Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Juliana L’Heureux
James Myall has been coordinator of The University of Southern Maine's Franco-American Collection at USM's Lewiston-Auburn College for two years. He welcomes the community to explore the well organized archives at the collection. It’s one of the largest collections of its kind documenting the history of Maine’s French-Canadian immigrant population, beginning from 1870 to the present.
Everyone interested in Maine’s Franco-Americans can find information in the USM LAC collection, located in the climate controlled Madeleine Giguere reading room, inside the campus main building on Westminster Street in Lewiston.
Giguere was a sociologist at USM and lifelong Lewiston resident. Her bequest helps to sustain the Franco-American Collection.
Myall, 26, became coordinator in 2010. He’s a native of Great Britain, where he grew up less than 100 miles from France. Speaking French is his second language. His graduate degree in Ancient History and Archeology is from St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. Myall enjoys traveling in Quebec and France. He and his wife Kate live in Bath. They’re expecting their first daughter’s birth in November.
A commonly asked question Myall hears from researchers is how to connect a new generation of Franco-Americans to learn about their history, language and culture? “We know and take pride in French-Canadian ancestors who immigrated to Maine to find work, mostly in the mills. But young Franco-Americans want to connect with their heritage today,” says Myall.
As coordinator, Myall wants to remove whatever prevents young Franco-Americans from identifying with the culture. Either they don’t know about their Franco-American heritage or they may not be proud of their ancestry. “Many Franco-American youth are eager to learn about where to engage with their culture,” he says.
Myall’s work as coordinator supports local community events where Franco-Americans participate in a variety of cultural activities. Franco-American poetry, music and art exhibits help to educate and overcome some stereotypes about the culture, which is often identified with mill workers.
“In fact, there are many aspects of the Franco-American culture,” he says. “Franco-Americans are integral to the community’s industry, sports, religion, French language, education, health care and the arts.
For example, Lewiston once supported a vibrant musical theater scene. The collection keeps this tradition alive providing French lyrics to community singers who join in regularly scheduled sing-alongs and occasional music workshops.
Myall works collaboratively with the Franco-American Heritage Center housed in Lewiston’s former St. Mary’s Church. Together, The Heritage Center and The USM LAC collection help to sponsor La Semaine de la Francophonie (French Week) celebrated in March. Additionally, the Heritage Center has exhibition space where some of the collection’s archives have been displayed. Both are involved in the Maine French Heritage Language Program coordinated in Lewiston-Auburn by Doris Bonneau. Children enrolled in the heritage program learn North American French and Franco-American traditions. “It’s our community collaboration to help children take pride in their Franco-American heritage,” says Myall. “The children enjoy being engaged in the Franco-American culture.”
This is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the collection in Lewiston. It began as Le Centre d’Heritage, at St. Dominic’s High School.
Giguere led the collection’s move to USM-LA, where her efforts helped build the reading room named in her memory.
Along with information about Franco-American immigrant history, The collection provides access to information about the French presence in Maine dating back four centuries to the 1604 settlement of St. Croix Island in Calais.
Myall wrote an article for The Maine Historical Society’s on line “Maine Memory Network” titled, “From French Canadians to Franco-Americans.”
The collection is open Monday - Thursday from 9 am - 4 pm at 51 Westminster Street in Lewiston. Check the collection's website for more information