In a city with a Franco-American heritage as entrenched as Lewiston’s, it’s not easy to decide which specific landmarks best highlight that history and give people today a better understanding and appreciation for their community.

So give credit to the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine for taking on the burden.

The Collection’s phone-friendly walking tour aims to “go back in time with Lewiston, Maine’s French-Canadian immigrants and their Franco-American descendants.”

The tour, available on an app for both Android and iPhones as well as on the web, has six designated downtown sites that can be seen in less than an hour’s stroll. With more possibly coming.

The hope is that “you might learn something about what you walk by every day,” said Anna Faherty, archivist of the extensive Franco-American Collection at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College.

The app also includes a separate, though related, walking tour of some of the city’s architectural highlights and reams of other historical information.


So if you see somebody staring at their phone downtown, don’t think they’re rude, Faherty said. They may actually be learning something.

Though it’s possible to start or stop anywhere along the route, let’s kick off the tour with “Petit Canada,” the Little Canada section of the city between Canal Street and the Androscoggin River that was once crowded with immigrants pouring into the city from Quebec.

Little Canada, as it became known, was the densely populated neighborhood near the river in Lewiston that became home to many Franco-Americans who wanted to live together and be near the Bates mill where they worked. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


The app takes people first to Oxford Street, which it called “an oasis for the Franco community.”

“But why this street?” it asks. “Several reasons.”

Perhaps the most compelling one is the nearby presence of the old Grand Trunk railroad station on Lincoln Street, where the faded destinations that could once be reached by train remain visible on the brick walls. It offered direct service to Montreal, a prime jumping off point for emigrants from Quebec.


Nearby, too, were the mills that provided jobs in Lewiston, including the Continental Mill on Oxford Street itself. Also on the street are two housing blocks built by the mill in 1866 to house its workers.

The area became prime territory for French-Canadians who found solidarity with one another, sharing “familiar food, customs and language” that helped “ease the challenges of being in a new country,” the app says.

Lepage Bakeries, also known as Country Kitchen, still stands on the block between Lisbon and Park streets in Lewiston where Francois Regis Lepage located his bakery in 1911. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


Not everybody worked in the mills, of course.

Francois Regis (F.R.) Lepage arrived from Quebec in 1885 and began working as a foreman at Dupont Bakery, the app says. In 1903, with a loan from his former boss, Lepage started his own bakery.

Lepages Bakery bragged about its “clean” operation in a 1921 newspaper ad. Lewiston Daily Sun

Dipping into old issues of the Sun Journal fleshes out the story.


By 1907, Lepage was in business with Willie Mailhot. The firm of Lepage & Mailhot, Bakers operated in the Wiseman Block at 6 Chestnut St. Mailhot didn’t stick with it long, though.

In 1911, Lepage alone built a new tenement at the corner of Park and Spruce streets, where the plant still stands. He occupied the first floor with his bakery and rented out apartments on the upper floors.

In an advertisement announcing the new location, he wrote that he had “installed the most modern bread and pastry machineries and now feel able to cater to the wants of the public with more satisfaction than never.”

He touted his “reasonable prices” and promised baked beans with pork and brown bread would be available every Saturday night and Sunday morning. He also bragged about both his “golden rings” doughnuts and his “Royal Sponge Cakes.”

A 1911 advertisement by Lepage Bakery touting its new location on Park Street. Lewiston Evening Journal

But his big hit in the coming years was something Lepage called “Victory Bread” during World War I and “Butter-Nut Bread” in the post-war years. He insisted in advertisements that he used “only the purest ingredients” and that “human hands” never touched the loaves – which were sold on location and in at least 64 markets in Lewiston and Auburn, including his own secondary store at 239 Main St.

In 1920, a bakery-owned cart pulled by a team of horses ran into trouble when something spooked the horses. They took off down Pine Street and turned down Park Street before calming down near Chestnut Street. A reporter noted that “various kinds of pastries were distributed along the route.”


At the height of the Great Depression, Lepage told customers its wedding cakes were “a dream come true. Lacy icing as fragile as a cobweb over rich, round layers of tongue-tempting goodness” so delicious that “even the bride’s father” will feel reconciled to the happy event.

By 1940, the bakery was thriving. An advertisement that year, aimed at women, urged them “to let us do your baking while you have a day of leisure to enjoy. While your baker has to remain in front of his oven and watch your cakes and pies, you can be enjoying a fine show, book, an afternoon bridge (game), or tea. . . . So, housewives, let Lepage’s take care of your bakery worries.”

In 1946, the company opted to split off its retail business into a new shop while focusing on its growing wholesale business, spurred initially by bread sales to area schools.

Lepage died at his Auburn home in 1949 at the age of 76. In the years that followed, his bakery expanded even further and was ultimately purchased by a larger company. Lepage Bakeries on Park Street now also operates under the name Country Kitchen, which still fills the air with the smell of baking bread.

The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston is one of the grandest reminders of the Franco influence in Lewiston and an example of their power and religious conviction. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


As the app explains, St. Peter and Paul Parish was home to many immigrants from Quebec – so many that the bishop of Portland told the parish in 1904 to begin construction of a cathedral to serve them all.


Designed by Noel Coumont, a Belgian architect living in Lewiston, work got underway in 1905.

A history contained in the app says one reason for a delay in construction was a long squabble among Maine Catholics about whether a new bishop for the area should have French or Irish heritage.

“During the fight,” it said, “the planned basilica was used as a symbol of French nationalism.”

In the end, the Irish won. They scrapped Coumont’s design and hired T.G. O’Connell, a Boston architect, to come up with a new one. The finished basilica, completed in 1938, was his vision.

The Sun Journal ran a series of stories on the basilica in 2017, which are available on its website.

Originally named City Park, today’s Kennedy Park in downtown Lewiston is on the Franco-American Walking Tour because of its historic role as a place for the city’s working people to recreate and relax. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal



Created in 1868 as City Park, the app points out that it followed a “classic style” for the time, a large rectangle cut into four squares by walking paths that are themselves cut in half by more paths.

Long a place of respite for Lewiston’s working people, including the Franco-Americans who flocked to the city, the park was also the site of a November 1960 rally by U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy, a Massachusetts senator who became the nation’s first Catholic president.

City leaders renamed the park in Kennedy’s honor after his assassination in 1963.

The Bates Mill, as seen from the Centerville Parking Garage in Lewiston, was the workplace for thousands of Franco-Americans over the years, drawing many from Canada looking for a better life for themselves and their families. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


The walking tour includes a stop at the Bates Mill, calling it “a powerhouse of industry and a major draw for French-Canadian immigrants to this area.”

The mill drew on the waterpower from the Lewiston Falls, directed by canals through the city to power its looms and equipment, part of “a grand scheme” by Benjamin Bates, a well-to-do Boston businessman.


Bates’ mill helped spur the city’s growth — and a bit of his money played a key role in turning the Maine State Seminary into Bates College — and provided employment for generations of immigrants.

It churned out clothing, blankets, tents, diapers and more, relying on immigrants and children who worked six days a week, often for 10 hours or more at a time.

“Despite the hard work and long hours, mill work was a worthy job,” the app says, “and thanks to word of mouth from friends and family, by 1873 French-Canadians were pouring into Maine, and Lewiston-Auburn in particular.”

In the 1890s, the app says, nearly a third of Maine’s Canadian-born men worked in the mill and 83% of employed Canadian-born women did, too.

The mill closed in 2001, after a long decline, but its building remains as testament to everyone who once made it thrive — and built a city around it.

Archivist Anna Faherty oversees the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College and created the Franco-American Walking Tour. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal



At the heart of Lewiston’s Franco-American community was Le Messager, the French-language newspaper that began publishing in 1880 and didn’t close its doors until 1966.

The walking tour brings people to a Lincoln Street building that served as an early office for the paper, right in the heart of Petit Canada.

Founded by Louis Martel and J.D. Montmarquet, the paper began as a weekly, became a daily and ultimately returned to weekly publication before shutting down. It covered everything from politics to sports.

Faherty said that Martel, a doctor and politician, was “one of the Renaissance men” of that era, playing a big role in shaping Lewiston.

The paper featured lots of coverage of issues important to Franco-Americans, including columns written by Camille Lessard Bissonnette, whose novel “Canuck” is a literary landmark.

One editor, Jean-Baptiste Couture, wrote such pro-French-Canadian editorials during the basilica battle that his vehemence crossed the line with Catholic officials, who suspended him from the parish for life, the app says.


The Grand Trunk Railroad Station, now home to the Station Grill Restaurant on Lincoln Street in Lewiston, was the final stop for thousands of Francos coming from Canada for jobs at the Bates Mill and other mills in Lewiston-Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


All over Lewiston, there are spots important to the city’s Franco-American heritage.

From downtown Dufresne Plaza, which honors the first Franco-American chief justice of Maine, Armand A. Dufresne Jr., to the Public Theatre building that once housed Le Montagnard, a popular Franco social club, before its conversion into a movie theater called The Ritz.

Faherty said plenty of other sites are worth remembering, too.

“I’m hoping to add more stops” to the walking tour, she said, though she doesn’t want the hike to turn into a mini-marathon.

Fortunately, she said, Kennedy Park and its benches can always provide a respite.

It’s a great place to sit and just look around.

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