Sun Journal Nov. 9, 1997

Read more about Nov. 9, 1997, in the archives.

100 Years Ago: 1922

(From an excerpt from a war veterans letter) Four years ago when the news was flashed to us that the Armistice had been signed everyone turned out of bed and into the chilly streets with the utmost haste. Heats were glad — glad is too mild a term — we went wild! We shouted, laughed, sang, whistles blew and all sorts of noises were produced, merely as an outlet for the pure joy, relief and thankfulness for the end of the war. Stores, offices, mills and shops, schools all were closed. Nobody worked unless absolutely obliged The general sentiment was expressed by a sign appearing in one of the grocery stores, “Will work tomorrow, too happy today.” It was a great reunion of all the world, not the Kaiser’s. Weren’t you too happy for words?

50 Years Ago: 1972

Maine voters in a near record turnout have given President Nixon a solid 61.4 percent victory and replaced Sen. Margaret Chase Smith with Democrat William D. Hathaway, Democratic. Rep. Peter Kyros was returned to a fourth term as Maine’s 1st. District congressman, and Bangor Mayor William S. Cohen, a Republican, was chosen to represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

Unofficial returns from all of the state’s 639 precincts Wednesday showed 420,817 persons voted in the senatorial race. That’s just 950 votes short of the all-time record turnout of 420,767 set in the 1960 presidential race.


25 Years Ago: 1997

A giant slab of granite in Heritage Park etched with the historic Grand Trunk Station pays tribute to the tens of thousands of French Canadians who streamed to this city by train to work in its mills and factories. Record crowds flocked last summer to the ethnic Festival de Joie recognizing those immigrants’ contributions, and nearly 1,000 turned out in October for Suz Bots to see the ongoing exhibition at Lewiston-Auburn College celebrating Franco-American life. Last month the newly formed Franco Francophone des Affaire (FEA ) – an international group between French speaking countries picked Lewiston for the national headquarters, capping  a series of recent events acknowledging the importance of the Franco -American influence of the times.

Apparently times have changed. For decades the Franco-Americans grappled with the shifting identities. From the 1950s until just recently many French-Canadian descendants suffered the strains of their heritage, viewing it as a handicap. They endured jokes and jibes, were forced to speak English, felt it necessary to change their accents and veil their lineage. A melting pot culture gradually impressed on them the stigma of being different. The belief they were devalued was drummed into them by our society that stressed assimilation and shunned, some observed. And it was passed along through generations who hoped their children could sidestep the stigma. In the 1960s many Franco-Americans retreated to the safe havens of family circles, ethnic clubs, clubs and parochial schools, which provided escape from their public to conform. But these institutions were fading as the popular culture of television dominating the living room

Norm Renaud, 53, grimaces as he recalls how entering Lewiston High School in the 1960s was a rude awakening. Until then he had enjoyed the sense of belonging offered by local French-Catholic schools and communities where everyone around him spoke French. But at local schools everyone spoke English.

“We had French accents,” he recalled. “We spoke to our friends in the hallways, and the Anglos and Wasps would point their fingers at us. We were Franco, so we didn’t fit in well with the well dressed, the mill overseers kids, the shoe shop foreman’s kids or the retail owners kids.”

“Students segregated naturally between Franco and non-Franco and the two groups didn’t socialize,” he said. Non-Franoos turned him down for dates, saying, “My parents don’t want me to go out with French kids.”

Unable to cope with the stress of being ostracised, some chose to drop out of school, others including his sister transferred to St. Doms, then the French private school. “They would call me Frenchy.” Roger Bouffard, 51, remembers the nickname given him by his new classmates at Lewiston High School. “They would say, ‘Which part of Canada are you from?'”

“Without a doubt we were embarrassed about speaking in a French accent,” said Richard Courtemanche, state manager for Modern Woodman. Courtemanche said he went to St. Dominic Regional High School to avoid those not of his background. “We thought it was a handicap. We were forever trying to hide it. People used to put Frenchmen down.”

The material used in Looking Back is produced exactly as it originally appeared although misspellings and errors may be corrected.

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