Second Generation Franco-Americans

French Island (Officially called Treat & Webster Island), Old Town, Maine

French Island, Old Town, Maine

I originally wrote what follows for a history class at the University of Maine. I was cleaning out some boxes and ran across the rough draft of this project. I decided to clean it up a bit and share it.

For the project, I was instructed to read a book and conduct interviews with people that related to the book in some way. I read “The First Franco Americans”, by C. Stewart Doty. The book contains four case studies of Franco-American communities. The communities were Manchester, NH; Old Town, Maine; Barre, Vermont; and Woonsocket, Rhode Island. All of these cities have large Franco-American communities and were developing during the turn of the 20th century. Manchester and Woonsocket were chiefly textile communities, Old Town was mainly a lumbering community, and Barre was primarily a quarry town. According to the book, the growth of Franco-American communities can be largely attributed to the development of Franco-American parishes.

Many of the remaining second-generation Franco-Americans were born in the United States. My grandparents were second-generation Franco-Americans. Both grew up speaking both French and English. Growing up, my grandfather, primarily, spoke French. My grandmother spoke mostly English. Many Franco-Americans felt that they were at a disadvantage because they knew very little English. Non-Franco-Americans wanted them to speak English, even among themselves.

During this time, there was tension between Franco-Americans and other ethnic groups in these communities. Jobs were scarce and competition for those jobs was fierce. Many non-Franco-Americans felt that the Franco-American came to “steal” the few available jobs.
Paul & Eva Collins - 40th Anniversary
One might think that Paul and Eva Collins haven’t lived terribly colorful lives. However, the interviews I conducted (November 1985) have proven that their lives have been both interesting and colorful. Both of my maternal grandparents are from the Old Town area. My grandmother was from Milford where she and her family lived. My grandfather lived on French Island (formally known as Treat and Webster Island) all his life.

Eva M. (Oakes) Collins
My grandmother’s father, Andrew DeShane, lived in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, in his younger years. His father died when he was 9 years old. His mother remarried a lighthouse keeper who didn’t want the responsibility of caring for children. So, Andrew was forced out of his home by his step-father’s lack of compassion. He came to Maine looking for his Uncle. Once he found him, he discovered that his uncle was much like his step-father. His uncle traded him to a farmer for a bushel of potatoes. The farmer used him as a farm hand for several years.

Andrew’s surname was anglicized to Oakes when he became naturalized. DeShane, in French, means “the oak”. Eventually, he married Orella LaBree and settled in Milford. He and Orella had 11 children. (Frank, Cecil, Alfred, Clarence, Eva, Lawrence, Nelson, Angie, Irene, Henry, & Francis.) My grandmother was born on April 28, 1914, the tenth of the eleven children. Orella, my great-grandmother, died when my grandmother was twelve years old. Andrew was then raising seven boys and 4 girls by himself. Because she was the youngest girl, my grandmother became her fathers “little girl” (three out of the 5 oldest children were girls).

Even after her mother’s death, my grandmother continued her schooling. She had more formal education than my grandfather. She went to elementary school at Milford Grammar School, then attended Helen Hunt School (a Junior High School) in Old Town and Jefferson Street School (which was the High School at that time). Additionally, she had responsibilities at home. The “boys” being a majority, one might think that she would be delegated a lot of the “woman’s work”. But, the reality was that her sisters were grown and out of the family home by this time. Her brothers did a lot of the cooking, cleaning, etc. Basically, everyone pulled his or her own weight.

Andrew died in 1945. Two of her brothers, continued living in their childhood home. Frank lived there right up until his death in 2007.

After High School, my grandmother worked in Osgood’s Restaurant in Milford. She waited tables for a very small wage and tips. She then, prior to marrying my grandfather, worked in one of Old Town’s long defunct shoe factories. After marrying my grandfather, she didn’t work again until after my uncle and mother were born. She went back to work in the 1950’s.

She worked at LaBree’s Bakery on French Island. The bakery was staffed primarily by neighborhood women and my grandmother was one of the first employees. In 1959 she began working at F.W. Woolworth Co., on Main Street in Old Town. She retired in 1975, at the age of 61. She lived on French Island until just a couple of years before her death in 1999.

Paul Collins
My grandfather lived his whole life on French Island. The house that he lived in was originally on Hayes Street and was moved, via horse and logs, to its present location on Bodwell Street. My grandfather’s parents were George Collins and Alice Mary (Paradis) Collins. When my grandfather was 13, his father died. My grandfather left school in the 6th grade and took responsibility for the family and taking odd jobs to support them. He worked as a “Cookee” in a lumbering camp. In this job, he delivered lunches to the woodsmen. He did this until he realized he hated doing it.

At the age of 15, he started working at T.M. Chapman’s Sons Company. Chapman’s grew as a result of the Old Town area’s booming lumber industry. It was a foundry and machine shop on the northern end of Treat & Webster Island. The founder of the business invented a machine that would mechanically file circular saws, which helped the lumber industry be more efficient. The business expanded to make railroad equipment and then went on to aircraft and missile parts. My grandfather helped make parts for Allied aircraft during World War II. This was through government contracts held by Wright Aeronautical and sub-contracted to Chapman’s. After World War II, Chapman’s contracted with McDonald-Douglas Co. and Pratt & Whitney, Inc. In 1968, Dead River Company bought Chapman’s and moved the company to a site near Bangor International Airport, hoping to increase contracted business. In 1971, problems in the aerospace industry caused layoffs. Basically, technology was skyrocketing (forgive the pun) and
Chapman’s was unable to compete. Chapman’s closed for good in 1972.

My grandfather was the type of person who could invent a part for a machine, if one didn’t exist, and he did this many times in his life. He was never credited for these inventions because he never got them patented. Despite leaving school at a young age, my grandfather was very smart. He read a lot and absorbed all that he read or was shown. He was a brilliant craftsman and many of my family members have furniture he made in his basement workshop. Many of my fondest memories are of the two of us “working” together in the basement. “Working” usually meant him working on a real project and my cutting and hammering pieces of scrap wood together, to create a mess. He always took time to show me how to use tools, which tools were the proper ones to use and how to do things safely.

When the union came to Chapman’s, my grandfather was given the choice to join or not. Being a foreman, my grandfather couldn’t reap the “benefits” of a union, so he chose not to join.

During the Great Depression, my grandfather was taken away from his work at Chapman’s to work with the Work Progress Administration. This created financial hardships for my grandfather and his family. At the time, his salary was the sole source of income for his family. Once he was released from the W.P.A., he returned to Chapman’s.

In 1937, he married my grandmother at St. Ann’s Church in Bradley. My Uncle, George Andrew Collins, was born on December 18, 1939 and my mother was born on April 19, 1942.

For a year or so, he found work in another precision machine shop in Old Town. He then went to work at Old Town Paper Products, a local mill that produced such things as paper plates, paper cups, and paper trays. He retired in 1973 at the age of 65. My grandfather passed away, after a short illness, in June 12, 1982.

Postscript:
While thinking about posting this college paper as a blog, I got thinking about my grandparents and their roles in my life. My father passed away in 1976, when I was 9 years old. My grandparents helped my Mom raise my sister and I. I can’t count the number of times they picked us up after school. The countless times that they were at the house when we got home with snacks & hugs (…healthy snacks too like Oreos that we could dip into tubs of Cool Whip!). Fun things like going camping, canoeing and fishing with me. How proud I was that my grandmother was there to see me become and Eagle Scout and graduate High School and College. And so many more things…probably many I can’t even remember…But, I wish I did. they were great people.

(Originally posted on my first blog site)

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About Paul H-C

Just an avid reader in the little town of Bangor, Maine (Yes, that Bangor...home of Stephen King). When I'm not reading and drinking coffee, I sell cell phones by the sea shore.
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2 Responses to Second Generation Franco-Americans

  1. Mike Collins says:

    Great read! We are some lucky people, having had grandparents like this.

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