“No Fairer Spectacle” – Rare Pictures of a Maine St John’s Day, 1897

In 1897, the Franco-American national society of Lewiston, Maine, held a parade to mark the 25th anniversary of its founding. The Institut Jacques-Cartier had helped the community celebrate the feast of Saint John the Baptist – La Saint-Jean – every year on June 24th, but the 1897 parade was a special occasion. In addition to celebrating the success of the society, it was also a chance to showcase the progress and prosperity of the city’s Franco-American community after a quarter-century.  The Lewiston Evening Journal said

Lewiston and Auburn have seen no fairer spectacle than to-day’s – the beautiful procession, the magnificent decorations, the city in gala array…It has been an unqualified success and time and money have been freely lavished to make the day what it has been – one of the most memorable in the history of Lewiston and Auburn.

(Read my longer description of the parade)

The Maine Historic Preservation Commission has a series of stereoscope cards that contain rare photographs of this event. The views include the parade itself, members of the various Franco-American societies and, even rarer, a look into Lewiston’s Little Canada neighborhood at the time.

The images below have been reproduced with permission from the MHPC. They were scanned from the originals by David Gudas and Ron DeBlois for the City of Lewiston’s website. Some have been recolored to enhance the contrast.

The 1897 parade celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Institute Jacques-Cartier, a national society that was originally founded to raise funds for the church of St. Peter’s to serve the French-Canadian Community.













“Arch on Oxford and Cedar Streets.” Saint John the Baptist’s feast day, which coincides with the summer solstice, is associated with greenery and new life.













This image, described as “south of Little Canada” probably shows the River Street property of Zenaide and Ozios Tancrel, who own and rented out the apartment building, an early example of Franco-American entrepreneurs in the city.





The highlight of the event was the parade from the Lewiston Fairgrounds (then home to the State Fair) through not only the Little Canada neighborhood, but the main thoroughfares of the city. This float belonged to the “Societé Musical-Littéraire,” which, like the Institut Jacques-Cartier was founded by Dr. Louis Martel.













Although labelled as “unknown float,” this may be the float that belonged to the church choir of the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul. The other side of that float, shown here, displayed the French tricolor, to contrast with the Stars and Stripes here.














Emphasizing both the French and American parts of their identity was a prominent theme of the parade. Dr. Martel told the Lewiston Evening Journal, ““We French Canadians love the traditions and tongue of old France, but we are true Americans and love America best.”


Before the parade, the participants gathered in Franklin Pasture, Visible in the background is the float of the Institut Jacques-Cartier, a replica of the ship of the explorer of the same name who is credited with discovering New France. A closer view of the “Grande Hermine” float is available here.


Another view of the pre-parade gathering. 


Here, members of the Institut Jacques-Cartier can be seen marching under the an arch, in their ceremonial uniforms. Behind them is the Grande Hermine float.   Notice the spectators in the foreground have climbed onto the roof of a building for a better look.


Also participating were members of the “Association Saint-Dominique,” an organization for young men sponsored by the parish. It included a band and a guard of honor.



Religion was always an important element in the Franco-American community, and the holiday was originally a religious feast day. Here, the societies gathered outside the (old) church of Saints Peter and Paul for an open-air mass and pre-parade blessing.


The event was not exclusively Franco-American, here an unnamed “Irish Society” joins in the festivities.











More participants in the parade. The banner of the Institute Jacques Cartier, whose motto was “Loyaux Mais Canadiens Francais” (Loyal but French Canadians) is visible. Bands were common in this era among all communities, but Franco-Americans seem to have developed a profusion of musical institutions in Lewiston.

Franco-American communities across Maine stood together on occasions like this. Here, the Society of Saint Joseph, of Waterville, is seen marching in the Lewiston parade. Saint Joseph was the original “official” patron saint of Canada but Saint John the Baptist soon became the unofficial favorite with inhabitants.



Views of Little Canada in this era are rare, due to the poor status of its inhabitants. But this image nicely shows a view along Chestnut Street in Lewiston. The railroad crossing in the foreground indicates that this was taken from Lincoln Street. Behind the photographer was the Continental Mills building which employed many Franco-Americans.


The parade finished at the Lewiston Fairgrounds, which were then home to the Maine State Fair.

James Myall

About James Myall

While I currently work for an Augusta-based non-profit, I spent four years as the Coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine. In 2015, I co-authored "The Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn," a general history of that population from 1850 to the present. I was also a consultant for the State Legislative Task Force on Franco-Americans in 2012. I live in Topsham with my wife and two young daughters.