Le Club Calumet celebrates 100 years of Franco American culture
AUGUSTA — On Sunday, in a small function room around the corner from the Members Lounge, Patrick Boucher spent a few minutes reflecting on the milestone Le Club Calumet has reached.
On Thursday, Augusta’s Franco American club turned 100 years old, and the former club president is optimistic about the next 100 years.
“A lot of people feel it’s amazing that we have survived as long as we have,” Boucher, a past president and co-chairman of the centennial events committee, said. “It has to do with a lot of the people you see here .”
The events celebrating the club’s centennial offered daily events between Thursday and Sunday, beginning with the unearthing of a time capsule Thursday that was buried five decades ago. The club also hosted dinners, including Saturday’s banquet and a barbecue and casino Sunday.
“I think the key is that the club has always been involved (with the community,” Boucher said.
At the time the club was founded, French Canadians were migrating into the New England states, joining Irish immigrants in taking jobs at mills that formed the industrial backbone to the manufacturing economy in the Northeast.
When they arrived, immigrants often found distrust and discrimination. Nativist, anti-Catholic sentiment was running high in Maine, and the Ku Klux Klan was working to gain a foothold.
On Sept. 22, 1922, 24 men met in the basement below Morin’s Shoe Store on Water Street to form the club.
According to the club’s history, the founders wanted to coordinate the interests of their members and take part in the civic affairs of the Augusta community.
“The purpose of Le Club Calumet shall be for the propagation of the French language and intellectual development, by means of music, literature, education and anything else the club shall judge beneficial to the interest of Franco-Americans,” the history on the club’s website reads.
“The club created a community and gave the French people a place to go,” Boucher said, “and also, at the same time, the founders got involved in other aspects of the community and integrated themselves in the community.”
He noted that many Augusta mayors have been club members, and the club has been involved in a number of efforts that benefit the Augusta community. Among them, building the swimming pool on Northern Avenue. More recently, the club’s Hole in One Tournament has raised about $8,000 a year for the Augusta Food Bank.
In the 1960s, the club launched the Calumet Education Foundation to offer grants and scholarships to help children of club members and nonmembers further their education.
“It’s always been a group of people doing things,” Boucher said, “and with all the most successful things we’ve always done, it’s been a small group of people bringing the whole together. No one person can really take credit for anything that goes on around here.”
As other social and civic clubs have waned, Le Club Calumet, unaffiliated with any other organization, has remained active and now has more than 950 members.
“It’s not a club for old French people,” Nicole Stein, one of the organizers of the centennial events, said. “It’s got that stigma.”
Boucher said the COVID-19 pandemic hit the club hard, forcing cancellation of many events and activities that are only now picking up again. The centennial celebration has drawn people who have not taken part in events over the past couple of years.
To this day, one meeting a month is conducted in French, harking back to the club’s stated purpose, and Boucher said that will continue as long as anyone in the club continues to speak the language.
When the time capsule was unearthed Thursday, club members found the contents had been damaged by water. When the club buries the next time capsule, to be unearthed in another five decades, members plan to take precautions to protect what they leave for future generations.
Boucher said that over the next 100 years, the club will remain a mainstay in the community and a place for French people to gather, even if some skeptics have doubts.
In the short term, that means the return of the community Thanksgiving dinner, which was canceled during the pandemic. It has drawn volunteers from as far away as New Hampshire to help put it on, Boucher said.
In the longer term, it means continuing to celebrate French culture in central Maine.
“Our constitution, I believe, states as long as six people want this club to happen, it can’t dissolve,” Boucher said. “It’s either six or eight. It’s a low number. There’s always a core group of people that keep things going.”
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