I started THE MÉMÈRE PROJECT as a means by which to explore my French Canadian roots and ancestry, and also tell the story of the nearly one million French Canadians who emigrated to the United States from the 1840s to the 1930s, just prior to the great depression. This mass emigration is known as the Quebec diaspora. There are two major factors that contributed to the Quebec diaspora—one was the overpopulation of the rural areas of Québec, and the other was the industrialization of New England, primarily in the textile industry.
Now in case you’re not familiar with the term, the word mémère is a French Canadian term of endearment for grandmother. My grandmother on my mother’s side was a woman by the name of Claudia Breton, who was one of 12 children. She was born November 25, 1911, on a farm outside a small town called Thetford Mines in southeastern Québec. Like many before her, she left her hometown and moved to the U.S. in search of employment and a better way of life. My grandmother moved to Biddeford, Maine, to take a job in textiles, where she worked a large loom in less than desirable working conditions.
She fell in love with my grandfather, a fellow immigrant from Québec named Amedée Emond. They were married on December 26, 1927, and had four children, one of whom was born in Quebec, like her parents. In the mid 1930s, while living and working in Maine, Claudia and her eldest daughter, Theresa, were deported back to Canada, forcibly stripped from her family and their new way of life. They remained in Canada for nearly two years with little or no contact, before they were able to be reunited with their family the U.S.
The Mémère Project is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother Claudia, as well as the 900,000 French Canadians who sought a new and better life in the United States, sometimes in vain. My mission is to not only tell the story of Claudia but also the other amazing stories from this fascinating and widely unknown historical era. When you mention immigration and border control issues in the U.S., most people think of Mexico, but few realize that the world’s longest unarmed border has seen its fair share of drama, intrigue and pain over the last couple centuries.
I want to tell the stories that haven’t been told, and more importantly, haven’t been heard. I am about to undertake a pilgrimage to New England and Quebec to conduct research that will ultimately go into a documentary film that I will produce, as well as a book that I will publish, in the near future.
I realize that many people interested in this topic are native French speakers, so I will attempt to publish as much content in French, whenever possible. (Please contact me if you are able and willing to assist me in translating site content and podcasts!)
I will be blogging, Instagram’ming and podcasting about the documentary and book research mission on the fly as it happens, so please stay tuned for updates on this website and via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, while I discover my roots, and share the stories of Franco-Americans like Claudia. Thank you, merci, and please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nick Lucey launches the Mémère Project