Biddeford High School senior Victoria Eon is a 17-year-old who takes pride in her family’s Franco-American heritage.

Her high school activities to promote the French language and the culture of her grandparents began to take form last spring, when she and a group of classmates performed a one-act play “tour en francais” (all in French) for Biddeford’s Fete de Printemps (Spring Festival).  They were later invited to perform again at the annual Franco-American Conference at the University of Maine in Orono.

Eon is a native of Biddeford, the daughter of Martine Cote and John Eon. Her grandparents (Memere and Pepere) emigrated to York County from St. Benoit de Packington, Quebec, in 1960, with their young family.  In 1963, they became naturalized U.S. citizens. They worked at the Biddeford Pepperell Mill.  Although Eon says her Pepere died when Eon was 6, her Memere, Giselle Dube Cote, lives in Saco.

“I recall my mother and grandparents speaking French at home when I was young,” says Eon. “My mother says I spoke sentences in half English and French because I seemed to think they were one in the same language.”

At Biddeford High School, she and her student friend Ben Cote (who also participated in Fete de Printemps) take French with teacher Dean Morin.

As a result of Fete de Printemps, Eon was introduced to the Biddeford English teacher Carolyn Gosselin who put her in touch with the Biddeford Mills Museum to research some historical stories.  Now, she’s on the museum’s board of directors where she brings awareness to the Franco-American workers’ histories. Last August, during a summer internship she led a tour through the Biddeford Mills.

“My Memere is a wealth of knowledge for me as I research stories for the museum.  She tells me, ‘C’est ma vie.’ ” (It’s my life.)

Eon’s summer mill tour was so well received that in October she helped organize 40 high school students to lead 274 museum patrons into the mills again. They told stories learned about the workers lives. Each student she helped train took 15 patrons on a tour. There was a $5 admission fee. Proceeds benefited the Biddeford High School drama program. Other donations benefited the Biddeford Mills Museum.

“We filled those empty mill rooms with 21st century buzz,” she says.

Eon’s story was a sadly true textile mill account about an 18-year-old girl whose name, ironically, was Catherine Cotton.

Cotton began working at the Pepperell Mill in 1884, when it opened.  She fell in love with a man who became her fiance, but as the wedding approached, he balked at making the commitment.  As a result, Cotton moved to work in other mills. Eventually, she moved to the Manchester NH mills where she met another young woman who may have shared her emotional experience.  For unknown reasons, the two women jumped to their deaths together from a Manchester bridge.

“Everyone who walked out of the North Dam mill, after attending our tour, could not wipe the smiles off of their faces, raving about the buildings, the stories, and the overall experience,” she says.  Everyone was moved. The overwhelmingly positive response continues.

Hopefully, the Biddeford Mills Museum tours will continue after Eon goes on to college next year.

Eon’s successful experience telling the mills’ stories on the tours demonstrates how Biddeford people are willing to work together to bring the city’s mill history alive.

“Our project will help to build community pride in our history,” she says.

Biddeford Mills Museum is online at www.biddefordmillsmuseum.org.