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|FRANCO-AMERICAN & OTHER GARDES OF NEW ENGLAND, NEW YORK & QUEBEC|
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In the mid to late 1930's, numerous semi- military regiments called Gardes, the French word for guards, fluorished in the Greater Lowell area and throughout New England, New York & Quebec.The late thirties and early forties was the high point of the Garde phenomenon in terms of popularity, number of competitions and size of membership. Had it not been for WWII, the Garde 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 it never regained its pre-war popularity.
During the period of the 1930's and early 1940's, the vast majority were sponsored by French Canadian parishes.Of course Franco Americans had many other cultural outlets besides the Gardes. One story in the December 1937 Lowell Sun, 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 the French language. 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.
Getting back to the Gardes in Lowell, which was then and still is a city of 100,000+ there was also a Polish-American Garde, a Greek-American Garde and a Portuguese-American Garde.The Greek marchers often wore the Greek national costume. In the late thirties, every ethnic group of any size wanted to get in on the patriotic fervor and the enjoyment of it all.
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 Independente 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 Independente in Worcester had the same thing. Research has brought to light that some of these Gardes had actually been founded much earlier than thought. For example, the Garde Independente of Worcester had begun in 1900, the Garde Rochambeau of Nashua in 1910 and the Garde St. Louis of Lowell in 1917.After WWI ended, many of these Gardes such as the Garde St.Louis faded out.
What were these Gardes all about? Returning to the period even before and then after the Civil War, every state supported a state militia thru and beyond the turn of the 20th century.The militia 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.There were Guards in many cities around the country. 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,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 members of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry, Company G.Where did they get their names? 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 Charles II and James II.The Meagher Guards of Charlestown were named after General Thomas Francis Meagher, born in County Waterford, Ireland.As the United States drew closer to being involved in WWI in Europe these guards became more important.
This is where the Franco American Gardes come in.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.As the country edged closer to war in 1917, many parishes began founding their own Gardes which were called semi military units.The men's uniforms were very similar to actual miltary uniforms,they held military ranks from Cadet to Colonel,carried swords or rifles, sometimes wore white gloves and were required to meet weekly to drill and to maintain comradeship.The men wore military medals and ribbons befitting their rank. 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 Independente 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. 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 Independente 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 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.
Membership 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, who though she never saw it 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 & OTHER GARDES OF NEW ENGLAND, NEW YORK & QUEBEC|