Franco-Americans were often referred to as a group with a quiet presence in Maine but many are changing that image by sharing their special stories. They want to pass their heritage on to the younger generations.

Growing up Franco-American in Old Auburn is an experience Monique Gobeil Gagne enjoys talking about with oral history groups.  “My family grew up in the English side of Auburn,” she says.  As a result, Gagne has a somewhat different growing up experience than many other Franco-Americans of her generation who grew up in Maine’s Francophone towns and cities. “There were not many French families in Old Auburn,” she says.  “We spoke French at home but most of our friends spoke English when we were outside or at school”, she says.

French speaking families lived mostly in New Auburn. “We were like two different communities,” she says.  Also, Old Auburn did not have a local French parochial school where students learned English with the help of French speaking teachers, who were usually Roman Catholic religious nuns.  Instead, she and her six sister siblings learned English by immersion, while attending public school.   Speaking French did not hold her grades back.  “I always felt included in the Auburn schools,” she recalls.

In recent years, student groups from Casco Bay High School and L’Ecole Francaise du Maine in Freeport have met on several occasions with Gagne during first Friday lunches held at Lewiston’s Franco-American Heritage Center.  They take notes when she discusses her life story about growing up Franco-American.

Likewise, Gagne speaks about her experiences with colleagues at the Maine Franco-American Genealogical Society in Auburn, where she has been a member and researcher for 20 years.   “Students enjoy hearing about how we grew up speaking French at home,” she says.

Gagne, 75, was born in Auburn and graduated in 1953 from Edward Little High School.  Her mother’s name was Marie-Ange Perron and her father was Amedee Gobeil. Both of her parents came from families who lived in la Beauce region of Quebec.  Her father learned English while he practiced as a barber in their Old Auburn home.  In fact, her father’s barber shop was located inside the family home on the corner of Minot and Eastern Avenue, on the property of Sacred Heart Church. When she was in the 7th grade, the house was moved to another location across the street from the church.

Gagne’s husband Andre is from Lewiston.  The two have been married for 56 years.  They are devoted fans and season ticket holders of the Lewiston MAINEiacs, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League ice hockey team that plays in Lewiston.  Sometimes, the Gagne’s provide temporary homes for young French speaking ice hockey players from Quebec.  They even become English language interpreters for some family members of the players who don’t speak very much English.

“I’m very proud of my Franco-American heritage,” says Gagne.  She is disappointed to see the young Franco-Americans loosing the French language their parents and grandparents spoke at home.  “It’s helpful for people to speak two languages, especially when French is part of our heritage” she says.  Her four sons speak very little French although they understand some words.  “It is difficult in an English speaking world to keep up our French,” says Gagne.

Speaking French helps Gagne with her genealogy research because many source documents from Canada and France are written in French.

Lewiston-Auburn radio listeners probably knew Gagne’s father-in-law Louis Philippe, who was a reporter for the daily French language newspaper Le Messenger in Androscoggin County.  He was best known for his weekly Sunday radio show at noon.

Connie Cote continued the weekly radio show in 1964, after Louis Philippe died, and the show is still running.

Information about Gagne’s work with the genealogical society is available by contacting her on the website http://www.ancestors-genealogy.com/mfgs/ or at [email protected]