📷 A statue in memory of Félix Gatineau stands at South and Main Streets in Southbridge. Helen Boyle Valentino photograph.
Sarah Champagne, Managing Editor
In celebration of the release of Félix Gatineau’s History of the Franco Americans of Southbridge in English translation, here are some selected quotes from the book that may reveal as much about the author as they do about Southbridge in 1919.
“My goal, in publishing this modest volume, was to transmit to future generations all that relates to the birthplace and humble beginnings of the colony of people of Fench-Canadian origin in Southbridge, Mass., and this with the hope that the young generation, following the examples and noble lessons offered by the pioneers of our ethnicity, may be able to perfect the work that began so nobly.” (Introduction)
“There is no village more stylish or more prosperous in all of Worcester county than Southbridge, whose origins we endeavor to recount.” (p. 3)
“Southbridge is not the ‘City of Light,’ we have no such pretention, but we can happily call it the eyeglasses-city, the city where you can find what you need ‘to see better,’ to make things clear!” (p. 4)
“And today, if we undertake to write the history of the Canadians of Southbridge, it’s to show those slanderers that we are not the pariahs that they once believed us to be, for we must admit that today, people’s eyes are starting to open and they have a more favorable view of us. Despite the defamation, immigration is in full swing.” (p. 15)
“Words fail us in describing such beauty and such sumptuousness, and anything we can say or imagine can only give a weak or imperfect idea of what our beautiful Notre Dame Church looks like. The moment we enter the church is when we are overwhelmed with admiration and feel obligated to cite the Holy Scripture, ‘This is indeed the house of God and the doorway to heaven.’” (p. 75)
“Those who would label French Canadians as weak or cowardly will see in reading the following that they are severely mistaken. There is certainly a wonderful chapter that could be written about the selflessness, the devotion, the spirit of sacrifice and the patriotism of ‘Southbridgers.’ When the country needed people to defend it, when dark clouds began to gather on the horizon signaling a coming storm, when there was a possible threat against the great flag that shelters us, our compatriots did not turn a deaf ear.” (p. 145)
“After the speeches, there was a tug-of-war competition between a team from the St. Jean-Baptiste Society of Webster and one from here. Our kind visitors from Webster were well prepared for victory; they had chosen blacksmiths, masons, etc. The president alone weighed 300 pounds. The fight was on, for Southbridge also had Homeric champions, but in the end our visitors proved that they were stronger and they won the prize, which was a flag they carried in triumph all the way to the train station. And they never miss an opportunity to reminisce about the festivities in Southbridge in 1899, an event that was the last big celebration in the history of the society.” (p. 166, describing a St. Jean Baptiste day celebration)
“In passing, we might dare say that several of our young Canadians might have better positions if they thought a little more about educating themselves and a little less about entertaining themselves!” (p. 186)
“The ‘Southbridge Brass Band’ had been in existence for thirty years; it is comprised mostly of Canadians and is recognized as one of the most important musical groups in Worcester County, especially known for French music.” (p. 237)
“At the American Optical Co. today, of the total 3,050 workers, 1,503 are Canadians. Some have been working there for over forty years.” (p. 266)