Louis Gagne and the Tented
City of Bath
By Juliana L’Heureux
Back to Juliana's Writings
Textile mills were not the only source of employment for young French-Canadian
men during the World War I era. In 1917, Louis Gagne, a French-Canadian
who moved from Quebec to Lewiston, eventually wound up in Bath, Maine to
take a job as a ditch digger at 35 cents an hour. During his short employment,
he figured out a way to build the "Tented City" in Bath. He may be the
first Mainer to understand the attraction of affordable housing. His story
is the subject of "The Times of Bath, Maine", a publication of the Bath
Perlston Pert, 68, a Topsham resident and charter member of the Bath
Historical Society, researched Gagne’s life by reading old newspaper articles
and checking city records. "Gagne was a man who thought well of himself,"
says Pert. "We know a lot about Gagne because he left a small biography/
autobiography." Pert believes Gagne clipped together many of the newspaper
clippings of the period to create his peculiar "biography/autobiography".
Gagne was an enterprising man and a persistent negotiator when he wanted
something. His quest to construct a tent housing project in Bath began
when he was trying to find a place to live. Gagne arrived in Bath on December
1, 1917 because he wanted to earn "a big wage", offered by the ship building
companies. Although he got a job, he was stuck living with six other men
who paid $8 a week to share an attic room.
Spurred to action by his inconvenience, Gagne recalled how a similar
housing problem in Quebec was resolved with the use of tents. At this point,
Gagne thought he had a wonderful idea but none of his "certain influential
friends" agreed with him. Typically, the Bath City officials wanted no
part of Gagne’s idea to build a tent city.
Eventually, Gagne sold his automobile and personal property to buy the
tents himself. At first, he lived in tent alone and encouraged visitors.
It was a great word of mouth marketing strategy. Soon, Gagne had more orders
for tents than he could fill. When orders were backlogged, his customers
bought tents themselves while paying Gagne a rent for the property the
tent occupied. Gagne’s tented city was well organized and the tents were
After the tents became popular, Gagne expanded into the construction
of small cottages. This time he had better luck. A Lewiston contractor
and builder came to his rescue and the project took off with great success.
"The houses would not cost that much and were a safe environment," wrote
Interestingly, Gagne’s inspirations were rooted in his French-Canadian
background with support from friends in Lewiston. City officials in Bath
kept a critical eye on Gagne’s investments. Although the city desperately
needed housing, the tented city and the cottages were never popular.
An unusual twist to this story is the ultimate fate of the hero. Despite
extensive research, Perleston cannot find a record of Gagne’s death, which
apparently occurred when he returned to work in Canada. "The date and place
of his death are unknown," says Perleston. Of course, this begs the question
for more information about the life and death of Louis V. Gagne.
Back to Top
Published on July 1, 1999
Copyright 1999-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland,
Maine and Juliana L'Heureux