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 Henri IV. 

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