Part V: Our French-Canadian People Their History and Traits

by Laurel | December 16th, 2013

Pierre Bonvouloir of Holyoke

Pierre Bonvouloir of Holyoke

11 December 1904

[Note: this piece was published in 1904 and should be considered representative of the time. Initially a bit verbose, as the article continues there is some interesting information on the French Canadians in Holyoke and Springfield. Because of the length, the article has been split into six parts, this is Part IV of VI.]

Race, Integrity and Language Preserved to a Remarkable Degree–Causes of the Immigration Movement — Customs and Literature.

 The French-Canadian Colony of Holyoke, continued

Possessing such a large body of citizens bound together by such close tied, it would have been altogether strange if the French-Canadian had not taken a large part in the Holyoke politics. It cannot be said of Holyoke that as a race they have gravitated toward wither Party. Rather may prominent French-Canadian be found in both parties, As will be seen, many important offices in the city government have been held by them, though they have never yet elected a mayor. But it seems more than probable that at some time the mayor of Holyoke will be of French-Canadian blood, as there has been one in Rhode Island (at Pawtucket), where they have also had a French-Canadian for lieutenant-governor.

Gilbert Potvin of Holyoke

Gilbert Potvin of Holyoke

To single out among the large French-Canadian population of Holyoke those who have attained the most prominence is a difficult matter, as the list of influential men would be long. Among the most prominent of them from the importance of his public office and his long service in it is Pierre Bonvouloir, city treasurer, who has honorably help that position for 12 years. Mr. Bonvouloir was born at St. Brigide, P.Q., in 1854, and came to Holyoke in 1875, He has also served on the city council and upon the school committee. He maintains a deep interest in all the endeavors as well as the traditions and literature of his nationality. Edouard Cadieux, who will have served as truant officer in Holyoke for 17 years next March, was born in St,. Mathias, and came to Holyoke first in 1871. Afterward he was in Chicopee for a year, returned to Canada and finally came back to Holyoke for good in 1883.

Gilbert Potvin, Sr., the “father of the Holyoke Frenchmen” came to Holyoke 45 years ago, being among the earliest of the French speaking people. He began his building operations as an ordinary contractor and shortly after arriving was interested in a dry-goods store, a grocery and shoe store. He prospered, being gifted with good judgment and an ability to see ahead. He has done over $2,500,000 worth of building and at present owns seven stores and 320 tenements. Many a Frenchman owes his prosperity to the advice he received from Gilbert Potvin; and very seldom is a French building or real estate transaction of a magnitude attempted without consultation with him. His word, to use a common expression, is as good as his bond and he never had had to take back a block that he sold. It is the ambition of every French organization to get Gilbert Potvin in some way connected to it. His only son, Gilbert Potvin, Jr., is a member of the Holyoke board of public works thus representing the French speaking people upon that board, His is a face and bearing of distinguished individuality and betokens a man of no ordinary ability.

Another prominent French property holder is Louis A. LaFrance, whose operations in the building line have been almost phenomenal during the past few years. The number of tenements controlled by him are in excess of any other individual in the city; and he pays the largest individual tax of any one. He also owns the only skyscraper in Holyoke, the LaFrance building, eight stories high and every floor occupied. A few years ago and Louis Lafrance was a clerk in Holyoke stores. he first began under Gilbert Potvin then later was with Dickinson and Dempster and still later with Ferguson and Logan. Filbert Potvin built a block for him and LaFrance and then took a little flyer in building himself. For a time the two men were together but later they separated. He took big business chances, and had the quiet backing of men who saw that if Holyoke was ever to progress as it should, there must be men who would take some changes. But these chances all seemed to prosper — the skyscraper was doomed to bankrupt him,, Mrs. Grundy said, but it didn’t; his purchase of the New York blocks was looked on as a fool transactions by some others, but it wasn’t, they are paying splendidly. And he is still building blocks and tenement houses.

Val Moquin is one of the most substantial and prosperous of Holyoke’s French-Canadians. He came to Holyoke in 1868, and has since then gained the trust of the public, which is attested by the responsibilities placed in his hands. He is a director of the French Canadian co-operative bank, and also in the People’s and the Holyoke Savings Bank. He has twice served on the fire commission. Dr. Authyme S. Menard is another prominent member of the French-Canadian colony, and has studied at the post-graduate medical college of New York, and also in Paris. A. D. Gingras is overseer of the poor, Joseph St. Martin is one of the assessors. A. M. Potvin is a well-known business man who has served on the board of aldermen. The list might with justice be carried on almost indefinitely, but enough has been said to indicate to what a degree the French-Canadians in Holyoke have risen to their opportunities.

From The Springfield Republican.

One Response to “Part V: Our French-Canadian People Their History and Traits”

  1. Brendan Denehy says:

    Great series of articles, thanks for sharing. My great grandfather was George Hamel, who was an alderman around 1905, shortly after this article was written. Also descended from Alfred Beaudry who ran various businesses from 1870’s – 1900.

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