Club Calumet celebrates 100 years of Franco-American culture

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AUGUSTA — On Sunday, in a small room around the corner from the members’ lounge, Patrick Boucher spent a few minutes reflecting on the milestone reached by Le Club Calumet.

On Thursday, French-American club Augusta turned 100, and the club’s former president is optimistic for the next 100 years.

“A lot of people find it incredible that we’ve survived this long,” said Boucher, former president and co-chair of the Centennial Events Committee. “It has to do with a lot of the people you see here.”

Events celebrating the club’s centenary offered daily events between Thursday and Sunday, starting with the discovery of a time capsule on Thursday that was buried five decades ago. The club also hosted dinner parties, including the Saturday Banquet and Sunday BBQ and Casino.

“I think the key is that the club has always been involved (with the community,” Boucher said.

At the time of the club’s formation, French Canadians were migrating to the New England states, joining Irish immigrants to take jobs in the factories that formed the industrial backbone of the Northeast’s manufacturing economy.

Upon arrival, immigrants have often encountered mistrust and discrimination. Nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment was high in Maine, and the Ku Klux Klan struggled to gain a foothold.

Club Calumet in Augusta, photographed in 2001. Kennebec log file

On September 22, 1922, 24 men gathered in the basement under the Morin 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 participate in the civic affairs of the Augusta community.

“The Calumet Club aims to spread the French language and intellectual development, through music, literature, education and anything that the club deems beneficial to the interest of Franco-Americans”, the story of the club the 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 into the community. .”

He noted that many Augusta mayors have been members of the club and that the club has been involved in a number of efforts that benefit the Augusta community. Among them, the construction of the swimming pool on Avenue du Nord. Most recently, the club’s Hole in One tournament raised about $8,000 a year for the Augusta Food Bank.

Congratulations from the newspaper’s 175 employees appear on the back page of the September 23, 1972 special section of the Daily Kennebec Journal marking the 50th anniversary of Le Club Calumet in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In the 1960s, the club started the Calumet Education Foundation to provide grants and scholarships to help the children of club members and non-members further their education.

“It’s always been a group of people doing things,” Boucher said, “and with all of the most successful things we’ve ever done, it’s a small group of people that brings it all together. No one can really take credit for everything that happens here.

While other social and civic clubs declined, Le Club Calumet, which is not affiliated with any other organization, remained active and now has over 950 members.

“It’s not a club for old French people,” said Nicole Stein, one of the organizers of the centenary events. “He has that stigma.”

This 1972 photo shows Club Calumet president Gerard Boucher, left, standing next to a time capsule before his burial at Club Calumet in Augusta. Boucher and her daughter, Sheila Krouse, then 7, and seen from the bottom center, attended the 100th anniversary event Thursday at the Augusta club. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Boucher said the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the club hard, forcing the cancellation of many events and activities that are only now resuming. The centennial celebration attracted people who had not attended events for the past two years.

To date, one meeting a month is held in French, a reminder of the club’s stated aim, and Boucher said this will continue as long as anyone in the club continues to speak the language.

When the time capsule was unearthed on Thursday, club members discovered that the contents had been damaged by water. When the club buries the next time capsule, which will be discovered in five decades, the members plan to take precautions to protect what they leave for future generations.

A slideshow of old photographs, including one by Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, campaigning for Club Calumet president in 1959, is shown Thursday, as members enjoy appetizers at a rally celebrating the 100th anniversary of the club’s founding in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Boucher said that for the next 100 years the club will remain a mainstay of the community and a gathering place for the French, even if some skeptics have their doubts.

In the short term, that means the return of the Thanksgiving Community Dinner, which was canceled during the pandemic. It attracted volunteers from as far away as New Hampshire to help set it up, Boucher said.

Longer term, that means continuing to celebrate French culture in central Maine.

“Our constitution, I believe, says that as long as six people want this club to exist, it cannot dissolve,” Boucher said. “It’s either six or eight. It’s a small number. There is always a core group of people who get things done.


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