Petit Canada

Petit Canada

When immigrating to a new place, a bit of home can be very comforting. Familiar food, language, and customs can ease the challenges of being in a new country. Oxford street, which you are now walking down, became an oasis for the Franco community. Here they recreated the comforts of their French-Canadian home culture. But why this street? Several reasons. After 1874, the Grand Trunk railway station, located a block away, on the corner of Lincoln St. and Beech St., connected the town to the Grand Trunk or Canadian National Railway. This direct line from Montreal, Canada to Lewiston, Maine made it easy for French Canadians to immigrate.

  • <p>Photo of Grand Trunk Railway Station by Jere De Waters</p>

The textile mills, which employed these new arrivals, like Bates Mill, which was only two blocks away, and Continental Mill, located on Oxford Street itself, were within easy walking distance for employees. In addition, Oxford Street was the traditional home of mill workers. When the mills first started, they mainly employed unmarried young women from the surrounding area, and the mill owners built boarding houses, or “mill blocks” for the workers, in an attempt to reassure their families that they were being looked after.

  • <p>Mill workers headed to their shifts on Oxford Street, c. 1910</p>

Some of these big square brick mill blocks can still be seen at the corner of Oxford St. and Chestnut St. When the Franco-Americans arrived in Lewiston, they moved into the same buildings and when more space was needed, built homes of their own in the same neighborhood.