The Franco-American Collection regularly holds in-person exhibits 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):

Black and white image of demolition of St. Peter's church to make way for a larger church.
Demolition of first St. Peter’s Church, Lewiston, 1905

La Basilique Lewiston

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.
Black and white image of school boys posing with sports equipment.
Schoolyard sports, St. Peter’s School, Lewiston, 1925

From French Canadians to Franco-Americans

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.
Three men in snowshoe uniforms outside in the snow. Two men are tall, the third is short.
Arsene Cailler (at left) and two other snowshoers at a snowshoe convention in Lewiston in the 1930s

Les Raquetteurs

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.
Black and white photo of the Tancrel family outside house decorated for St. Jean Baptiste Day.
The Tancrel home at 24 River Street, Lewiston, decorated for the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24, 1895

La St-Jean-Baptiste in Lewiston-Auburn

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.
Black and white image of actors in medieval costume posing with prop swords and spears.
Theatre production, Lewiston, 1896

Le Théâtre

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.
Lewiston-Auburn dignitaries stand around the Paysan Quebecois wooden statue carved by J.J. Bourgault in Lewiston in the 1970s. The statue is three feet tall male figure, holding his figure up and in mid-speech.
Lewiston-Auburn dignitaries stand around the Paysan Quebecois wooden statue carved by J.J. Bourgault in Lewiston in the 1970s.

Jean Julien Bourgault in Lewiston

2024 “Putting History to Work” intern Lydia Pease created this exhibit using items from the Franco-American Collection. The exhibit connects the work of Quebec sculptor J.J. Bourgault with Lewiston-Auburn through his work “Paysan Quebecois.”