Quebecers in New England
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Quebecers in New England
French Canadians flee to the U.S. for work and ignore pleas to settle Canada's West
French Canadians flee to the U.S. for work and ignore pleas to settle Canadas West.
In the 1870s, about 10 per cent of Quebec's population moved to the northeastern United States to escape the economic depression in Canada. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
In the 1870s, about 10 per cent of Quebec's population moved to the northeastern United States to escape the economic depression in Canada. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)

While many Canadians headed west in the 1870s, Quebecers looked south for the promised land.

Thousands of French Canadians fled a devastating economic depression to find work in booming New England factory towns. In all, about 10% of Quebecs population moved to the northeastern United States to escape the depression.

Northeastern towns like Lowell, Manchester, Suncook and Keesville, collectively had a larger French-speaking population than Manitoba, earning them the name "Little Canadas."

The Quebec workers were treated poorly by the American factory owners. They were nicknamed "Chinese of the East" for the willingness to work hard for low wages at grueling clothing mills.

Back in Quebec, the mass emigration worried officials. Premier Charles Boucher de Boucherville feared the province would have less say in federal affairs because of a dwindling population.

At the same time, mass English Protestant immigration was threatening the French Catholic culture in the province of Manitoba. Missionary Father Albert Lacombe saw the best way to preserve the French rights was to encourage Quebecers to settle there.
Missionary Father Albert Lacombe believed the best way to preserve the French rights in Manitoba was to encourage Quebecers to settle there in the late 1800s. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
Missionary Father Albert Lacombe believed the best way to preserve the French rights in Manitoba was to encourage Quebecers to settle there in the late 1800s. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

But when Lacombe journeyed to Quebec to lure French Canadians out west, the premier resisted.

"Far from encouraging me in our business of colonization," Lacombe wrote of his meeting with the premier, "He assured me that he would do everything in his power to prevent Canadians from the province of Quebec from emigrating to Manitoba. He told me to go after the ones in the United States."

The hub of French Canadian life in the New England textile towns was the church. It was at these parishes, Father Albert Lacombe and others, told the French Canadians about the situation in the west.

"I want to speak to you about emigration to Manitoba. We need French emigration if we are to preserve our position. Please be aware that an average of forty families arrive from Ontario each month...Would you let them take lone possession of a land that belongs as much to us as to them? Come to Manitoba you Canadians from the United States who want to see your homeland again, come there and you will find yourselves at home. ... The prairies are there, waiting for you."

Unwilling to give up jobs for an unknown frontier, few French Canadians took up Lacombes challenge to populate the Canadian west.


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