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|FRANCO-AMERICAN GARDES OF NEW ENGLAND, NEW YORK STATE & QUEBEC PROVINCE|
This web site is dedicated to an important aspect of Franco American culture now long vanished.This site concerns the Franco American Gardes of New England, New York State and Quebec Province.
What Were These Gardes All About?
Franco American Gardes began to be established in New England about the turn of the 20th Century. In the United States their predecessors went back to the period before and then after the Civil War and functioned as the State Militia, popularly known as Guards,thru and beyond the turn of the 20th century.In Massachusetts we had the Gratton Guards of Lawrence. In Lowell, it was the Lowell City Guards, the Putnam Guards, and the Sheridan Guards. In Charlestown, it was the Meagher Guards and in Haverhill, the Sarsfield Guards. The Gratton Guards were part of the 8th Massachusetts Infantry, Company L. The Putnam Guards were part of 6th Massachusetts Infantry, Company G. As the United States drew closer to being involved in WWI in Europe these Guards became more important. The Sarsfield Guards were begun in San Francisco on September 15, 1855.They were named after Patrick Sarsfield, Earl Of Luncan, a commanding officer in the British Army under King Charles II and King James II. The Meagher Guards of Charlestown were named after General Thomas Francis Meagher, born in County Waterford, Ireland.
The Guards originally were in fact military units, which were a precursor to the National Guards of today. They wore true military uniforms, had regular army ranks, carried real weapons and were required to drill at their headquarters every year to stay sharp. The men were supposed to be ready at any time the governor might call them to duty.In fact some militia from New England did volunteer to fight in the First World War.There were Guards in many cities around the country.
In Quebec Province beginning about 1900 numerous semi- military regiments called Gardes, the French word for guards, began to be established. For their inspiration they drew on Gardes in France which fought in the Franco Prussian War in 1870. From Quebec Province this cultural phenomenon spread south among the Franco Americans of New England and New York State. The popularity of the Gardes increased as America moved closer to WWI.As first and second generation immigrants from Quebec Province, there was a patriotic desire on the part of many Francos who were not in the military to demonstrate their patriotism and support for the U.S.Government. After WWI, interest in the Gardes declined somewhat and many Gardes became inactive.However, beginning in the mid 1930's there was renewed interest in this cultural phenomenon.Based on the number of competitions and membership, the popularity of the Franco American Gardes reached a high point in the late 1930's and early 1940's. Had it not been for WWII, the Gardes might well have flourished for a lot longer. The war siphoned off the majority of the male members and many of the Gardes ceased to function. After the war attempts were made to resurrect the Gardes but they never regained their pre-war popularity.
During the period of the 1930's and early 1940's, the vast majority of the New England Gardes were sponsored by French Canadian parishes.The Gardes were in most cases named after their sponsoring parish. Some Gardes chose the name of a French hero such as Lafayette and Rochambeau. Of course Franco Americans had many other cultural outlets besides the Gardes. One story in the December 1937 Lowell Sun newspaper, recounted how Lowell Franco Americans planned to organize into a Federation of more then seventy five organizations. The Federation was for the promotion of Franco culture and especially to reinforce the importance of the French language and the Catholic faith.The Franco parish schools of the day emphasized both. I can speak from experience that at Ste. Jeanne d'Arc in Lowell where I attended grammar school, reading, writing and spelling were taught in both English and French well into the 1960's. Religion was also taught in French. It was only when lay teachers began to teach in the schools that the French language had to be deemphasized.
Getting back to the Gardes in Lowell, which was then and still is a city of 100,000+,in the late 1930's, every ethnic group of any size wanted to get in on the patriotic fervor and the enjoyment of it all. There was a Polish-American Garde,a Greek-American Garde and a Portuguese-American Garde.The Greek marchers often wore the Greek national costume.
The Franco American Gardes were the most numerous and they were collectively known as the New England Franco-American Brigade.In Lowell for example,there was the all male Garde Sacre Coeur,(Sacred Heart), the Garde Frontenac, Garde St. Louis and the Garde Ste.Marie.The all female Gardes included the Garde Domremy, the Garde Ste.Jeanne d'Arc,Garde Notre Dame, Garde Independante and Garde St. Joseph.The Garde d'Honneur was unusual in that it had a Company A. for the men and Company B. for the women.The Garde Independante in Worcester had the same thing. The Garde Independante of Worcester had begun in 1900, the Garde Rochambeau of Nashua in 1910 and the Garde St. Louis of Lowell in 1917.After WWI the popularity of the Gardes diminished somewhat.
The Franco American Gardes often referred to as semi military units, wore uniforms similar to actual miltary uniforms;they held military ranks from Cadet to Colonel and wore military medals and ribbons befitting their rank. They carried swords or rifles, sometimes wore white gloves and were required to meet weekly to drill and to maintain comradeship. Directives and requirements to attend functions were referred to as "Orders". These Gardes had another purpose which was to support their parishes by raising money in various ways.Soon the ladies wanted to be included and all female Gardes were established. Naturally their uniforms were more lady like. Mainly they wore skirts, but some like the Garde Independante of Worcester also had the ladies wearing attractive tunics and slacks.The Garde Domremy wore a uniform with a skirt that was a golden yellow, others wore white.There was a uniform for spring as well as fall weather.
The mid to late thirties were the high point of the Franco American Garde popularity.Three of my maternal uncles, Leo & Arthur Lamarche and Arthur Grenier were among a core group which reestablished the Garde St. Louis in the Lowell parish of St. Lous de France in 1936 or so.The Gardes became instantly popular again. There were many reasons for this. For one reason the Gardes gave the young adults something to do that was parish sponsored and was seen as worthwhile. The Gardes marched in parades, served as a color guard at banquets, weddings and funerals.
Parades in the thirties and forties were especially popular since nearly everyone could either walk to the downtown areas or could take a bus or trolley.Families loved seeing their teens and young adults dressed in spiffy uniforms. Younger teens wanted to grow up so they could join the Garde also.In many homes several siblings belonged to the Garde.Everyone knew someone who was in the Garde at one time or another.The men made a very dashing appearance and the ladies turned many a head.In fact I am sure that many couples met at Garde related activities and credited the Garde with bringing them together.
Besides marching in parades, the Gardes sponsored dances, sleigh rides, bowling nights and helped out at parish carnivals which were a major source of raising funds for the parish. In an era when there was no television, computers, soccer leagues,ballet lessons, Saturday afternoon golf or Monday night football, or other social outlets for teens and adults, the Gardes were hugely popular.All the Franco parishes in Lowell enjoyed competing with each other and even more so against other New England rivals.Since as many as thirty drill teams would compete in the New England Championships. To win a trophy was indeed a very exciting honor. Success bred success. If your team took home a trophy that was even more incentive for new people to join.
What Was the Age Range in the Gardes?
That depended on the city and it differed between the men and women.For example in Worcester, Harry T. Renauld, while in his twenties,founded the Garde Independante in 1900. He continued to be the Colonel and commander for more than forty years into the 1940's.Many of his men were older and they advanced in rank as the years went by.The Garde for them was a lifelong hobby, such as belonging to the Moose or Lions Club.Naturaly they had a lot of experience in drills and thus were always a contender for a trophy. In the case of the Garde Frontenac in Lowell, the founder was Albert Bergeron in 1907.He remained the commander into the forties as well. In addition, Mr. Bergeron became a popular representative in the Mass. State House.In other cities, the male members varied from late teens to fifties and sixties with the Captains and Majors being the older members. Amongst the female Gardes, the Leader was usually an older woman such as Mrs. Pepin at the Garde Domremy in Lowell.The leader might have had a husband in the Garde or American Legion perhaps. However, most of the female cadets were upper teens and young twenties.
Ste. Jeanne d'Arc Parish in Lowell was a very large parish.They had the Garde Domremy for post high school girls. My mother Yvette Lamarche Taylor belonged to this group from about 1939-1941. She joined because her friends had joined. There was also a Garde Ste.Jeanne d'Arc for high school age girls. The parish also had a Drum & Bugle Corps for boy and girl teens and older grammar school children. It was called the Bel-Air Drum & Bugle Corps. Their uniforms were completely different than the Gardes. The Drum & Bugle Corps uniforms were more glitzy and very similar to college marching bands of today.I think their colors were blue and white, the colors of the French Fleur de Lys flag. The Garde Ste.Jeanne d'Arc also had a group for little girls up to 8th grade. Their uniforms naturally were more compatible for children. These younger girls twirled batons and perhaps carried small flags etc.Remember watching the Chief Majorette fling the baton high in the sky and then catch it behind her back?
That Brings Us to the Subject of Drills. What Were They?
Drills were not only marching columns in uniform, but in open areas members would split off into unusual formations such as a wheel, and other complex moves often seen at the Rockettes in New York or in figure skating shows in more recent years. Kids and adults loved watching these maneuvers and the Gardes were judged on successful completion of the maneuvers, military bearing, overall appearance and difficulty of the program.Naturally the ladies competed against the ladies and the men against the men.As well as awarding first, second and third place trophies, a most popular captain was chosen for men and women.
The New England Franco American Brigade Championships
These were held in Worcester for a number of years usually on a Saturday. There would be a parade in the afternoon then after dinner,the drill championships would be held in a local gym. Hundreds would attend, making for a very exciting evening.Other championships would be held where teams from Plattsburgh, New York and Montreal would compete.Attendance at these competitions naturally depended on money. The cost to rent a bus etc.It also depended on dedicated leaders willing to give of their time, not only for practice drills but for meetings and trips etc.Leaders had to be skilled and creative to find ways to raise money.
There was quite a lot of turnover in the Garde membership especially among the ladies.Women would join in their late teens, or early twenties but leave in order to get married.Time was also a factor. Members had to commit to attending weekly practice drills, several parades every year and parish activities.As my mother Yvette Lamarche Taylor told me, if you did not attend the weekly practice drills held in the parish hall you would not be able to perform them in public and you were quickly dropped.Anyone who was not attentive or a quick learner was also dropped. One also had to be available to attend funerals and important functions. Besides time, there was the money factor. You had to pay for your own uniform and the cleaning thereof. Every Garde had at least two uniforms if not more. Uniforms changed over the years as well. Members had to keep up.So after a year or two or three most female members dropped out and new ones took their place. In the case of the men it was easier to remain a long time member since the male Gardes often served as a fraternal organization as well. In fact the New Bedford Sharpshooters began their club as a fraternal group to help members obtain citizenship, pay for funeral expenses, find jobs,and help out in cases of family hardship.In New Bedford it was not unusal for male members to be active for twenty, thirty or forty years. It was an acceptable lifelong club where men could go to smoke, network and fraternize. Mostly everyone knew each other or were quickly introduced.
Material for this web site was gathered from personal interviews with my mother Yvette Taylor, my two maternal Aunts, Rita Langlois Lamarche and Rita Lamarche Grenier. Also I interviewed friends of the family, Rita "Skip" Aubin Sawyer, Conrad Sevigny, Lucien Matte and Rita Bergeron Matte. They were able to give me descriptions of the uniforms, info about the drills, the competitions, the parades and other extra curricular activities the Gardes took part in. I researched newspapers such as the Lowell Sun, which had material for the years 1937, 1938, 1942 and 1944-1953. I was able to access on line articles from the Nashua Telegraph 1946-1950, the Plattsburgh New York Press, and the New Bedford Evening Standard.Of tremendous value was the book by Gerald Brault which delved into Guard/Garde history back more than 100 years. There was so much information at hand that I have divided up the website into separate pages as follows: Roll Call of the Gardes, Members List, Competitions, Parades, Dances, Group Photos, Single Photos, as well as a page for Memorabilia. In closing I want to mention that this website is dedicated to the memory of my dearest mother, Yvette Lamarche Taylor, who though she never saw this in person is surely watching it now. I would also like to solicit names,copies of newspaper articles, photographs and memorabilia from my readers which I can use to amplify the collection of material we already have.You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank You.
|FRANCO-AMERICAN GARDES OF NEW ENGLAND, NEW YORK STATE & QUEBEC PROVINCE|