French Canadian American
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Michigan, and Louisiana

French (Canadian and American) · English


Roman Catholicism, minority Protestant

Related ethnic groups

French Canadians, French Americans, Canadian Americans, Frenchmen, Cajuns, Métis Americans

French-Canadian Americans are Americans of French Canadian descent. About 2.1 million U.S. residents cited this ancestry in the 2010 U.S. Census; the majority of them speak French at home.[2] Americans of French-Canadian descent are most heavily concentrated in New England and the Midwest. Their ancestors mostly arrived in the United States from Quebec between 1840 and 1930, though some families became established as early as the 17th and 18th centuries.

The term Canadien (French for "Canadian") may be used either in reference to nationality or ethnicity in regard to this population group. French-Canadian Americans, because of their proximity to Canada and Quebec, kept their language, culture, and religion alive much longer than any other ethnic group in the United States apart from Mexican Americans.[3] Many "Little Canada" neighborhoods developed in New England cities, but gradually disappeared as their residents eventually assimilated into the American mainstream. A revival of the Canadian identity has taken place in the Midwestern states, where some families of French descent have lived for many generations. These states had been considered part of Canada until 1783. A return to their roots seems to be taking place, with a greater interest in all things that are Canadian or Québécois.[4]

French-Canadian population in New England[edit | edit source]

In the late 19th century, many Francophones arrived in New England from Quebec and New Brunswick to work in textile mill cities in New England. In the same period, Francophones from Quebec soon became a majority of the workers in the saw mill and logging camps in the Adirondack Mountains and their foothills. Others sought opportunities for farming and other trades such as blacksmiths in Northern New York State. By the mid-20th century French-Canadian Americans comprised 30 percent of Maine's population. Some migrants became lumberjacks but most concentrated in industrialized areas and into enclaves known as 'Little Canadas in cities like Lewiston, Maine.'[5]

Driven by depleted farmlands, poverty and a lack of local economic opportunitunities, rural inhabitants of these areas sought work in the expanding mill industries. Newspapers in New England carried advertisements touting the desirability of wage labor work in the textile mills. In addition to industry's organized recruitment campaigns, the close kinship network of French-Canadians facilitated transnational communication and the awareness of economic opportunity for their friends and relatives. Individual French-Canadian families who desired dwellings developed French Canadian neighborhoods, called Petit Canadas, and sought out local financing. Most arrived through railroads such as the Grand Trunk Railroad.[6]

French-Canadian women saw New England as a place of opportunity and possibility where they could create economic alternatives for themselves distinct from the expectations of their farm families in Canada. By the early 20th century some saw temporary migration to the United States to work as a rite of passage and a time of self-discovery and self-reliance. Most moved permanently to the United States, using the inexpensive railroad system to visit Quebec from time to time. When these women did marry, they had fewer children with longer intervals between children than their Canadian counterparts. Some women never married, and oral accounts suggest that self-reliance and economic independence were important reasons for choosing work over marriage and motherhood. These women conformed to traditional gender ideals in order to retain their 'Canadienne' cultural identity, but they also redefined these roles in ways that provided them increased independence in their roles as wives and mothers.[7][8]

The French-Canadians became active in the Catholic Church where they tried with little success to challenge its domination by Irish clerics.[9] They founded such newspapers as 'Le Messager' and 'La Justice.' The first hospital in Lewiston, Maine, became a reality in 1889 when the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the "Grey Nuns", opened the doors of the Asylum of Our Lady of Lourdes. This hospital was central to the Grey Nuns' mission of providing social services for Lewiston's predominately French-Canadian mill workers. The Grey Nuns struggled to establish their institution despite meager financial resources, language barriers, and opposition from the established medical community.[10] Immigration dwindled after World War I.

The French-Canadian community in New England tried to preserve some of its cultural norms. This doctrine, like efforts to preserve francophone culture in Quebec, became known as la Survivance.[11]

Cities[edit | edit source]

Madawaska, Maine 75.%
Frenchville, Maine 70.%
Van Buren, Maine 65.%
Fort Kent, Maine 63.%
Berlin, New Hampshire   53.4%
Lewiston, Maine   50.%
Auburn, Maine   46.2%
Biddeford, Maine   46.%
Greene, Maine   43.1%

States[edit | edit source]

Maine 23.9%
New Hampshire 23.2%
Vermont 21.1%
Rhode Island 17.2%
Massachusetts   12.9%
Connecticut   9.9%



French Canadian Immigration to New England[edit | edit source]

Distribution of French Canadians in New England, 1860-1880 [13]
State Francophones Percentage Francophones Percentage
Maine 7,490 20.0% 29,000 13.9%
New Hampshire 1,780 4.7% 26,200 12.6%
Vermont 16,580 44.3% 33,500 16.1%
Massachusetts 7,780 20.8% 81,000 38.9%
Rhode Island 1,810 5.0% 19,800 9.5%
Connecticut 1,980 5.3% 18,500 8.9%
Total 37,420 100% 208,100 100%
Distribution of French Canadians in New England, 1900-1930 [14]
State Francophones Percentage Francophones Percentage
Maine 58,583 11.3% 99,765 13.4%
New Hampshire 74,598 14.4% 101,324 13.6%
Vermont 41,286 8.0% 46,956 6.4%
Massachusetts 250,024 48.1% 336,871 45.3%
Rhode Island 56,382 10.9% 91,173 12.3%
Connecticut 37,914 7.3% 67,130 9.0%
Total 518,887 100% 743,219 100%

American cities founded by or named after French Canadians[edit | edit source]

Distribution of Franco Americans according to the 2000 census

Provo, Utah, named for Etienne Provost

  • Detroit, Michigan named by French explorer Cadilac source: Detroit City Charter

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ "2013 ACS Ancestry estimates". 2013. Retrieved 2015-10-15. 
  2. ^ "Languages Used at home:" (PDF). 2010 U.S. Census. U.S. Census Bureau. October 2010. 
  3. ^ l’Actualité économique, Vol. 59, No 3, (september 1983): 423-453 and Yolande LAVOIE, L’Émigration des Québécois aux États-Unis de 1840 à 1930, Québec, Conseil de la langue française, 1979.
  4. ^ Harvard encyclopedia of American ethnic groups,Stephan Thernstorm, Harvard College, 1980, p 392
  5. ^ Mark Paul Richard, "From 'Canadien' to American: The Acculturation of French-Canadian Descendants in Lewiston, Maine, 1860 to the Present", PhD dissertation Duke U. 2002; Dissertation Abstracts International, 2002 62(10): 3540-A. DA3031009, 583p.
  6. ^ Hudson, Susan (2013), The Quiet Revolutionaries: How the Grey Nuns Changed the Social Welfare, 1870–1930, Routledge 
  7. ^ Waldron, Florencemae (2005), "The Battle Over Female (In)Dependence: Women In New England Québécois Migrant Communities, 1870–1930", Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 26 (2): 158–205, doi:10.1353/fro.2005.0032 
  8. ^ Waldron, Florencemae (2005), "'I've Never Dreamed It Was Necessary To 'Marry!': Women And Work In New England French Canadian Communities, 1870–1930", Journal of American Ethnic History 24 (2): 34–64, 
  9. ^ Richard, Mark Paul (2002). "The Ethnicity of Clerical Leadership: The Dominicans in Francophone Lewiston, Maine, 1881–1986". Quebec Studies 33: 83–101. DOI:10.3828/qs.33.1.83. 
  10. ^ Hudson, Susan (2001–2002), "Les Sœurs Grises of Lewiston, Maine 1878–1908: An Ethnic Religious Feminist Expression", Maine History 40 (4): 309–332 
  11. ^ Stewart, Alice R. (1987), "The Franco-Americans of Maine: A Historiographical Essay", Maine Historical Society Quarterly 26 (3): 160–179 
  12. ^ a b According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 2000
  13. ^ Ralph D. VICERO, Immigration of French Canadians to New England, 1840-1900, Ph.D thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1968, p. 275; as given in Yves ROBY, Les Franco-Américains de la Nouvelle Angleterre, 1776-1930, Sillery, Septentrion, 1990, p. 47
  14. ^ Leon TRUESDELL, The Canadian Born in the United States, New Haven, 1943, p. 77; as given in Yves ROBY, Les Franco-Américains de la Nouvelle-Angleterre, Sillery, Septentrion, 1990, p. 282.

External links[edit | edit source]

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