Friday February 21, 2014 | 09:20 AM

             Check out the Franco-American history and genealogy offerings in Brunswick. Anyone with a liking for learning more about the history of Mid Coast Maine in Brunswick, Topsham or Harpswell, or are seeking information about their family tree, will find something of interest in the current Pejepscot Historical Society programs. As a matter of fact, the Pejepscot is hoping the community will help seek out oral histories and provide items to loan for an exhibit to open soon, to raise awareness about Brunswick’s industrial past

Franco-Americans in the Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell areas are less well known in Maine, even among the many thousands of others who share the heritage, brought to the region from French Canada. Franco-Americans are typically identified as those living in parochial communities in Lewiston, Biddeford, Waterville and northern Maine.  Many who came to these communities established themselves in “little Canadas”, like Topsham Heights.

Yet, 30 percent of all Maine people, living throughout the state, self-identify as having some Franco-American heritage, when surveyed by the US Community Census. 

French-Canadians came to the Brunswick and Topsham communities to work, primarily, in Cabot Textile Mill. Beginning in 1834, the Cabot Mill was built along the Androscoggin River as it separates Brunswick and Topsham. What remains today is a massive complex of 19th century brick buildings, some reused as retail space.

Family stories and genealogies are bringing attention to the French-Canadians who came to the Mid Coast communities during the 19-20th centuries and stayed to build families and businesses. 

In fact, the Pejepscot and the newly launched genealogy room at the Brunswick Curtis Library are seeking oral histories to add to their Franco-American collections. 

Pejepscot Jennifer Blanchard

Jennifer Blanchard Executive Director of Pejepscot Historical Society in Brunswick, ME discussing upcoming Franco-American series to be held at Curtis Memorial Library

Jennifer Blanchard is the Executive Director of the Pejepscot Historical Society in Brunswick. She’s preparing an upcoming series of four monthly evening programs, beginning later this month, to focus on the French-Canadian experience in the Brunswick. “This series of program will recognize the contributions of the Franco-Americans who came to the greater Brunswick region to work in the mills and beyond. They carried the French Canadian culture from their homes in Quebec to the Mid Coast area,” she says.

Pejepscot was founded in 1888, located on Park Row in Brunswick. It’s one of the oldest historical societies in Maine, dedicated to preserving, sharing and celebrating the history of Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell, Maine.

“For the Mills and For More: The French-Canadian Experience in Maine” will be presented in the Brunswick Curtis Memorial Library’s Morrell Meeting Room, at 7 PM.  Admission is $3 per person for each evening presentation, beginning on Wednesday February 26th.  Session topics and presenters are as follows:

February 26:     James Myall, from the Franco-American Collection at the USM-LA in Lewiston, will speak about snowshoeing. “‘Tous Pour Un’: Franco-American Racquetteurs and Maine’s Snowshoeing Tradition”.

Pejepscot snow shoe exhibit

Racquetteurs:  exhibit at Pejepscot Historical Society on Park Row in Brunswick ME

March 19:        Jacques Ferland will speak about “The Canadian National Anthem and Franco-American Identity”.

April 23:           David Vermette will speak about “The Cabot Mill and the Development of Brunswick’s Franco-American Community”.

May 7:             Rhea Cote Robbins will speak about “History of Maine Women: Where Are the Franco-American Women?”

Additionally, a lunch time brown bag presentation on Wednesday, April 30th at the Pejepscot on Park Row will feature Ruth Bouchard Klein, who will speak about the French-Canadian Experience in New England as Portrayed in Literature.

Providing education about Maine’s Franco-Americans is among programs the Pejepscot Historical Society is sponsoring in their mission to be “in and of and for the community”.

 

About this Blog

Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.

Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.

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