Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[BRIEF NOTE] The modern Québécois migrant in Maine

Long after the assimilation of the Franco-Americans, substantial numbers of Québébecois (and, perhaps, other Canadian Francophones) are still spending a lot of time in New England, in places like Old Orchard Beach. They're not migrant labourers; they're tourists, as L. Ian Macdonald's National Post article "Quebecers' home away from home" points out.

In a seasonal sense, they are following in the footprint of those French Canadians who, a century ago, migrated by the thousands to the mill towns of Saco and Biddeford, just south of Portland on the Maine coast. Long since assimilated, they are still called Canadians -- not French-Canadians, much less Quebecois.

While their forebears came here to make a living, Quebecers now come here to play, from St. Jean Baptiste Day in June to Labour Day in September.

They populate the beaches of southern Maine, from York and Cape Neddick, to Moody and Wells, from Kennebunkport and Cape Porpoise to Goose Rocks, Fortunes Rocks and Biddeford Pool. From Ocean Park and Old Orchard to Prout's Neck and Higgins Beach.

[. . .]

Seldom has there been as much French overheard on the Marginal Way, the renowned walk along the cliffs under hotels and gracious summer homes, joining Ogunquit to Perkins Cove-- which, with its pedestrian footbridge, fishing boats and shops, is a scene right out of Murder, She Wrote.

[. . .]

Only six years ago, the loonie was mired at 62¢. Today, it's at par with the greenback. Canadian exporters may not like it, but Canadian tourists sure do. Stated another way, where it once took more than $1.50 to buy a U. S. dollar, a dollar is now a dollar.

And Canadians who used to come here for a week can in many cases now extend their visit to two, as we have.

This influx of Québécois to New England worries that region's competitors in the Maritime provinces, particularly in the New Brunswick that has a large Francophone population and extensive beaches of its own, as the Daily Gleaner points out, claiming that "[m]ore Quebecers are returning to their favourite U.S. haunts of Old Orchard Beach and Ogunquit in Maine."

Michael Levenson's Boston.com article "At Old Orchard Beach, Canadians right at home" goes so far as to claim that "French-Canadians [. . .] are flooding this honky-tonk beach town like never before. Six out of every 10 visitors to Old Orchard Beach are Canadian, 20 percent more than last summer, according to the local Chamber of Commerce, [b]uoyed by the strong Canadian dollar and the easy drive (about 6 hours from Montréal)."

In many parking lots, license plates from Quebec outnumber those from Maine. French fills the bars at night. And the souvenir shops cater to Québécois with signs that read "De vraies dents de requin" -- real shark's teeth -- and "Votre nom sur un grain de riz" -- Your name on a grain of rice.

"This is like Florida for Canadians," said Megan Brown, 24, a bartender at The Pier, where about 75 percent of the clientele is French-Canadian. "That's what Old Orchard Beach is for them. It's their Daytona Beach."

[. . .]

"We expect that Canada will annex Maine soon," said Jean-Guy LaPointe, a civil servant from Quebec, laughing as he tanned on the beach. "We could exchange the Yukon for Maine."

Donald Cuccioletta's article "Are you going to Old Orchard again this year? Quebec's New England outpost", published originally in the Winter 2005 issue of Inroads, makes the point that Old Orchard's connection with Québec stems

The end of World War Il marked the beginnings of the invasion of the Québécois (or French Canadians as they were called then). The love affair between the Québécois and Old Orchard had begun. "The French Canadians, the ones with money, had always come here before the war, but after the war, they came in droves," Priscilla Gallant, curator of the Old Orchard Historical Museum, explained to me. She herself has strong French-Canadian connections - as well as Acadian and Native (Haché) heritage. Gallant's mother was a Roy, originally from the Beauce. She explained that today in Saco and Biddeford, towns just south of Old Orchard Beach, over 30 per cent of the population is of French-Canadian origin: "They came to work in the textile mills of Biddeford and some set up permanent residence right here in Old Orchard." She paints a picture of a community that has incorporated into it the French-Canadian population: "St. Margaret Catholic Church - just at the top of Old Orchard Street, the main street of the town - was in the twenties and thirties a French church, and even today on Sundays some sermons are given in French for our Québécois friends who take their holidays here." The ongoing presence of French Canadians is indeed strong here. In Biddeford Madame Côté, who works at the City Hall, greeted me in French. This former Quebecer from Sherbrooke, married to an American, described how the French-Canadian (now Franco-American) heritage was being preserved. Later at the presbytery of St. Margaret Church, I encountered Guenette Maheu, a woman in her sixties. As we conversed in French, her face and eyes lit up as she shared her reflections about the area. Speaking in her maternal language, her cultural roots seemed to flower.

[. . .]

Even though they may not know the history of their ancestors' massive immigration south to the textile mills of New England, they see traces of the descendants of some of their own ancestors who immigrated here to earn a better living on mailboxes and in the phone books. There is also a subtle but identifiable social connection - as Québécois walk the beach, everyone spontaneously addresses them in French: " Bonjour", Bonne Journée", "II fait beau aujourd'hui", "Prenez votre temps." Yet no one carries a distinguishable iTiark, sign or flag that says "1 am Québécois." As Québec historian Paul-André Linteau once remarked, "C'est le Qubéec par en bas" (It's Quebec down below). This is the informal side of a developing "Francophonie" in a region of North America that has historical, economic and now political links with Quebec.
Tags: francophonie, french language, migration, new england, quebec, tourism
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