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

by Laurel | December 17th, 2013

N. L. Byron, Alderman of Springfield

N. L. Byron, Alderman of Springfield

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 VI of VI.]

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

The Springfield Colony

The French-Canadian colony in Springfield is far smaller than that of Holyoke and for that reason affords neither of the extremes of success of comparative poverty to be found in the Paper City. the French-Canadians also are more scattered in Springfield and estimates as to their social number vary considerably. A total of 2500 is said by those in a position to know to be a safe outside estimate, while other figures put it somewhat higher, the voting strength is estimated at potentially from 800 to 900. No great call for factory help has ever attracted the French-Canadians to this city as to Holyoke, but the majority of the immigrants from Canada came during about the same period, that is, the 20 years following with war with the South. As elsewhere, they have here shown a marked aptitude for the building trades, but otherwise are rather diversified in their employment.The dean of the local French-Canadian colony in point of continuous residence is Said Dessett, the blacksmith at the South end, who came to Springfield first in 1851 and since 1858 has conducted his trade on South Street. Mr. Grenier of Bliss Street and several others were established in the town, for it was not yet a city, when Mr. Sassett came, but Mr. Grenier has not since lived continuously in the city and the other pioneers have died. Sergeant Fred Hass, a popular member of the police force for so many years, is one of the oldest and best-known members of the colony. Sergeant Hadd came here in 1864.

But the most prominent member of the colony is Napoleon L. Byron, the president of the board of aldermen, who was born in Canada and came to this country in 1865 when he was nine years of age. Mr. Byron did not come to Springfield, however, until 1881. Mr. Byron has always been active in politics and it is through his leadership that the majority of the local French-Canadians are republicans. he was first elected a member of the city committee in 1898 and for two years following was a member of the common council. In 1901 he was elected to the board of aldermen and has since served in that body, being president for the board for the last two years. Dr. Benjamin Fagnant is perhaps second to Mr. Byron in prominence. Dr. Fagnant has practiced medicine here for some 30 years, chiefly, of course, among the French-Canadians, but among other races as well, and his cheery figure is well-known in the city.

The rallying point of the local colony is, like that of those elsewhere, the church. The history of St. Joseph’s church on Howard Street is the history of its now venerable and white-bearded pastor, Rev. Louis G. Gagnier, who came here in 1873. Under him the church was completed in 1877, and in 1898 the parochial school building facing on Water Street was built. Rev. Mr. Gagnier counts some 365 families in his parish, and in the parochial school are 300 or more children who are taught by eight sisters, who came originally from the mother house of the sister of Holy Cross a St. Laurent, near Montreal, P.Q.

At Indian Orchard in the St,. Aloysius parish there are 2500 French-Canadians, and some 350 children are taught in the parochial school. This parish was founded in 1873 by Rev. M. Gagnier.  In Mittineague there are about 700 French-Canadians, and in West Springfield 400, the latter under Rev. Mr. Genest. in Chicopee in the parish of the Church of the Assumption, under Rev. Frederick Bonneville, there are 1800 French-Canadians, and in Chicopee Falls, in the parish of St. Joachim, there are 1200 French Canadians.

The statement that to be a French-Canadian is to be a Catholic is almost, but not quite a statement of fact. There is a small by earnest French protestant movement in Canada, which has its parallel, or rather its branch in New England. The little French Protestant church on Bliss Street in this city is probably known to many and there is also a French Protestant church in Holyoke. the congregations are small, partly through an interesting cause, for the Protestant French-Canadians of the second generation are largely drawn into the English speaking churches of the various denominations. this of itseld indicates, what is sometimes disputed, that the French-Canadian Protestant is less tenacious of his separate nationality and his language than t=is the French-Canadian Catholic, in a word is more readily assimilated. the total congregation of the Bliss Street church numbers some 125 souls, who are widely scattered from Thompsonville to Indian Orchard. the Holyoke Church numbers perhaps a few more. The pastor of both  churches is Rev. A. J. Lods, who has lived in Holyoke nearly four years. He was born at Courbevoie, just outside of Paris, France, emigrated to Canada when a child, and was graduated at the Montreal Presbyterian College in 1889. The local French-Canadian college taking as it does students of many races, and not merely French-Canadians, does not come within the strict scope o this article.

The French Canadians, as might be expected, have gone in largely for fraternal organizations and societies which are, in effect at least, limited to their blood. Thus they have not only their benevolent St. Jean de Batiste societies, but also many French-Canadian branches or chapters of the well-known fraternal orders.

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