The goal of The Storykeepers Project is simple: to tell the story of French Canadian culture in the Great Lakes in our own words –– through personal reflections, first-hand accounts, and family stories. The most vital part of this effort is your voices. We invite you to make a contribution to this project by sending us short essays telling about your connection to French Canadian culture in the Great Lakes Region. For more information contact the editor of this blog, James LaForest, through the comments section or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is our growing archive of contributions to The Storykeepers Project.
This inaugural story for The Storykeepers Project reflects the experience of many French Canadians in Michigan whose families have lost the simple awareness of their heritage. Discovery in this case has led to a profound change in the author’s life and a deep appreciation of previously unknown connections.—ed.
Sue Palmer’s contribution to The Storykeepers Project shows how French Canadian ancestry has often been obscured through the generations due to anglicized surnames. It also shows that having tangible reminders of our ancestry, even something like an old church record, can elicit strong emotional responses. In this case, digitized records of old family occasions revealed a new world of family history and helped shape a new sense of personal identity.—ed.
Genealogy is an important element of French Canadian culture. Genealogies back to the first emigrants began appearing in the 19th century. But as John Goulait writes, there are often roadblocks to discovering your heritage. And what happens when heritage is based partly on oral tradition or family lore? Can records legitimize identity or do they simply serve to verify our knowledge? French Canadians often have family stories that have long been difficult to prove, yet are increasingly verified through modern research and science.—ed.
JAMES LaFOREST for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT #4 “FOR ST. ANNE’S DAY”
Among the pantheon of characters in the French North American narrative, St. Anne is firmly established as one of the earliest and most important. The grandmother of Jesus and the Mother of Mary, St. Anne was already an important figure among French Catholics, with one of the earliest sites of devotion to her found in northern France. St. Anne is the patron saint of Brittany where many early settlers embarked from, as well as of those who voyage by sea. Among the First Nations, St. Anne was quickly understood as ‘grandmother’ and acquired a deep and lasting significance among First Nations, Metis, and French Canadians alike.—ed.
Vivian LeMay, the author of The Last Lord of Paradise – A Family Saga of Early Michigan French Canadians, presents a reflection on childhood in the Detroit River Region. The experience she describes of having family on both sides of the river, many speaking French, is one of the unique qualities of the French Canadian experience in the region. Many generations of French Canadians have had family on both sides of the Detroit River and families often moved back and forth many times over the course of centuries, and continue to do so.—ed.
For many French Canadians today, even those born through the 1970s, growing up in large families was not an uncommon experience, due in part to adherence to the tenets of the Catholic church. Human nature being what it is, individual experience within large families is varied. In this contribution by Jesse LaForest, we encounter a range of experiences, with an emphasis on family ties and faith. And we see how traditional pursuits such as hunting and trapping, practiced by French Canadians in the region for centuries, continued on into the 20th century.—ed.
For many decades, popular culture did little to tell us the true story of history in North America, and in fact often presented erroneous, misleading, and stereotypical characterizations of historical figures. We often know an image, like the red-capped voyageur and his Indian maiden, but little else. In reality their lives were spent at the crux of history when new cultures were emerging and during what seems to us, times of constant struggle. Such is the case with Paul Drouillard’s ancestor, George Drouillard, whose skill and daring puts him in the pantheon of great explorers.—ed.
Historical Archaeologist Pat Tucker chanced upon the court case of Jean-Baptiste Beaugrand while researching another case connected to French Canadian history. This research culminated in an article for Michigan’s Habitant Heritage (Jan 2006) on territorial court records as a source for French-Canadian history, culture, and genealogy. The trial of Beaugrand and its connection to the legend of Sans Souci brings to light the extent to which folklore was integrated into the French-Canadian culture of early Michigan…and resulted in a surprising verdict in a murder case.—ed.
It is often difficult to understand the motivations of previous generations. For example, looking through a family lineage, surnames are not always fixed from one generation to another, changing for a variety of reasons. The same can be said for identity. Here is a story about re-embracing French Canadian identity in Ontario and, through an immersion program, choosing French as the language of daily life.—ed.
Writer and photographer Christopher Chagnon shares here an excerpt from his recent novel “The Dregs of Presque Isle.” Raised in Northern Michigan, Chagnon shines a light on the darker side of small town life through the prism of a French Canadian family living above their family owned funeral home. One of twelve children, his work is peppered with the Joual heard during his youth. In this excerpt he sets the stage with a particularly life-changing event. (Please be advised – contains description of embalming.)—ed.
Jeannine Sills, President of La Société des filles du Roi et soldats du Carignan (SFRSC) and native of The Soo, Ontario, reflects on history and how her own story, and that of her parents, echoes the travels and experiences of our early ancestors. She gives voice to the feeling many have of a deep connection to the Great Lakes region as a place we call home — and as a place where many of our families have lived for generations.—ed.
In a departure from our usual format of contributions from named authors, this week we offer a folktale known in some families and communities along the shore of Lake St. Clair. This story reflects a dilemma that many people face in researching and telling their family history. But at heart, it’s just a local tale and like all such tales, might tell us something about ourselves and our collective history. —ed.
This contribution from Mike Dubé vividly illustrates the challenges that francophones encounter in Ontario. While on the American side of the Great Lakes, the language of our forebears is all but gone, Ontario has a francophone population of around 500,000 people. Yet despite this, family dynamics, popular culture, and many other reasons may lead young people away from their heritage. Here is one story of a return to the language of youth, and a determination to pass on French and Franco-Ontarian heritage to the next generation.—ed.
For our special “Heritage Day edition” of The Storykeepers Project, storyteller, musician, and folklorist Genot Picor has shared with us the story of the ‘Haunted Sugar Cabin.’ Few things evoke French Canadian culture as readily as maple syrup…except for perhaps a good folktale involving spirits and visions in the night! It was a long winter in the thinly populated lands of New France. Many are the tales that our ancestors wove in the night, and happy are we who have inherited them.—ed.
Why a Cajun folktale? Life in the ‘French River World’ involved extensive travel – from Quebec and Acadia, to the Great Lakes, and beyond, including many voyages up and down the Mississippi between the centers of French life. Writer Beverly Matherne, a Louisiana native and longtime resident of the Upper Peninsula, brings to life these cultural intersections in the story ‘Théodule.’ In both English and French she offers her version of a tale she heard among speakers of Occitan in Southwest France. Filtered through a Cajun worldview, the character Théodule rings familiar to people marginalized because of their language and culture, an experience of Occitan speakers, Cajuns, and French Canadians alike.—ed.
GLORIA BAUER ISHIDA for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT #16 “ORIGINS UNKNOWN”
In an age when so much information is available to us online, it can be frustrating to genealogists who encounter mysteries in seemingly simple affairs as the origins of a relatively recent ancestor. Gloria Bauer Ishida writes about one such mystery. Her story also illuminates an ‘intermarriage’ – between a French-Canadian blacksmith and an Alsatian immigrant and the challenges this may have presented, from language barriers to homesickness.—ed
The story of New France is closely bound up with the story of religion. Officially open only to Catholics, historians show that early New France also saw Huguenots trickle in quite regularly. However, Roman Catholicism remained the dominant faith. But with the 19th and 20th centuries French Canadians, like all groups, became more free to break with tradition. Susan Colby’s ancestors are an example of French Canadians changing their practice and moving to America for a greater freedom of religion. —ed.
MIKE LAFOREST for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT #18 “CHERISHING FAMILY”
Readers will find three contributors to The Storykeepers Project named LaForest, including myself, Jesse LaForest, and now my brother Mike. Mike’s memories of growing up include a whole range of people and experiences that came well before my own birth. With large families like ours, it can be a bit like two generations of children in one! He relates in his contribution the importance of the wide range of family experiences he had in determining his connection to our heritage, especially the priceless time many of us were able to spend with our grandparents.—ed
The following has been collected and collated by Marie-Reine Mikesell with contributions from Virgil Benoit and Ralph Naveaux. Marie-Reine Mikesell is a longtime promoter and activist for French Canadian culture. She has kindly agreed to prepare a ‘brief history’ of the activities with which she and her colleagues have engaged over the past many decades. This special edition of The Storykeepers Project reflects well on the diversity of our heritage and the collaborative spirit that has animated it through the late 20th and into the 21st centuries. —ed
JEANNINE OUELLETTE for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT #20 “A BEND IN THE RIVER”
Writer Jeannine Ouellette has kindly written our 20th entry to The Storykeepers Project. Jeannine is the author of the blog Les femmes de la route 11: Les Elles du Nord in which she focuses on the history of Franco-Ontariennes from Northern Ontario. In her contribution to this collection, she brings to life the turbulent era of the 60s and 70s as it reverberated in rural Northern Ontario. Yet it is a story that also reverberates with the joy of youth and a life proudly lived among her French Canadian community.—ed
Contributors retain copyright of their submission to The Storykeepers Project and may republish their individual works with the understanding that The Storykeepers Project [the project edited by James LaForest and founded at voyageurheritage.wordpress.com] will be acknowledged. The Storykeepers Project retains the right to keep stories as part of the Storykeepers collection and to make further use of the material in non-commericial, non-profit contexts, such as a future transfer of the complete body of works to library and archive collections.