Institute of St. Francis College (University of New England), and the Maine Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Over the next fifteen years, the collection known as the Centre d'Heritage Franco-Américain (Franco-American Heritage Center), continued to grow and was administered by a group of trustees. The Centre had various locations in the Lewiston-Auburn area, relocating as it outgrew each space in turn. By 1988 it was housed at the Sacred Heart School in Auburn, and the Centre's leaders were searching for a way to permanently maintain the Collection at a prominent local institution.
It was then, in the fall of 1988, that the University of Southern Maine, Lewiston-Auburn College (USM LAC) opened its doors. Representatives from both the old Centre and the new College felt it would be a good idea to give the collection a permanent home there. JoAnne LaPointe, of the Centre, and Harlan Philippi, the first Dean of the College, arranged the transfer of the collection in 1989.
Initially, the collection was housed in the campus library, as a temporary measure but it was soon moved to a small room on campus, where it became known as the Collection d'Heritage Franco-Américaine (Franco-American Heritage Collection). From 1990 to 1996 it was run by retired sociology professor Madeleine Giguere.
The Community Advisory Board in 2000 - left to right, seated: Barry Rodrigue, Tracey Mousseau, Madeline Roy, Madeliene Giguère. Standing: Susanne Pelletier, Linda Pervier, Cindy Larock, Robyn Holman, Roger Philippon, Donat Boisvert.
In 1995, a Community Advisory Board was formed to oversee operations, and a half-time coordinator hired. Madeline Roy became the first coordinator in 1995, and the Collection moved into a new, two-room suite. In 2000, Dr. Barry Rodrigue was hired to become the first scholar attached to the Collection. Dr. Rodrigue created the first program of Franco-American Studies at USM LAC.
Dedication of the new Reading Room, November 2001. Left to Right, Betty Robinson, Dean, USM LAC; Representative John Baldacci; Prof. Madeleine Giguère; Richard Pattenaude, President, USM.
In 2001 the Collection moved into a new wing of the campus. The new facility consisted of a public reading room, storage stacks and an administrative office.
2001 also saw Donat Boisvert hired as the Collection's full-time coordinator. In 2003 the Collection adopted formal by-laws, as well as policies and guidelines for Collection use.
In 2012, the Collection moved to an expanded space in the same wing of the facility. The construction of the facility was made possible by a generous gift from Madeleine Giguère, after whom the reading room is named.
In 2004, Madeline Giguère passed away, generously ensuring the Collection's future stability through a bequest in her will which established an endowment for the Collection. In addition, a scholarship fund was established in her name, which seeks to support students with an interest in Franco-American studies at USM LAC.
James Myall was Coordinator for the Collection from 2010-14, Followed by Janet Roberts from 2015-2017.