Franco-American Heritage Diverse

By Juliana L’Heureux

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Although Franco-Americans share a common history and cultural heritage rooted in their French ancestry, there's actually diversity within the society.

For example, the Acadians' history, with roots in Nova Scotia (Acadie), differentiates them from the Quebecois in Canada. This difference oftentimes surprises people who consider themselves Franco-Americans, regardless of where their North American ancestors originated.

Franco-Americans like Francoise Paradis, a school psychologist living in Saco and native of Maine's St. John Valley (The Valley), says she's somewhat surprised to learn about the two distinctions.

"Well, from my experience living in The Valley, most everyone has a little of both the Acadian and Quebecois. Some are pure bred Acadians and some pure bred Quebecois," she says. "But they all get along as one culture. Over the centuries, they learned each other's idiosyncratic ways and language."

They understand the nuances of each other's particular "patois" -- a term used to describe any colloquial language. Acadian patois is rich with French slang words. Therefore, because the Quebecois and the Acadians understand each other, Paradis says, there does not seem to be a distinction between the two groups.

"I think Acadians everywhere have blended with other Franco- Americans. It attests to the adaptability of the Acadians. They like to blend in, wherever they are," she adds. "This may be a result of having to adapt to hostile environments after the 1755 deportation from Nova Scotia."

Paradis explains how the Acadians came to Maine to become farmers. Quebecois, on the other hand, largely came to northern Maine to find forestry work in the woods.

"My father had a lumber mill and hired many Canadians as well as Americans. They were good hard loyal workers," she says. "Acadians, I think, stayed on the farms."

Of course, now there are fewer farms in Aroostook County and The Valley. As a result, everyone has had to adapt to the changes, yet again. Many Franco-Americans from Quebec went to work for Fraser Paper in Madawaska. Those who could not get a job at the mill moved out of the area to look for other jobs. Yet, theirs was a different migration than that of the Canadians who moved into areas in southern Maine and around New England specifically to work in the factories.

The migrants from northern Maine entered various job markets including clerical, machinist, construction and other factory work.

"They were hard workers and highly sought by industries," she says.

Maine's Acadian Archives at the University of Maine in Fort Kent provides a wealth of history about the Acadian arrival and settling patterns in The Valley. The Web site is at

A definition provided on the Web site defines a Maine Acadian as, "An American of French descent connected by heritage to the Upper St. John Valley (along the St. John River), including but not limited to genealogical descendents of early Acadian settlers of Aroostook County."

Acadians can sometimes even differentiate themselves from each other. An example on the Web site describes how Maine Acadians respond when asked if they're French or American? Then will say they're Americans.

Yet, the Acadians, with genetic ties to Maine families, living just across the Canadian border from Madawaska in nearby Edmundston, New Brunswick, will call themselves French, rather than Canadians.

Published in the June 21, 2007, Portland Press Herald, Neighbors Edition

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Copyright © 2007, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux