Partnership Led By UMass Lowell Preserves “Little Canada”Historians in the News
tags: historic preservation, immigration, Massachusetts, Industrial Revolution, French Canadians, public history, New England
Standing with her camera on the Northern Canal bridge on East Campus, Meagan Timmins, couldn’t imagine someone cooling off on a hot summer day by leaping from the roof of a three-story tenement into the canal below.
But that’s one of the stories that Timmins heard while working on her Honors College capstone project: a “then and now” video about the Little Canada neighborhood that once stood on UMass Lowell’s East Campus.
“Stories like that really stuck out to me,” said Timmins, a Class of 2020 history and world languages double-major from Tewksbury. “It was so interesting to learn about the day-to-day lives of the people that were living right where students are today.”
One of the images Timmins used in her project — a 1964 photo of tenement buildings hugging the Northern Canal, where the Fox Hall parking lot now stands — is prominently featured in a series of new informational panels that the university recently installed to celebrate the life and times of Lowell’s French Canadian immigrants.
The four panels, which draw on the research of history professor Robert Forrant and several students, are a collaborative project between the university’s Facilities Management and Community Relations offices, the Center for Lowell History, Lowell National Historical Park and the Lowell Historic Board.
The wayside panels are located in the new Northern Canal overlook park (at the corner of University Avenue and Pawtucket Street), on the still-under-construction Northern Canal bridge, and outside the entrances of the Campus Recreation Complex and LeLacheur Park.
“As a historian, one of the things I’m always interested in is finding ways for people to bump into history in unlikely spaces,” said Forrant, who began thinking about the project three years ago while working with students to create the online Library of New England Immigration. “If they bump into something unexpected, it piques their curiosity. And hopefully they’ll want to find out more.”
From 1860 to 1900, around 31,000 French Canadians migrated to Lowell to work in the city’s textile mills, making Le Petit Canada one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the United States. Residents preserved their Canadian Catholic culture through the tradition of “La Survivance,” participating in social clubs and civic and religious organizations.
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