French Canadian Americans

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French-Canadian Americans
Américains canadiens
Total population
Regions with significant populations
New England (especially Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont), New York, Michigan, California and Louisiana
French (Canadian and American· English · Franglais
Predominantly Roman Catholicism, minority of Protestantism
Related ethnic groups
French Canadians, French Americans, Canadian Americans, French people, Cajuns, Métis Americans

French-Canadian Americans (also referred to as Franco-Canadian Americans or Canadien Americans) are Americans of French-Canadian descent. About 2.1 million U.S. residents cited this ancestry in the 2010 U.S. Census; the majority of them speak French at home. Americans of French-Canadian descent are most heavily concentrated in New England and the Midwest. Their ancestors mostly arrived in the United States from Quebec between 1840 and 1930, though some families became established as early as the 17th and 18th centuries.

The term Canadien (French for "Canadian") may be used either in reference to nationality or ethnicity in regard to this population group. French-Canadian Americans, because of their proximity to Canada and Quebec, kept their language, culture, and religion alive much longer than any other ethnic group in the United States apart from Mexican Americans. Many "Little Canada" neighborhoods developed in New England cities, but gradually disappeared as their residents eventually assimilated into the American mainstream. A revival of the Canadian identity has taken place in the Midwestern states, where some families of French descent have lived for many generations. These states had been considered part of Canada until 1783. A return to their roots seems to be taking place, with a greater interest in all things that are Canadian or Québécois.

French-Canadian population in New England

In the late 19th century, many Francophones arrived in New England from Quebec and New Brunswick to work in textile mill cities in New England. In the same period, Francophones from Quebec soon became a majority of the workers in the saw mill and logging camps in the Adirondack Mountains and their foothills. Others sought opportunities for farming and other trades such as blacksmiths in Upstate New York. By the mid-20th century French-Canadian Americans comprised 30 percent of Maine's population. Some migrants became lumberjacks but most concentrated in industrialized areas and into enclaves known as Little Canadas in cities like Lewiston, Maine, Holyoke, Massachusetts, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

Driven by depleted farmlands, poverty and a lack of local economic opportunitunities, rural inhabitants of these areas sought work in the expanding mill industries. Newspapers in New England carried advertisements touting the desirability of wage labor work in the textile mills. In addition to industry's organized recruitment campaigns, the close kinship network of French-Canadians facilitated transnational communication and the awareness of economic opportunity for their friends and relatives. Individual French-Canadian families who desired dwellings developed French Canadian neighborhoods, called Petit Canadas, and sought out local financing. Most arrived through railroads such as the Grand Trunk Railroad.

French-Canadian women saw New England as a place of opportunity and possibility where they could create economic alternatives for themselves distinct from the expectations of their farm families in Canada. By the early 20th century some saw temporary migration to the United States to work as a rite of passage and a time of self-discovery and self-reliance. Most moved permanently to the United States, using the inexpensive railroad system to visit Quebec from time to time. When these women did marry, they had fewer children with longer intervals between children than their Canadian counterparts. Some women never married, and oral accounts suggest that self-reliance and economic independence were important reasons for choosing work over marriage and motherhood. These women conformed to traditional gender ideals in order to retain their 'Canadienne' cultural identity, but they also redefined these roles in ways that provided them increased independence in their roles as wives and mothers.

The French-Canadians became active in the Catholic Church where they tried with little success to challenge its domination by Irish clerics. They founded such newspapers as 'Le Messager' and 'La Justice.' The first hospital in Lewiston, Maine, became a reality in 1889 when the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the "Grey Nuns", opened the doors of the Asylum of Our Lady of Lourdes. This hospital was central to the Grey Nuns' mission of providing social services for Lewiston's predominately French-Canadian mill workers. The Grey Nuns struggled to establish their institution despite meager financial resources, language barriers, and opposition from the established medical community. Immigration dwindled with the U.S. immigration restrictions after World War I.

The French-Canadian community in New England tried to preserve some of its cultural norms. This doctrine, like efforts to preserve Francophone culture in Quebec, became known as la Survivance.


Madawaska, Maine 75.%
Frenchville, Maine 70.%
Van Buren, Maine 65.%
Fort Kent, Maine 63.%
Berlin, New Hampshire   53.4%
Lewiston, Maine   50.%
Auburn, Maine   46.2%
Biddeford, Maine   46.%
Greene, Maine   43.1%
Hallandale Beach, Florida   42.1%


Maine 23.9%
New Hampshire 23.2%
Vermont 21.1%
Rhode Island 17.2%
Massachusetts   12.9%
Connecticut   9.9%

French Canadian immigration to New England

Distribution of French Canadians in New England, 1860–1880
State Francophones Percentage Francophones Percentage
Maine 7,490 20.0% 29,000 13.9%
New Hampshire 1,780 4.7% 26,200 12.6%
Vermont 16,580 44.3% 33,500 16.1%
Massachusetts 7,780 20.8% 81,000 38.9%
Rhode Island 1,810 5.0% 19,800 9.5%
Connecticut 1,980 5.3% 18,500 8.9%
Total 37,420 100% 208,100 100%
Distribution of French Canadians in New England, 1900–1930
State Francophones Percentage Francophones Percentage
Maine 58,583 11.3% 99,765 13.4%
New Hampshire 74,598 14.4% 101,324 13.6%
Vermont 41,286 8.0% 46,956 6.4%
Massachusetts 250,024 48.1% 336,871 45.3%
Rhode Island 56,382 10.9% 91,173 12.3%
Connecticut 37,914 7.3% 67,130 9.0%
Total 518,887 100% 743,219 100%

American cities founded by or named after French Canadians

Distribution of Franco Americans according to the 2000 census

Notable French Canadian Americans

See also

Further reading

  • Anctil, Pierre. (1979). A Franco-American Bibliography: New England, Bedford, N. H.: National Materials Development Center, 137 p.
  • Barkan, Elliott Robert. (1980) "French Canadians". in Stephan Thernstrom, ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups 388-401, comprehensive survey
  • Brault, Gérard-J. (1986). The French-Canadian Heritage in New England, Hanover: University Press of New England, 1986, 282 p. ISBN 0-87451-359-6 (online excerpt)
  • Brown, Michael. "Franco-American Identity at the University of Maine," Maine History 1997 36(3-4): 106-119
  • Chartier, Armand, and Claire Quintal (1999). The Franco-Americans of New England. A History, Manchester and Worcester: ACA Assurance and Institut français of Assumption College, 537 p. ISBN 1-880261-05-7. 537pp; encyclopedic coverage, 1860 to 1990s.
  • Doty, C. Stewart. "The Future of the Franco-American Past," American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 2000, Vol. 30 Issue 1, pp 7–17 calls for further research on trade unionism, politics, farming and logging, links with Quebec elites, and literary figures.
  • Fecteau, Edward (1945). French Contributions to America. Methuen, Mass.: Soucy Press; Franco-American Historical Society (Société Historique Franco-Américaine). OCLC 1312704.
  • Fedunkiw, Marianne P. "French-Canadian Americans." in Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, (3rd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2014), pp. 167–183. Online
  • Fréchette, Louis (1900). The United States for French Canadians, 345 pages online free
  • Gagné, Peter J. and Adrien Gabriel Morice (2000). French-Canadians of the West. A Biographical Dictionary of French-Canadians and French Métis of the Western United States and Canada, Quintin Publications, ISBN 1-58211-223-1
  • Geyh, Patricia Keeney, et al. (2002). French Canadian Sources. A Guide for Genealogists, Ancestry Publishing, 320 pages ISBN 1-931279-01-2 (online excerpt)
  • Gosnell, Jonathan. "Le base ball, Assimilation, and Ethnic Identity: The National Pastime in Franco-America." Quebec Studies 66 (2018): 49-75. online
  • Lacroix, Patrick (2016). "A Church of Two Steeples: Catholicism, Labor, and Ethnicity in Industrial New England, 1869–90". Catholic Historical Review. 102 (4): 746–770. doi:10.1353/cat.2016.0206. S2CID 159662405.
  • Lacroix, Patrick (2017). "Americanization by Catholic Means: French Canadian Nationalism and Transnationalism, 1889-1901". Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. 16 (3): 284–301. doi:10.1017/S1537781416000384. S2CID 164667346.
  • Lacroix, Patrick (2018). "À l'assaut de la corporation sole : autonomie institutionnelle et financière chez les Franco-Américains du Maine, 1900-1917". Revue d'histoire de l'Amérique française. 72 (1): 31–51. doi:10.7202/1051145ar.
  • Lamarre, Jean. (2003). The French Canadians of Michigan, Wayne State University Press, 209 pages ISBN 0-8143-3158-0 (online excerpt)
  • Laflamme, J.L.K., David E. Lavigne and J. Arthur Favreau. (1908) Public Domain Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "French Catholics in the United States". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • Louder, Dean R., and Eric Waddell, eds. (1993). French America. Mobility, Identity, and Minority Experience Across the Continent, Louisiana State University Press, 371 pages ISBN 0-8071-1669-6
  • Lindenfeld, Jacqueline. (2002). The French in the United States. An Ethnographic Study, Greenwood Publishing Group, 184 pages ISBN 0-89789-903-2 (online excerpt)
  • Monnier, Alain. "Franco-Americains et Francophones aux Etats-Unis" ("Franco-Americans and French Speakers in the United States). Population 1987 42(3): 527-542. Census study.
  • Murphy, Lucy Eldersveld, Great Lakes Creoles: A French-Indian Community on the Northern Borderlands, Prairie du Chien, 1750-1860. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Perreault, Robert B. Franco-American Life and Culture in Manchester, New Hampshire: Vivre La Difference (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Potvin, Raymond H. "The Franco-American Parishes of New England: Past, Present and Future," American Catholic Studies 2003 114(2): 55-67.
  • Richard, Mark Paul. (2008) Loyal but French: The Negotiation of Identity by French-Canadian Descendants in the United States, on acculturation in Lewiston, Maine, 1860 to the 2000
  • Richard, Mark Paul. (2016) "'Sunk into Poverty and Despair': Franco-American Clergy Letters to FDR during the Great Depression." Quebec Studies 61#1: 39-52. online
  • Richard, Sacha. (2002) "American Perspectives on 'La Fievre aux Etats-Unis,' 1860–1930: A Historiographical Analysis of Recent Writings on the Franco-Americans in New England," Canadian Review of American Studies 32(1): 105-132
  • Roby, Yves. (2004). The Franco-Americans of New England. Dreams and Realities, Montreal: Les éditions du Septentrion, 543 pages ISBN 2-89448-391-0 (online excerpt) translated by Mary Ricard.
  • Rumily, Robert. (1958) Histoire des Franco Americains. a standard history, in French
  • Stewart, Alice R. (1987) "The Franco-Americans of Maine: A Historiographical Essay," Maine Historical Society Quarterly 26(3): 160-179
  • Vermette, David G. (2018) A Distinct Alien Race: The Untold Story of Franco-Americans: Industrialization, Immigration, Religious Strife
  • Warren, Jean-Philippe. (2017) "The French Canadian Press in the United States." Journal of Modern Periodical Studies 7.1-2: 74-95. online

Primary sources

  • Madore, Nelson, and Barry Rodrigue, eds. Voyages: A Maine Franco-American Reader (2009)
  • Robbins, Rhea Cote. 'down the Plains,' (2013)
  • Robbins, Rhea Cote. Wednesday's Child (2008)
  • Robbins, Rhea Cote, ed. Canuck and Other Stories (2006)

External links