Canadiens, Acadiens, and Canada: Knowledge and Ethnicity in Labour History. (Labour/Le Travail: A Canadian Retrospective-Class, Gender, and Nation)

By Ferland, Jacques | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Canadiens, Acadiens, and Canada: Knowledge and Ethnicity in Labour History. (Labour/Le Travail: A Canadian Retrospective-Class, Gender, and Nation)


Ferland, Jacques, Labour/Le Travail


BY DISTINGUISHING between Canadien and Acadien workers, on the one hand, and Canada workers, on the other, this essay examines some of the cognitive implications of L/LT's epistemological commitment to a Canada-centered interpretation of labour history, particularly with respect to francophone working-class minorities. It argues that this labour history journal is representative of how emphasis on Canada-based workers and labour yields its own definition of class experience, a geo-political definition that does not necessarily correspond to the ethnically-grounded "national" aspirations and struggles of French-Canadian and Acadian workers.

Au FIL DES ANNEES, la revue Labour/Le Travail a adopte une epistemologie de l'histoire de la classe ouvriere basee sur l'emplacement geo-politique destravailleurs au Canada plutot que sur l'identit ethnique et la solidarite "nationale" des ouvriers et ouvrieres francophones. Pourtant, la connaissance historique sur les travailleurs du Canada ne correspond pas toujours aux realites sociales et aspirations collectives de ces travailleurs francophones, surtout lorsqu'ils se dirigent vers les grands centres industriels de la Nouvelle-Angleterre. Nous voulons souligner dans cet article comment l'histoire du travail au Canada n'englobe pas aussi bien l'histoire du travail des Canadiens et des Acadiens.

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On Saturday, June 1 [2002] in Rumford [, Maine,] at the Eagles Club, there will be an evening of music centered around the fiddle. A local family named Roy, has an incredible group of family performers who are gathering for an evening of music and good times. They are also bringing in some Canadian fiddlers to be part of the event. The Acadian Society has agreed to organize the food for the evening. So, the write up below will describe our efforts. Supper starts at 5pm and music will follow. The entire evening promises to be a lot of fun. If there is anyone out there wondering what the Acadians of Rumford are up to, here is your chance to come and see. (1)

A CENTURY AGO, French North Americans toiled in numerous factory cities and mill towns. They formed, in absolute numbers, the majority of the working-class population not only in the province of Quebec but also in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Biddeford, Maine, Southbridge, Massachusetts, Plainfield, Connecticut, and Suncook, New Hampshire. (2) More importantly, they represented the largest ethnic group in numerous New England industrial centres such as Fall River, Lowell, Holyoke, New Bedford, Fitchburg, Salem, North Adams, Chicopee, Marlboro, and Ware, Massachusetts. In these 10 centres alone there lived 120,000 French North Americans born in Canada or of Canadian parents. (3) Many of these workers still called themselves Canadians or Acadiens and were referred to as "French Canadians" or "Canada French" in the United States, where they mainly comprised non-unionized workers and mostly stood as "alien" members of American society. (4) With their predominantly rural outlook and agricultural background, they prov ed profitable to textile manufacturers, becoming the leading ethnic group in the New England mills, and totaling 44 per cent of the entire regional cotton textile workforce. (5) With time, they founded in the neighborhood of 150 national parishes, managing somehow to garner the resources necessary for the construction of various ethnic institutions in communities commonly known as petits Canadas. (6) Many among these Canadiens and Acadiens cultivated very close ties with their homeland, bonds that have lasted to this day, involving visiting relatives, reading about French-Canadian protest during World War I in francophone newspapers, sending their children to Quebec boarding schools, networking with Quebec mutual societies, or just reconnecting with their roots. (7) They still travel to Quebec and the Maritimes, but, after two world wars, a great depression and much assimilative pressure, the ethnic identity they share with their Quebec and Acadian counterparts has become more affective than experiential.

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