Watch: Canadian Immigration to Maine, 1850-1940

Where do Maine’s Franco-Americans live?  That’s a question that’s at once both easy and difficult to answer.  The easy answer recalls large population centers well-known for their Franco-American communities – Lewiston, Biddeford, Waterville, Sanford, Augusta, Old Town, and places in the Saint John River Valley like Fort Kent, Madawaska, and Sainte Agathe.

But there’s another story to tell, as evidenced in my look at the Franco-Americans of Yarmouth or those in Brunswick.  Smaller communities (e.g. Brunswick)  had significant populations of Franco-Americans, which are sometimes overlooked by historians, and even relatively small towns (e.g. Yarmouth) usually had some Franco presence.  Ferreting out all these pockets of Franco-Americanism, on the other hand, is no small task.

Hopefully, I’ve compiled a tool that will help recognize what’s often referred to as the fait français, or the “Franco Fact” of Maine – that the entire state is home to Franco-Americans in some number.  Using transcriptions of the decennial censuses, I’ve been able to compile an interactive graphic of the numbers of Canadian-born Mainers between 1850 (the first year that nationality was included in the census) and 1940 (the most recent publicly-available census).

Of course, “Canadians” aren’t the same as French Canadians and, in the early census years in particular, the proportion of Canadian immigrants who were French-speakers is rather small (though less so in Northern Maine).  However, it’s all-but impossible to separate Anglophone and Francophone Canadians in this data. While the Census Bureau instructed enumerators to start making this distinction from 1900 onwards, those taking the census appear to have done so with varying degrees of zeal.  Many individuals are still simply recorded as “Canadians.”

The descendants of immigrants – second, third and fourth generation Franco-Americans – are also not recorded.  The Franco-American communities of towns, especially in the later years in this survey, were often much larger than estimated here.  A closer look at Lewiston-Auburn’s census returns, for example, which I conducted some years ago, numbers the Franco-American population there at 12,500, rather larger than the 3,100 recorded in this infographic, because so many in the community were American-born.

All that being said, the graphic makes for interesting viewing.  Happy exploring, and feel free to let me know what you notice in the comments section.

To open the viz in a new window, click here.




James Myall

About James Myall

While I currently work for an Augusta-based non-profit, I spent four years as the Coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine. In 2015, I co-authored "The Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn," a general history of that population from 1850 to the present. I was also a consultant for the State Legislative Task Force on Franco-Americans in 2012. I live in Topsham with my wife and two young daughters.