Canadians in the New England States

by E.B. Lapointe

In July of 1987, as we drove towards Quebec (from Nova Scotia) on Highway 201 in Maine—through Moose River, Jackman, Skowhegan, and Madison—we didn't realize that we were travelling on an old road called the "Canada Road." It has been given that name because so many people travelled it from Quebec down to the New England States on one of the great migratory paths of North American history.

From 1840 to 1930, nearly a million French-Canadians took this or similar paths to the United States, with many of them not returning to Canada. In the 1990 United States census, fully 13.6% of Americans said that they could trace their ancestry back to being French. The number of expatriates who lived in the New England States was so large that, in the 1920s, the Quebec government asked for them to come home in posters sprinkled throughout the States. A few came back to the province, but many stayed where they could find work, education, and a life away from the confines of Quebec culture.

From the 1840s to the 1860s, Northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine received the largest influx of French-Canadians to work in the forests and lumber yards of the times. >From 1860 to the 1930s, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine received the largest number of French-Canadian immigrants who worked in the new shoe and woollen factories being built in the Northeast.

Prior to 1908, people were able to move freely across the border into Canada from the United States if one or both of their parents had been born in Canada. They were simply listed as "Returning Canadians." The government of Canada did not keep a record of people leaving the country.

The Library of Congress has many stories of the French-Canadians as they came down to work in the States on the Eastern Seaboard in their American Life Stories series, located at the "Historical Collection for the National Digital Library" at, and contained in a searchable database.

One has to place the family name in the search engine, or input the subject of French-Canadian or Franco-American to read the stories. There are stories of Alex Lavoie, a French-Canadian textile worker; or of Ovide Morin, whose sons owned a retail business in Old Town, Maine. All of these narratives gives the reader a flavour of the French-Canadian story in America.

The American-Canadian Genealogical Society in Manchester, New Hampshire gives the member "common access by and for individuals of Acadian, French-Canadian and Franco-American origin." There is a journal on the website, as well as many publications for sale.

Vermont has the French-Canadian Genealogical Society at, and through their publications and other sections, such as the Vermont Quebec Border Crossings, show how close their tie is to Quebec. As their website says, "So many Ancestors ... So Little Time."

Rhode Island has the American-French Genealogy Society at, and they have many books for sale which the researcher would find helpful. They are launching a building fundraiser to help construct a place where all of their resources can be accessed, as well as a teaching and training facility.

The National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC has a variety of microfilm in its "National Archives Microfilm Publications Relating to Canadian Admissions and Border Crossings", and, in particular, microfilm which related to St. Albans, Vermont and Miscellaneous Ports from 1895 to 1949; Alien Arrivals at the Maine ports of Calais, Jackman, Fort Fairfield, Van Buren and Vanceboro from 1906 to 1952; the ports of Alexander Bay, Cape Vincent, Champlain, Clayton, Fort Covington, Rouses Point, Thousand Island Bridge and Trout River from 1929-1956; Hogansburg, Malone, Morristown, Odgensburg, Rooseveltown and Waddington in the state of New York; and the "Alphabetical Index to Canadian Border Entries Through Small Ports in Vermont, 1895-1924."

There is also a very detailed and comprehensive article on Canadian immigration to the United States onsite called "By Way of Canada: US Records of Immigration Across the US-Canadian Border, 1895-1954 (St. Alban’s List)" by Marian L. Smith. In the article, she gives a very detailed method of tracing an ancestor through the process of crossing from Canada to the United States.

Some famous French-Canadians who have found wealth and success in the United States have included Jack Kerouac, a famous writer from Lowell, Massachusetts, who was directly descendant from French-Canadians; Céline Dion, a French-Canadian pop singer who now has a regular show in Los Vegas; and Emeril Legasse, a popular celebrity chef and restaurateur from Fall River, Massachusetts, who is of Franco-American descent.

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    "A former newspaper reporter in Canada's capital, Ottawa, I became interested in writing about genealogy when researching my own ancestor, Andrew Barclay, an American Loyalist from Boston, Massachusetts, early in 1990. Quickly, my interest spread beyond my own family, and by 1994, I was editing a genealogy newsletter and by 1997, I was editing the Sourcing Canada series of books. Since then, I have gone on to write "My Ancestor Was French Canadian" and a series of booklets on Canadian genealogy. I love to travel the Canadian and American countryside looking for interesting people and places to photograph and to write about." - E.B. Lapointe

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