Franco Collection board chair Juliana L’Heureux, at lectern in the top of the photo, welcomes guests Friday night during a celebration of local Franco-American Entrepreneurs and Music at University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College in Lewiston, including Governor Janet Mills, top right. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Nearly 100 people gathered Friday at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College to celebrate the opening of a new Franco-American exhibit showcasing the history and legacy of three Lewiston businesses.

The exhibit, titled “Notre Pain Quotidien (Our Daily Bread): Franco-American Entrepreneurs Sustaining Community,” highlights the fortitude and ingenuity of the Franco-American community, which immigrated from Quebec in the late 1800s and early 1900s, through photographs, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia.

Each of the businesses featured by the collection — Leblanc Cleaners, Lepage Bakeries and Bonneau Market — were chosen because they provided common necessities to Lewiston-Auburn families, explained Anna Faherty, archivist at the Franco-American Collection.

Joseph Leblanc, who started a cleaning business in 1884, is generally regarded as the first Franco-American entrepreneur in Lewiston-Auburn, she said.

Of the three businesses, only Lepage Bakery is still in operation.

Mary Rice-DeFosse, professor of French and Francophone studies at Bates College, said that the early Franco-American entrepreneurs were often mill workers who chose a different path, creating job opportunities for both their families and other Franco-Americans.


Faherty said she and other individuals involved with creating the exhibit found the idea of chain migration and intergenerational mentorship in the Lewiston-Auburn Franco-American communities to be especially interesting.

They found evidence of chain migration not only from Quebec to Lewiston-Auburn, but also within neighborhoods of the twin cities.

“The larger scale version is really common,” she said. “But the idea that people were moving to other neighborhoods together I thought was really interesting. I’ve never heard of that before.”

At the event, Franco-American Board of Directors Chair Doris Bonneau and Quebec Delegation representative Marie-Claude Francoeur both signed a Fleur De Lys agreement, acknowledging the shared cultural connection between Maine and Quebec.

Doris Bonneau, right, signs the “Fleur de Lys” agreement Friday night with the Quebec Delegation from Boston, represented by Marie-Claude Francoeur, left at University of Southern Maine Lewiston-Auburn College in Lewiston. In the middle is USM Provost Dr. Jeannine Uzzi. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Gov. Janet Mills, who declared March as Francophonie Month in Maine this year, also offered remarks for the opening of the exhibit.

“These three families made it possible for French Canadians to thrive in Lewiston and Auburn, the first of many generations,” she said. “Tonight we recognize the contributions of these entrepreneurs to our economy, the entire Maine economy. These people’s families, their activities here demonstrate some of the many ways Franco-Americans have shaped and continue to shape our state.”


The African francophone community was also recognized at the event.

“New Mainers from Francophone countries are sparking renewed appreciation of French language all across our state,” Mills said. “And we welcome them, too.”

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline later drew parallels between the the entrepreneurial spirit of Maine’s Franco-American and African immigrant communities in Lewiston.

The exhibit was originally planned for March of 2020, but was suspended just a week before it was set to open.

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