Saturday, March 8, 2014
By PAUL KOENIG Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA – Paul Lessard remembers his late grandmother telling stories about her grandfather serving in the Legislature and becoming the first selectman of Madawaska.
Paul Lessard will present a history of his maternal great-great-grandfather, Olivier R. Sirois, who served in the Maine Legislature during the Civil War, on Franco-American Day at the Legislature on Tuesday. Sirois introduced legislation to fund an English-speaking public school for Madawaska.
Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal
His grandmother knew about her grandfather only through oral tradition, and Lessard said it was kind of a family fable.
"She was upset he didn't get enough credit for what he did, and I said, 'What did he do?' " Lessard recalled. "I didn't want to argue with her, but I couldn't find anything.
Lessard, 63, has since discovered more details about his great-great-grandfather Olivier Sirois and some of his accomplishments, including sponsoring a bill that provided funding for an English-speaking school in Madawaska.
Lessard will present the findings of his research in one of the display booths to be set up Tuesday morning at the State House for the 12th annual Franco-American Day.
The event originally was set for March 20 but was postponed because of a snowstorm.
Lessard's presentation, along with other cultural displays, will be in the Hall of Flags in the morning.
Among other events in the State House celebrating Franco-American culture, four new inductees to the Franco-American Hall of Fame will be announced at 11:30, according to a news release about the day.
Lessard, of Belgrade, said he began researching his great-great-grandfather a couple of years ago.
Trips to the Maine State Archives and the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library turned up photographs of Sirois serving in the House of Representatives and documents of property records and the bill he sponsored to fund an English-language school.
When Lessard saw that Sirois first was elected to the House in 1863, he wondered whether the Legislature would issue a sentiment honoring Sirois for the 150th anniversary of his service.
Lessard said he passed on what he had found to his representative, Dennis Keschl, who co-sponsored the sentiment with legislators from Aroostook County -- Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Rep. Kenneth Theriault, D-Madawaska.
The sentiment recognized Sirois for his efforts to establish a school teaching English to his French-speaking Franco-American constituents and for his service to his community as selectman, trial justice, constable and postmaster.
"That's kind of (a) little piece I can pass on to my kids," Lessard said. "They don't have to rely on stories that were passed on to them."
Sirois was elected to a second term in 1865 and became Madawaska's first selectman when the town incorporated in 1869.
Sirois wrote in his reasoning for the English-language school bill that few in the region could read or even speak English.
"They are extremely desirous to becoming not only Americanized but educated in the English language," he wrote.
Lessard said he doesn't know much else about what Sirois did in his time in the Legislature, but what he's found seems to indicate Sirois was of some significance.
"It's one thing to get elected, but did you do anything? It seems that he did something," Lessard said. "Was is significant? Maybe in the long term it led to something else. Maybe it was a shift in attitude.
"To get a bill passed at all was an accomplishment."
Lessard said he thinks his grandmother, who died in 1984, would be happy about the legislative sentiment and what he found out about Sirois.
"We're all just footnotes in history, really," Lessard said. "He's just a bigger one."
Paul Koenig can be contacted at 621-5663 or at: