Guided tours of Franco-American sites in Salem in September

Rene Cormier, as a young boy in the Point neighborhood with French sailors visiting Salem, circa 1942

Salem State professors Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello (interdisciplinary studies) and Elizabeth Blood (foreign languages) will lead guided tours of Franco-American sites in Salem for Historic Salem Inc.’s “Sundays in September” walking tour series.

The tour, entitled “(Re)Discovering Salem’s Franco-American Landscape”, will explore places that were built, rebuilt, transformed, or repurposed by the thousands of French-Canadian immigrants and their Franco-American children who came to Salem in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and who continue to play an important role in the city today.

The tour will focus primarily on the Point neighborhood, lower Lafayette Street, and parts of the Central Business District. Tour dates are Sunday, September 11 and Sunday, September 18 at 2 pm.

While best known for its witches, Halloween festivities and American literary figures, Salem is also a city that has welcomed several waves of immigrants who have shaped the city's economic and social life and brought cultural and linguistic diversity to its streets. One of the most important groups to populate the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were French-Canadian immigrants who came to work in area textile mills and leather and shoe factories. In the first decades of the 20th century, French-Canadian immigrants from Quebec and their Franco-American children made up 20 percent of the city's population, a significant percentage compared to other French-Canadian destinations in New England, and Salem was one of a handful of Massachusetts cities dubbed a "Petit Canada" or "Little Canada."

As they did in cities like Lowell, Worcester, Fall River, and Woonsocket, the French-Canadians of Salem built churches and schools, started businesses and opened shops, created credit unions, newspapers, and social clubs. They became teachers, policemen, firemen, doctors and nurses, tradesmen, business people, professionals and politicians. They held on to French-Canadian traditions while beginning new traditions in their Franco-American families. They changed the city just as they themselves were changed by it.

This 90-minute walking tour will uncover the history of Franco-Americans in Salem, focusing primarily on the Point area, lower Lafayette Street, and parts of the business district (destinations on New Derby, Front Street, Essex Street, and Church Street). We will discover, or rediscover, the places that were built, rebuilt, transformed, or repurposed by generations of French-Canadian immigrants and their Franco-American descendants.

Tours are currently scheduled for:

  • Sunday, September 11, 2011: Meet at St. Joseph’s Church (corner of Lafayette and Dow) at 2 pm. Organized by Historic Salem Inc. (historicsalem.org/); suggested donation $10.
  • Sunday, September 18, 2011: Meet at St. Joseph’s Church (corner of Lafayette and Dow) at 2 pm. Organized by Essex National Heritage’s “Trails & Sails” weekend (essexheritage.org/); free.