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Mais où sont les Mexicains d’antan?

28 July 2013

… our history suggests that having an open border with our continental neighbors isn’t such a bad thing.

Exactly how many French Canadians made the trek is difficult to calculate, because before 1895 no federal immigration officials monitored the northern land border. Neither Canada nor the United States had seen the free movement of people across their common border as a problem seeking a solution.

Even when the United States finally built land border posts in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were aimed primarily at Eastern and Southern Europeans who were using Canada to sidestep immigration screenings at seaports like New York and Boston.

Canadian migrants, despite their huge numbers — by 1900 the number of Canadian-born United States residents equaled an astounding 22 percent of Canada’s entire population — continued to receive special treatment.


So how did the United States fare during this period of largely unregulated border crossings? And what happened to all those French Canadians, whose linguistic and religious differences made them stand out more sharply than Anglo-Canadian migrants?

Most flocked to mill towns in New England, where they powered the textile factories that boomed after the Civil War. In a pattern that reflects today’s Mexican migration, they followed family members to places where jobs were plentiful, but hard and undesirable.

Their labor was in such demand that mill owners sent recruiters to Quebec to hire more. Entire villages would relocate south, usually by train, swelling the populations of towns like Biddeford, Me.; Southbridge, Mass.; and Woonsocket, R.I., whose populations by 1900 were more than 60 percent French Canadian.


Bonjour, America! Stephen R. Kelly ( Associate Director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Duke University), New York Times (28 July 2013)



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