|Frenchtown, probably in the 1930s|
My Plourde ancestors did both, settling for a time in Lowell, Mass., then uprooting themselves again for Michigan. The many children of Honoré and Angelique Plourde established themselves in Canada, in Massachusetts and in Michigan.
French Canadians tended to settle in neighborhoods, which then acquired the names "Little Canada," or "Frenchtown." Here they often intermarried, reared fairly large families, and often clung to French Canadian traditions, like tourtiére (meat) and Reveillon (after-mass Christmas celebration). It was not unusual to hear French spoken, at least into the 1960s.
Two of the three French Canadian families from which I am descended made their home in our own Frenchtown, an area bounded by a river to the south and farms and woodland to the north.
The neighborhood had its own commercial district, made up of grocery stores, a hardware store, a restaurant, a tavern or two, and a general store. When the area was settled, most men worked in the woods or in lumber mills. Later, men could walk to work at a sash and door company, a brewery, a packing plant, a dairy and a boiler works.
Frenchtown had its own public school, a behemoth of brick that burned in 1952. It was replaced by a L-shaped building the following year, which served as a polling place for decades. Toward the center of town was a Catholic church and school, founded by French Canadians in the 1880s. It was a short walk for classes or Sunday mass.
The neighborhood offered ample room for adventurous children to explore, with fields, swamps and river islands on its perimeter.
In those days - just a century ago and on into the 1970s - neighbors helped each other, providing rides to church in winter and offering vegetable bounty from backyard gardens. Some families shared origins back in Quebec; this brought them closer in their new home. Still, rivalries existed.
In the heart of Frenchtown, the building my great-grandfather bought about 1883 was most likely constructed over time, beginning soon after the neighborhood was platted 20 years earlier. On a corner with little setback, the two-story building was a general store on the ground floor with a flat on the second floor. Initially, my great-grandfather rented the ground floor to another French Canadian. He and his young family lived above the store.
In the 1920s, when he retired from the lumber mills, he and my great-grandmother moved to Milwaukee for a time where he used his considerable carpentry skills to earn money to turn his home into a family two-flat. He did this in 1930.
The building served as a family home until 2003, when it was sold to a loving family who have remodeled it and put their own stamp on it, making new memories there.
|Entering Frenchtown from the old bridge.|