Je Me Souviens...I Remember: Presenting and Preserving the Heritage of Upstate New York's Franco-American Communities

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Je Me Souviens...I Remember: Presenting and Preserving the Heritage of Upstate New York's Franco-American Communities
Two Renaud / King / Lavigne Family Members Arm Wrestling, Cohoes, NY - Image Source

Collection Facts


Historical Context

The term “Franco-American” was first used in 1902 to refer to Quebec’s diaspora whose 1 million members, while still culturally and linguistically attached to Quebec, increasingly became part of the fabric of US society.

In addition to providing a safe haven for French Canadians who had opposed British authority in Canada, upstate New York also offered numerous opportunities for bettering their economic lot. For example, located less than 200 miles from the Canadian border, the city of Cohoes drew French Canadians in search of financial security. Initially, 20 families made the city their home in the 1830s. By 1881, Cohoes was the adopted home of over 6,000 Québécois, a number that comprised over a third of the city’s population. The community supported four French-language parishes, three bilingual parochial schools, five French-language newspapers, and three French-language amateur theatre companies. The industrial city of Troy, across the Hudson River, also had a French-Canadian immigrant population of nearly 4,000 by 1881, ensuring that the Franco-American community had a significant presence in the region. French Canadians also made their way to the state’s “North Country,” primarily to pursue work in agriculture, lumbering, and mining. However, assimilation, movement from these rural areas, and the passing of many Franco-Americans mean that this number is down from more than 60% in towns such as Ogdensburg and Tupper Lake. Nonetheless, in 2000 nearly half a million New Yorkers still reported their ancestry as “French,” the term used by most Franco-Americans to identify themselves (data from The Encyclopedia of New York State, p. 254). This collection seeks to preserve and promote knowledge of the rich heritage of Francos throughout upstate New York.

Scope of Collection

The Je me souviens…I remember Collection includes images of artifacts generally owned by Franco-Americans and shared with Siena College for the purposes of historic preservation and broader education. This collection was made possible by a National Endowment for the Humanities Common Heritage grant.