The St. John Valley Times announced on June 23, 1993 a kick-off meeting open to the general public at Howard Johnson Hotel in Edmundston, N.B. promising "A New Organization to Promote French Culture." The Cour du Haut St. Jean was to be set as a chapter of L'Association Canado- Amèricaine headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire.
On the American side of the river, thought was given to something of that nature right here. The Valley Times of Oct.6, 1993 gave banner coverage to the efforts sparked by Ross Paradis of Frenchville, teacher of French at Madawaska High School. The headline reads, "Committee aims to Preserve Valley French." "We are not a radical group" stated Paradis, "not a threat to English." He described the group of 50 who responded to his call as, "a buttress to the Acadian Culture Preservation Commission." Others making comments that night included Bert Cyr, Cleo Ouellette, Brenda Libby, Warrena Morin, Real Hébert, Jim Lavertu and Jerry White.
The second meeting of the "Committee to Save Our French" met at Fort Kent Community High School Library to outline future goals. Officers chosen were, Ross Paradis, President, Marc Chassé, Vice-President, Guy Roy Secretary.
L. James Lavertu's article in the "Echos de L'Acadie" series, appearing in Valley Times on Oct, 27, 1993 voiced the concerns of the day: "The death knell of our Acadian culture has been sounded, not only in our schools, but in the heart and souls of many young parents with children of school age, most of these parents being the very product of past state of Maine policies regarding the use of French in our local schools."
On Nov. 17,1993 March Chassé, vice-president of the Save Our French Committee addressed the topic of an American Richelieu Club in the Valley. Reactions to all these developments began to flow in from the Valley's expatriates. CW3 Donald Marquis wrote in the Echos de L'Acadie series: "I have been in the U.S. Army 25 years. With my knowledge of the French language, I was able to get a prestige job. The job got me out of infantry and I have studied two additional languages at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey California...."
Simultaneously, Don Levesque at St. John Valley Times recorded the efforts of Ida Roy of Van Buren at keeping the language alive through song.
The third meeting of Save Our French Committee, now gathered at Van Buren District Secondary School specified eight goals. From New Jersey came the memories of Jacqueline Chamberland Blesso who in spirit has since remained active in these matters, presented above. Her four part series in L'Echos de L'Acadie featured the life contributions of her aunt, Marie Bossé, wife of Olivier Chamberland of Sainte-Agathe.
Don Levesque's gathering of "Des Patois" (local expressions) in his "Mon Cin Cent" column likewise gathered energy as reactions of Alderick O. "Dick" Violette of Conticcook, N.H and Gert Albert of Meriden, Ct. shows.
All the above are the first rumblings which led to the gestation of "Le Club Français." Its birth can be noted in the meeting of Jan. 10, 1994 at UMFK where officers chosen were Marc Chassé, President, Marc Morneault, Vice-President, Virginia Lausier, Secretary, Guy Dubay, Treasurer and Marie-Anne Gauvin, Editor of "La Pie Bavarde" the club's news bulletin. Today the monthly newsletter bares the name, "Le Fanal" with Marie-Anne Gauvin still providing commentary under the original pseudonym, "La Pie." The New Collins-Robert French Dictionary tells us that a "pie" is a bird named "magpie." Marie-Anne Gauvin an ornithologist would know this without having to look at the dictionary. The dictionary however adds that when the word bavard is added the expression comes out in English as "chatterbox."
At the State Department of Education, Bernard Berube at the office of Federal Projects released data on Limited English Students in Maine's School districts. Valley patois continued to pour in to the office of our regional newspaper, which downpour Finland Dumont described as "U vraie deluge." Don Levesque could hold his head up high as any of his colleagues meeting at the International Press Club of the Republic of Madawaska.
At the classroom level, Rina Soucy, teacher of French III at Fort Kent Community High School encouraged her students to write in French. Student response to the State of French in the Saint John Valley was featured in articles by high school students Julie Toussaint and Wayne Saucier.
Ross Paradis, in a news release of March 9, 1994 noted "Club Français stepping ahead." Doctor Rodrique Landry of le Université de Moncton, N.B. fed back evaluative data on Northern Maine Bilingual Education Program headed by Gilbert J. Albert. At the other end of the spectrum, Jacquline C. Blesso presented a life summary of on of our own. Ambassador Léo G. Cyr, former U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda during the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency. Ambassador Cyr, grand son of the late State Representative, Alexis Cyr of Grand Isle, published his family history and genealogy under the name "Madawaska Heritage." Members of Le Club Français came from all sectors of the Valley as Valley Times sampled out the new membership from Eagle Lake, Fort Kent, Ste. Agathe, and Van Buren.
With local municipal elections in the offing in March 1994, campaign statements reflect the spirit of the time. We read such remarks as: "In the next couple of years in the St. John Valley, the French curriculum will be at the forefront. There is a French curriculum committee that's been started and I'd really like to see a bilingual graduation in a couple of years from now." In the meantime, Professor of History at UMFK, Roger Paradis noted that his collection of "patois" gathered since 1972 included 18,273 samples! James Chassé of Oceanport, N.J. wrote in to Don Levesque, "You never predicted this did you? " Jacqueline Blesso noted to Ambassador Cyr, "Many of the young people in the St. John Valley no longer speak French. It's not "cool" to speak French!" The ambassador described that as tragic. That interview is replete with Acadian history.
During the second week of May, Franco-American recording artist Lucie Therrien of New Hampshire toured the Valley Schools in Van Buren, Madawaska and Ste. Agathe. L. James Lavertu, President of Madawaska Historical Society published a four-part series regarding "The First Acadian Families." The summary of all that first year effort may be noted in the Times headline on Le Club Français' bi-weekly meetings with the headline, "French Language Heritage Now Evident."
A sample of the evidence is noted in the "French Soirée" of March 23, held at Dr. Levesque School in Frenchville where students performed in special French activities.
Encouraged by Don Levesque's note on Marie-Ane Gauvin's "vocabulaire" in "La Pie Bavarde" (where we were reminded that in French a computer is "un ordinateur, we note that Marie-Anne came on to her own where two weeks later in a letter to the editor she addressed the topic of our French being "peppered with anglicisms."
Noting all this activity André Boudrau of Dieppe, N.B, president of the forth coming Congrès-Mondial Acadien sent to Valley residents "Un invitation tout particulière."
Marc Chassé, as président fondateur of Le Club Français, took special note of the contributions of UMFK President, Richard G. Dumont in his advocacy of bilingualism. The special two page faeature on Le Club Français, that summer, took notice of the signs appearing in the windows of many valley business reading, "On parle français ici." That Summer also, Sister Rose Duperrey performed "La Sagouine" at L'Association Culturel et Historique in Lille. "La Sagouine" is a single person drama authored by Antonine Maillet.
The controversy of the season lay in National Park Services plans to bestow on the Saint John Valley three Acadian centers congruent with the Valley's three legislative districts. Reaction was mixed, ranging from Susan McKeon of St. John, Maine & Peekskill, N.Y reminding us that "Culture is not Blood Relatives", to Cecil Pozzuto letter from Madawaska, Maine stating that the plans were "Taking away Madawaska's Heritage."
The October 1994 meeting of the Maine Acadian Cultural Preservation Commission held in Van Buren, posed the question cited in the Valley Times headline, "Where are Acadians, Canadians?" Don Levesque's response to Marty Morneault question set a more amicable tone. Marty asked, "Savait tu qu'a s'temp icitte d'l'année c'est le temps du faukons?" Don replied, "faukons mette des chassis double, faukon rente le bois pour l'hiver, faukon sorte des cançons à grande manche, faukon rake les feuilles, faukons s'faise prend par une joke de temps-en-temps."
At the University level, Acadian Archives ran a series of "vielles chansons" under the rubric "Bon Jours les Archives."
By November 22, 1994 National Park Service dropped the three gateway centers concept for Maine's Acadie. Christmas seemed to offer a reprieve as Les Chanteurs Acadiens, Charles Stewart, Gil Albert, Roger Damboise, Rose Charette and Anne Levesque coupled with Lise Ouellette and Claudette Dugal performed in a variety of Christmas specials.
On might close the first year history of Le Club Français by noting the open letter of Patrice Paoli, General Consul of France at Boston to Dr. Richard G. Dumont, president of UMFK, stating: Our discovery in the Upper St. John Valley was very encouraging and remarkable... We saw that the local initiatives through the instrument of recently created associations take up the cause. The Club-Français and the operation "Save Our French" for example have shown that the effort undertaken by the university has quickly found a very active extension in the local population desiring to affirm its historical and cultural origins while living in an American society..."