Notre Pain Quotidien, Our Daily Bread: Franco-American Entrepreneurs Sustaining Community

Notre Pain Quotidien, Our Daily Bread: Franco-American Entrepreneurs Sustaining Community

2019.12.8: Aerial photograph of Country Kitchen Bakery and Little Canada neighborhood, 1976

Country Kitchen Bakery is located in downtown Lewiston near the Little Canada neighborhood, important in the Franco-American community because it was one of the first neighborhoods where French-Canadian immigrants lived and worked in Lewiston and Auburn.

The earliest Franco-American entrepreneurs in Lewiston-Auburn saw to the most basic needs of their friends and neighbors, immigrants like them. They supplied bread and other foodstuffs, clothing, and household furnishings, everything from cradles to coffins. Our title “Notre Pain Quotidien” is meant to reflect the ways in which these entrepreneurs saw to the basic, everyday needs of their customers, because it applies to the “sustenance” provided by these local businessmen. We have also chosen it as an obvious reference to the spiritual and communal dimensions of Franco-American life associated with the Roman Catholic institutions that served the community. As these businessmen created thriving businesses that they often passed down to their children, grandchildren or other family members, they also became community leaders and philanthropists. They lived a particular version of the American Dream, inflected by their own French-speaking heritage, culture and values.

French-Canadian immigrants flowed into the Twin Cities of Lewiston and Auburn in the 1860s seeking employment, which they found first in the textile mills. Laboring in the mills was physically and mentally grueling. Hours were long, the machinery clamored, and dust filled the air. The work itself was in most cases tedious and repetitive, with each worker focused on a single part of the process, with little connection to the final product. Wages from mill work allowed these French-Canadian immigrants to pay off debts, often on heavily mortgaged family farms, and even to put a little aside. Many of Lewiston-Auburn’s first Franco-American entrepreneurs were former mill workers.

Entrepreneurship offered an escape from the alienation of industrial labor and a means to control one’s own destiny. Enterprises that fulfilled basic daily needs were more integrally connected to the humanity of community members, employees and consumers, in a way that industrial work was not, because the level of personal connection between these businesses and their clients was deeper than the connection between the mill worker and the end user of their product, with whom they never interacted.

2019.2.8: Leblanc Steam and Dye House, date unknown

Cora Leblanc is pictured behind the counter, and Alfred Leblanc is pictured on the far left of the group. The others are unknown.

2019.040.9.1: Bonneau Market Bull

The tagline “Never a Bum Steer,” demonstrated the quality of Bonneau Market’s goods and services, represented by their mascot, a bull.