The Franco-American Collection regularly holds exhibits in its reading room on the USM LAC campus and at other locations around Lewiston and Maine.
The Franco-American Collection is a participant in the Maine Historical Society's Maine Memory Network, a collection of online exhibits from around the state. Several of the Collection's exhibits are highlighted below (clicking on these links will open a new window to the Maine Memory Network):
View more than 100 photographs from the Collection on the MMN (opens in new window)
The Basillica of Saints Peter and Paul dominates the skyline of Lewiston. The histoy of the only catholic church in Northern New England to bear the title of 'basillica' provides insight into the Franco-American community of Lewiston, but also into the struggles among ethnic groups for accommodation within the Roman Catholic Church in Maine.
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?
Most Northern societies had some form of snowshoe, but the Native Americans turned it into a highly functional item. French settlers named snowshoes "raquettes" because they resembled the tennis racket then in use.
Lewiston boasted more than 15 clubs, all French-Canadian, and Biddeford at least two, also French-Canadian. The clubs served as homes to athletic events, as social space, and as purveyors of Franco culture. Also crucially important were the maintenance of ties across the border for the immigrants and those who they had left behind.
The festival of St John the Baptist, (St. Jean-Baptiste), the patron saint of Quebec, was a very public display of ethnic pride for Franco-Americans, and Lewiston-Auburn's biggest festival for over a century.
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, a noted Québec historian, Robert Rumilly, described it as "the French Athens of New England" for its vibrant arts scene in the 1920s and 30s. Theater, in particular, was popular among Lewiston's Franco population.