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University Press to Re-Issue Classic Franco-American Novel

Media contact: Joe Carr at (207) 581-3571 Orono

On Thursday, April 17, the University of Maine Press will officially launch the republication of the long-out-of-print Franco-American classic novel, Papa Martel, by Lewiston author Gérard Robichaud. In honor of this event, the University of Maine English Department, the Franco-American Centre, the Franco-American Studies Program, and the UMaine Press will co-host a book-signing reception and readings by Robichaud, now 94, and two other Maine Franco-American writers. Rhea Coté Robbins, of Brewer, author of Wednesday’s Child, and Waterville native Grégoire Chabot, author of Jacques Cartier Discovers America, will read from their works. The book signing reception will be held at 4 p.m. followed by the readings and discussion with the authors from 4:30-6:00, at the Franco-American Centre in the Crossland Hall on the University of Maine campus. The new edition of Papa Martel will be on sale at the event, which is free and open to the public.

Papa Martel, which was originally published by Doubleday in 1961,is the loosely autobiographical story of a Franco-American family, led by Louis Martel. The story is related through the coming of age of his nine children, from 1919 to 1937, with flashbacks to the youthful premarital years of Louis and his future wife Cecile. On a second level, the novel draws out the social context of this distinct chapter in the four-hundred-year Francophone presence in North America. The story is set in Groveton, Maine, an unabashedly Franco and Catholic town loosely based on Lewiston, Maine, the town of Robichaud’s boyhood. Papa Martel, a contract carpenter who travels throughout Maine for work, fills his children with stories of Acadie, their ancestral homeland, in a sense binding his family to the much larger “family” of French in North America.

“It is the story of a strong and loving family,” Robichaud says of his novel. “In accents tender and light-hearted, it speaks of births, marriages and deaths, of affection and love and mutual support given without question, of mutual respect and in-family customs and traditions that last, of a medieval faith that endures to this day in spite of it all.”

Robichaud, whose father was also a contract carpenter, was born in 1908 and left his home in Lewiston at the age of 12, two years after his mother died, to study in a preparatory school in Montreal with the intention of becoming a priest. Like a character in his book, he left the seminary and worked for a short time at a bank in Connecticut before being drawn to New York City. He did not learn English until he was nearly twenty. In 1941, Robichaud enlisted in the Army and served in the Pacific until 1945. He entertained his fellow soldiers with stories of his life in Lewiston. He arrived back in New York on VJ-Day and met his future wife, Elizabeth, that very night. He enrolled in a writing program at Columbia University in 1951 and, at the urging of his wife, began chronicling the family stories he had shared with her and his Army buddies. Those stories formed the basis for Papa Martel.

Recently, the Baxter Society of Portland included Papa Martel on its list of 100 books that reveal the history of Maine and the life of its people. The book has been a favorite in university classes and town library discussions.

“That Papa Martel manages after all these years to home in under our highly developed radar and still touch us suggests a sustaining power beyond the surface appeal of the family’s winning ways,” says Jim Bishop, a lecturer in English at UMaine, who wrote the introduction to the new edition.

Robichaud, who received an honorary degree from UMaine in 1991, has published one other novel, Apple of His Eye, and continues to work on a novel about his war years in the South Pacific.

Since seating will be limited, those who plan to attend the April 17 event are encouraged to contact Yvon Labbe at the Franco-American Centre, 581-3764 or, or Jim Bishop, 581-3618 or

Faculty Reading Group

For spring semester 2003, the Franco American Studies interdisciplinary faculty reading group will be reading Ian McKay’s The Quest of the Folk. Ian McKay is a Professor of History at Queen’s University. His research interests lie in Canadian cultural history and in the economic and social history of the Atlantic Region of Canada in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia is a genealogy of the myth of the folk in Nova Scotia. We will meet two times this semester. On March 28th we will discuss the first two chapters and on April 25th we will discuss the remaining three. We will meet from 4-6pm in the Franco American Center Library (Crossland Alumni Center). The book as well as a xeroxed copy have been put on reserve in the library under the course code REA 001. Please join us! Contact the Franco American Studies office at 581-3791 or Susan Pinette on First Class for more information.

The Franco American Studies Faculty Reading Group The aim of this group is to examine challenging texts within cultural studies, including but not limited to the following topics: language and identity; post-colonialism; language politics; the uses of history in identity formation, multiculturalism, gender, nationalism, the “literary” and ethnography, and “la francophonie.” It is hoped that these topics will be discussed from a variety of approaches in an interdisciplinary manner. Knowledge of Franco American issues is not necessary.

At State House, the French are still Strongly in Fashion

By PAUL CARRIER, Portland Press Herald Writer Copyright – 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

AUGUSTA – The French are a people scorned in America these days, thanks to France’s vocal opposition to a war against Iraq. But the mood was far different at the State House on Wednesday, where Maine’s strong Franco-American heritage was celebrated and the French language echoed from one end of the Capitol to the other. French bashers were nowhere to be heard during Maine’s second annual Franco-American Day, but their assaults were on the minds of some people who took part in the daylong event.

Almost a quarter of Maine’s 1.2 million people claim French or French Canadian ancestry, according to the 2000 census. If participants in Wednesday’s festivities are any indication, Maine’s Franco-Americans are of many minds on the anti-French sentiment that has swept the country in recent weeks. Some are personally offended by attempts to characterize the French as cowards, pacifists or ingrates, either because such attacks ignore France’s many contributions to America or because they disagree with President Bush’s handling of the Iraqi crisis. “Vive la France,” said Rep. Joanne Twomey, D-Biddeford, who grew up speaking French in York County and addressed an anti-war rally in Quebec City in French last month. “I’m very proud that France did what they did because it reflects my beliefs.”

Most of Maine’s Franco-Americans are of French Canadian descent. In most cases, their ancestors sailed from France to what is now Canada in the 17th century and their families lived there for hundreds of years before moving to the United States. So even French-speaking Franco-Americans often feel no more connected to France than Hispanics with Mexican roots feel emotionally tied to Spain. “Our ancestry is from Canada,” said Democratic Rep. Richard Mailhot, a Franco-American from Lewis- ton. “I don’t think of myself as of French ancestry.” As a result, Mailhot said, American hostility toward France “doesn’t upset me a bit.” The French tried to settle on St. Croix Island near Calais in 1604, established a permanent settlement in what is now Nova Scotia in 1605 and founded Quebec in 1608. That was 12 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Some Franco-Americans say they are deeply offended by the claim that France has forgotten its debt to America, because those who make that argument ignore America’s debt to France. “Without the French during the Revolutionary War, we would not have a free country, as we do today,” said Lionel Guay Jr. of Lewiston, the founder of the Franco-American Heritage Center in that city. “People forget history,” he said. France sent money, munitions, troops and ships to help the American cause during the Revolution and the Marquis de Lafayette was a major general in George Washington’s army. A century later, France gave the Statue of Liberty to the United States and it remains “probably the best gift the United States has been given” by anyone, said Donat Boisvert, coordinator of the Franco-American Heritage Collection at Lewiston-Auburn College. For decades, some Franco-Americans said Wednesday, children were penalized for speaking French in Maine. The Ku Klux Klan campaigned against Jews and French Catholics in Maine in the 1920s. And as recently as the early 1990s, a southern Maine radio station created a statewide furor by running a comedy routine featuring a dim-witted Franco-American character known as Frenchie. The feature was dropped in 1993. “We didn’t deserve it then,” former state legislator Judy Paradis of Frenchville said of the prejudice aimed at Franco-Americans, and the people of France “don’t deserve it now.” Some Franco-Americans who have spent time in France said Wednesday the French people are extremely fond of Americans, and do not deserve to be vilified for their perceived anti-American sentiments. “To see the American flag flying proud and straight at that (veterans) cemetery (in Normandy) was a very moving experience,” said Patrick Paradis of Augusta, a former state legislator whose French ancestors settled in Canada in 1638. The French people are “very pro-American,” he said.

Remarks by Governor John E. Baldacci

Day at the State House March 19th, 2003

En Français

Pour marquer cette occasion, je salue la communauté Franco-Américaine du Maine. Depuis des siécles, les gens de souche française enrichissent notre état. Le “Fait Français”se voit et s’entend, à travers le Maine: à Biddeford, à Westbrook, à Rumford, à Lewiston, à Augusta. à Waterville, dans la Vallée Saint Jean, ainsi que dans plusieurs autres endroits. Les noms de famille comme Cyr, Violette, Martin, Paradis, Perreault, Gagnon, Rossignol, Dutremble, Côté, etc., que nous trouvons partout dans le Maine démontrent notre héritage français, et nos liens historiques avec le Québec et l’Acadie.

Je félicite la communauté Franco-Américaine pour ses maintes contributions à l’économie et à la vie culturelle du Maine. La diversité des groupes ethniques de notre état est une remarquable richesse digne de respect et d’honneur. En tant que Gouverneur, je suis fier que le Maine puisse jouir de diverses cultures, traditions et langues, car tous nos citoyens sont l’honneur et la fierté de notre état.

In English

To mark this occasion, I take this opportunity to salute the Franco-American community of Maine. For centuries, people of French decent have enriched our state. The “French Fact” can be seen and heard throughout Maine, In Biddeford, Westbrook, Rumford, Lewiston, Augusta, Waterville, the Saint John Valley, as well as in many other places. Family names like Cyr, Violette, Martin, Paradis, Perreault, Gagnon, Rossignol, Dutremble, Cote, etc., that are found everywhere in Maine illustrate out French heritage, and out historic links with Quebec and Acadia.

I congratulate the Franco-American community for it may contributions to Maine’s economy and cultural fabric. The diversity of Maine’s ethnic population is a remarkable asset worthy of respect and honor. As Governor, I am proud that Maine enjoys diverse cultures, traditions and languages, for our citizens are the pride, and strength of our state.

UMaine’s Franco-American Centre to Distribute Thousands of French Language Books to Maine Communities

March 13, 2003 by Susan Young for UMaine Press

Thousands of books in French will be distributed to communities throughout Maine by the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine. The books were donated by schools, businesses and individuals in Quebec to strengthen ties between people of French heritage in the United States and Canada, and to help Franco-Americans maintain their culture and language.

The book distribution program was organized by the le Conseil de la Vie Française en Amérique (the Council on French Life in America), a Quebec group that aims to help people of French heritage in North America better understand and maintain their culture and language. The distribution of books will officially be announced by the council in the Hall of Flags in the State House in Augusta at 11 a.m. on March 19. That day has been designated as Franco-American Day by the Maine Legislature.

The donated books, which number between 7,000 and 10,000, arrived at the university’s Franco-American Centre on March 12. They include children’s books, dictionaries, novels and biographies and have an estimated value of $75,000. They will be made available to the public through a distribution planning group from Maine Franco-American communities in the regions of Biddeford-Sanford, Augusta-Waterville, Lewiston-Auburn, Bangor-Old Town, and the St. John Valley. “This firms up further the relationship – through culture and language – that exists between the two regions,” says Yvon Labbé, the director of the Franco-American Centre and a member of the council. “It is nice to be able to give something free to the community,” he adds.

The council was founded in 1937 but was in decline in the 1980s. It was rejuvenated in the late 1990s with a mandate to do more work for Franco-Americans who live in the United States. Thus, the idea for the book collection project was born. Books have previously been collected for distribution in Louisiana. More than 30,000 books were given away there. Labbé says he hopes that more books can be collected and given to other communities in Maine and other New England states.

Franco American Studies
5742 Little Hall, Room 213
Orono, Maine 04469-5742
Phone: (207) 581-3791 | Fax: (207) 581- 1832
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469