Franco-Route of New England – building cultural travel

MANCHESTER, NH – A friendly group of Franco-American leaders joined with like minded colleagues, academics and genealogists to plan a potential itinerary for a Franco-Route of New England.  This project is a voluntary collaborative led by the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Its purpose is to open access to cultural tourism for visitors who want to learn about New England’s Franco-Americans. About 30 participants attended the meeting, including my husband and me. We gathered on May 31, 2018, at the American-Canadian Genealogical Society (ACGS), located on Elm Street, in Manchester.  Ann Conway, who is a director of the Museum of Work and Culture, led the group’s planning discussions. The Manchester meeting was the second gathering of the group. In fact, the initial meeting was held at the Museum of Work and Culture, in Woonsocket.

Ann Conway and Juliana L'Heureux in Manchester NH

Ann Conway is a Director of the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket Rhode Island. She led the Manchester NH meeting. (L’Heureux photograph)

I enjoyed wearing my “Je Suis Charlie” t-shirt, purchased from the Franco-American Center, in Manchester NH.

(Located in Woonsocket’s historic Market Square, The Museum of Work and Culture tells the story of French Canadian immigrants who left Quebec to come to work in the mills and factories of Woonsocket ~ from the Museum’s website.)

As a matter of fact, the ACGS in Manchester was a convenient location for the second planning program, because it is fairly easy to locate and free parking is available adjacent to the building.

At the American-Canadian Genealogical Society in Manchester

Franco-Route program planning attendees included (left) Laurence Gagnon, from the Quebec delegation in Boston, and on my right, John Tousignant from the Franco-American Center at St. Anselm College and Louisa Heniche, a communications intern, who attended with the Quebec delegation. (L’Heureux photograph)

We welcomed representatives from the Quebec delegation in Boston, led by Communications and Francophone Affairs Attachée Laurence Gagnon, with Louisa Heniche, a communications intern.

Franco-Americans will be delighted to know how the Franco-Route program is intended to link the cultures of the communities where the immigration and migration routes brought tens of thousands of French-Canadians to New England, beginning during the middle 19th century and continuing into the 20th century. In the past, I have joined the voices of others who called for more collaboration between Franco-Americans in the communities where they lived and worked. This immigration and migration history from French Canada into New England is not well known in the matrix of American history. French Canadian workers were needed to keep the industrial mills operating during the industrial expansion of New England.

It’s a privilege for me to participate in helping to bring about this cultural connectivity.

In Manchester NH attending the Franco-Route of New England meeting on May 31, 2018

Franco-Route of New England representatives from Lewiston (left) Rachel Desgrosseilliers, director of Museum L-A, and Jacynthe Jacques, from the Franco Gendron Center. (L’Heureux phogotraph)

Thousands of the French-Canadians left their homes in the Province of Quebec to find work in New England’s growing textile and shoe industries. They settled in cities like Woonsockett, RI, Manchester NH, Biddeford ME and Lewiston ME.  Those four cities will likely be the first round of the proposed Franco-Route project, although the opportunities to join the voluntary group are open to any other communities where planning representatives can help participate in the prospective travel itinerary.  As a matter of fact, Skowhegan ME is also a community participant in the Franco-Route planning, but their representatives were unable to attend the Manchester meeting due to obligations for the scheduled Moose Festival, sponsored by Main Street Skowhegan.

Biddeford’s planning representatives were led by Jeff Cabral, the director of the McArthur Public Library and a leader in the Historical Society.

Lewiston’s representatives included the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College Franco-American Collection (USM LAC FAC), where I currently serve as the vice-president of the archives.  Also, attending from Lewiston were Jacynthe Jacques, a program director at the Franco Gendron Center, located on Cedar Street in the former St. Mary’s Church (she also serves on the Board of the USM LAC FAC) and Rachel Desgrosseilliers, director of the Museum L-A.  Our Lewiston delegation was facilitated by Desgrossielliers, who had composed a list of local business contacts, to help with the proposed Franco-Route itinerary.

Planning discussions proposed scheduling, and highlighting activities, and travel promotions to coincide and compliment other festivities like the 2019 World Acadian Congress and programs planned at the Manchester NH Credit Union Museum.

ACGS in Manchester sign

Franco-Route New England meeting on May 31, 2018 was held at the ACGS in Manchester NH. (L’Heureux photograph)

Merci Beaucoup to John Tousignant, from the Franco-American Center at St. Anselm College in Manchester, for coordinating the Franco-Route discussion and planning group.

Museumof Work and Culture ornament.

A commemorative ornament presented to the Franco-American Center and to the ACGS in Manchster, for hosting the Franco-Route meeting on May 31, 2018. (L’Heureux photograph)

More information about Franco-Route of New England is available by contacting Ann Conway  (401)769-WORK or (401)769-9675, in Woonsocket.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.