ON THE ROAD: : The Francophone Odyssey

Tuesday Mar 9 2010

Why would you leave your native land with nothing but your culture, language, and faith? What makes people want to surpass familiar boundaries? Is it the search for a better life, duty to family, or a quest for adventure?

Why would you leave your native land with nothing but your culture, language, and faith? What makes people want to surpass familiar boundaries? Is it the search for a better life, duty to family, or a quest for adventure? Musée de l'Amérique francophone's new permanent exhibition ON THE ROAD: the Francophone Odyssey tracks the French-speaking peoples who made the decision to pull up stakes and head for North America. In partnership with Hôtel Château Laurier Québec, official hotel of Musée de l'Amérique française.

By sea, road, or rail, they came to a new place to found communities rooted in their home culture. Some came to spread the Christian faith, like Sister Esther Parizeau who founded a convent in Oregon while her brothers Victor and Prudent Beaudry went to Los Angeles to seek their fortune (Prudent became mayor in 1875). Others headed for the eastern seaboard with their families, looking for work in the textile mills.

In the words of Musée de la civilisation interim director Danielle Poiré, "This is a compelling portrait of these francophones who settled all over the continent and their impact on its development. It also demonstrates that La Francophonie in North America was never limited to just Québec, the St. Lawrence River Valley, and Louisiana. The mission of Musée de l'Amérique française is to bring to light the often epic stories of these individuals and groups."

Just follow the red ribbon!
The point of departure and trajectory of the exhibition are marked out with a red ribbon for visitors to follow. The path starts with a holographic projection evoking the human experience of migration. Object niches associated with the three heartlands of French colonization in North America (Acadia, the St. Lawrence Valley, and Louisiana) are built into this introduction, together with an interactive map tracing the main exploration routes of Champlain, Desgroseillers, and Radisson. As you continue, the ribbon turns into a bench where you can sit to watch a documentary narrated by anthropologist Serge Bouchard. Bouchard discusses the history of voyages from Europe to North America and the desire to push back the borders of North America.

Visitors then find themselves in a hallway evoking departure docks with piles of suitcases and murmured voices urging them to set sail. It leads to five scenes depicting the reasons French-speakers might have for departing. The first scene, from the 18th century, evokes the appeal of the fur trade and the establishment of new francophone settlements. Listen as Jean-Baptiste Trudeau recounts to his diary the hard times he faced in the woods.

The next scene is about efforts to spread the Catholic faith and establish places of worship and teaching institutions. A number of Catholic religious orders founded parishes, helping ground French culture in these far-off lands. Look closely at the little desk—it has fascinating stories to tell. The third scene depicts colonization and farming, featuring a wheat field and general store—the hub of the community, where stories flow from the jars lining the shelves. A fourth scene takes you to the age of progress and industrial development, specifically to the textile factories in Maine. The final scene explores the critical role played by communications, such as newspapers and letters, in the successive migratory waves. The exhibition ends with an audiovisual installation highlighting all the emotional highs and lows of the great francophone odyssey in North America.

Objects that have come a long way
A deported Acadian's cane, a fur-traders diary, a pioneer's gun, a sketchbook, a wicker suitcase—over 120 objects illustrate the stories this exhibition tells. These significant pieces accompanied migrants in their travels and followed them to their new homes. Many of these objects on loan were scattered throughout the continent in institutional collections or handed down in migrant families.

History that's right up to date
While ON THE ROAD: the Francophone Odyssey is a historical exhibition, it's anything but boring! Musée de la civilisation selected seasoned scientific advisors to work with, notably anthropologist Serge Bouchard, who lent his voice and reviewed the texts. The hall design is the work of Olivier Dufour, fresh from his 2008 hit The Walking Road. With the utmost respect for historical objects and archives, the exhibition has a resolutely modern feel that will remain fresh throughout its projected 10 year run.

To learn more about the French-speaking peoples who ventured beyond their borders, and the roles they played in making the North American continent what it is today, visit the new exhibition ON THE ROAD: the Francophone Odyssey at Musée de l'Amérique francophone opening March 10.

Information and Reservations
Press relations : Agnès Dufour, 418 528-2358 / Email

– Musée de la civilisation –

85, rue Dalhousie
Quebec City (Québec) G1K 8R2
T. 418 643-2158
Toll-free 1 866 710-8031

– Musée de l'Amérique –

2, côte de la Fabrique
Quebec City (Québec) G1R 3V6
T. 418 643-2158
Toll-free 1 866 710-8031