📷 Félix watches over Main Street Southbridge at the intersection of South and Main. Photo by Helen Boyle Valentino
“In general, the book is a treasure trove of detailed historical and cultural information.”
By Sarah Champagne, Managing Editor
SOUTHBRIDGE – If you grew up in Southbridge, you probably know about Félix. He stands as a constant presence where South Street meets Main Street, across from the former Mary E. Wells Junior High School. The bronze statue, commemorating the historic Félix Gatineau, has been a familiar landmark to generations of Southbridge residents. Even if you don’t know his story, you’ve probably heard that name- Félix Gatineau.
His story and the story of French Canadians in Southbridge during his lifetime are now available to a larger audience. Almost a century after it was first published in French, Gatineau’s L’Histoire des Franco Americains de Southbridge, Massachusetts has been translated into English. The author of the translation, Dr. Elizabeth Blood of Salem State University, will be at Jacob Edwards Library Thursday, Sept. 27, to talk about the book and what she discovered in the translation.
Blood is a French professor at Salem State University and is of French-Canadian ancestry herself. She teaches French language and as well as a class on French translation. Her collaborative research is the basis for a walking tour of Franco-American Salem. She was asked to translate the Gatineau work by Alan Earls of Via Appia Press.
Earls served as editor and publisher for the translation. He was born in Southbridge and he is descended from French-Canadians who settled in Southbridge and started businesses in the town.
Earls reached out to several academics before coming across Blood’s enthusiasm for the project.
“I offered to do it since it fits in with my current research agenda and just sounded really interesting,” Blood remarks.
“I don’t know exactly when I first encountered Felix’s book but it must have been at least 30 years ago,” Earls recalls. “Although I had a rudimentary familiarity with French, I couldn’t decipher much. A cousin of mine, Louise Tremblay Cole, who has strong French skills, translated a section of the book released to the Blanchard Brothers Orchestra but I badly wanted to be able to enjoy the rest of the book.”
The Blanchard brothers operated an orchestra and theater in Southbridge. The father and sons who operated the business were the great-grandfather and the grand-uncles of Earls. The family also ran a barbershop in Southbridge in the early 20th century.
Earls has previously published local history books through his Via Appia Press, including one for the Town of Medway Historical Society.
Blood found that Gatineau’s book was a rich source of historical information that had been previously inaccessible to many.
“In general, the book is a treasure trove of detailed historical and cultural information. Gatineau loved lists, and there are many in the book. Descendants will enjoy discovering all of this information about their ancestors, and others will better understand the lives of their immigrant ancestors by looking at Southbridge as an example,” she remarks.
According to the Via Appia Press website, the book is marked by “an exhaustive listing of hundreds of individuals and their involvement in the local community,” making the translation a valuable resource to those interested in learning more about their genealogical background. The book also has more than 100 illustrations.
“As a researcher, though, the thing that struck me most of all was how the community in Southbridge maintained such strong ties to happenings in Quebec, particularly political happenings. While most French-Canadians immigrated to the U.S. for jobs, some left for political reasons. This seems to be the case for Southbridge, at least for the early immigrants. The first wave came from a town called St. Ours in Quebec around 1837-1838. This was the time of the Rebellion of the Patriotes in Quebec when French-Canadians rebelled against the British Government,” she adds.
Blood also discovered during her translation that St. Ours was the site of the first meeting of the “patriotes,” whose initial failed rebellion resulted in executions and exiles.
Earls is glad to have the opportunity to have published the translation and to share the wealth of information that Gatineau recorded in his native French.
“Needless to say, this is very satisfying to me. The hard work and complex struggles of the French- Canadian immigrants is an important part of our region’s story and deserves to be remembered, understood, and celebrated,” says Earls of the translation.
Southbridge 100 Years Ago: Exploring The Franco-Americain Community, presented by Dr. Elizabeth Blood of Salem State University will be held Thursday, Sept. 27, from 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at Jacob Edwards Library, 236 Main Street, Southbridge.
Books will be available for purchase at the event and light refreshments provided by the Friends of Jacob Edwards Library.
This program is presented in conjunction with The Last Green Valley Walktober series that encompasses activities in 35 towns in the southern Worcester County area of Massachusetts and into Connecticut following the path of the Quinebaug and Shetucket rivers Sponsored by Friends of Jacob Edwards Library and The Last Green Valley Walktober.