North America Celebrates
400 Years of French History
By Juliana L’Heureux
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A Kennebunkport reader is adamant about Maine's important role in the
400 year anniversary celebrations planned in Canada to commemorate the
first French colony in North America at St.Croix Island in 1604, a later
settlement in Port Royal in the Canadian Maritimes and, of course, Quebec
City. Although some French organizations appear aware of the three upcoming
anniversary celebrations beginning in 2004, preparations for the events
are not yet obvious. Dr. Jerome Collins, a retired psychiatrist living
in Kennebunkport for the past 25 years, is enthusiastic about the anniversaries
of the three French colonies because his family comes from Nova Scotia
where the colonists landed in the early 17th century. Also, his wife, Monique
Desaulniers Collins, is a French-Canadian descendent, on her mothers side
of the family, of Louis Hébert, a settler who arrived in Quebec
with Samuel de Chaplain.
"These celebrations are going to be very big deals in Canada.
I am told there are joint celebrations planned in the US, Maine and Louisiana
involving national and state park services but there is very little publicity,"
writes Collins. Nevertheless, he is busy drumming up all the support he
can find for the international celebrations scheduled between 2004-2008
in Nova Scotia, Maine, Quebec and Louisiana.
Collins began searching Maine for groups working on the anniversaries
following a recent visit to Nova Scotia. There, he learned about upcoming
international events while noting the 400-year-old dates etched on historic
monuments in Port Royal. "We must do something major to celebrate," says
Collins. "Il faut se souvenir de St.Croix: 1604-2004!" (We have to remember
St.Croix!), he says.
Collins is well versed about the "French Fact" in North America,
a term meaning colonial settlements on this continent were founded by France
before the British arrived at Jamestown VA (1607) and Plymouth Mass (1620).
French was the primary European language spoken in colonial North America
until the British arrived. While there were earlier European outposts in
North America, before the St.Croix settlement, most of them were fishing
camps or fur trading outposts. The St.Croix settlement was the first step
in creating a settlement sponsored by the French government under King
Maine was part of the French territory called Acadia. Many Maine families
have strong French-Canadian roots in Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
"This celebration is about people's heritage", says Collins.
Collins is writing lots of personal letters to Maine politicians and
government agencies about the anniversaries. Nathaniel Bowditch, assistant
director of the Maine Office of Tourism, responded to a letter by agreeing
to put the issue on the April 9th meeting of the Maine tourism committee.
Governor King’s office responded with a description of a committee he formed
to work on the "St.Croix 2004" project.
No cultural or educational organization should be exempt from celebrating
this remarkable anniversary, says Collins. This is a significant event
taking place right here in Maine. He calls the event a "cultural blockbuster".
It is refreshing to hear passionate comments about the French heritage
from a person who is a not even a Franco-American. Collins urges people
to call or write to Governor King. More important, wants Maine communities
involved by organizing celebrations with library displays, educational
programs, museum exhibits and musical concerts.
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Published March 22, 2001
Copyright 1994-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland,
Maine and Juliana L'Heureux