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A Marching Drill Team of Franco-American Girls

An excerpt from We Were not Spoiled by Lucille Ledoux as told to Denis Ledoux.

In Franco-American New England, marching drill teams were popular. These teams were made up of Franco-American girls who played instruments and marched in formation. Rhéa Ledoux was a team captain and she got to march in front of the other girls. The various drill teams would prepare elaborate sequences which they performed in parades—often in competition for a prize. Some of the local teams of Franco-American girls were very good.

The St-Jean-Baptiste parade was always a focal point as Canadians celebrated their patron saint on June 24. There were always big parades and participants prepared for months in advance. My friend Rita Métayer was in a drill team, and she was always asking me about joining it. I was working at jobs that kept me somewhat isolated—as did the housework and childcare of my brothers and sisters—and joining a fanfare that would give me evenings in the company of a group of Franco-American girls my age began to seem like it might be fun.

Her cousin Rhéa Ledoux, who lived next to me, was captain of Rita’s drill team She had had become good enough to start a team that was composed mostly of girls from Holy Family Parish. Her team met in a third-floor room at the Institut Jacques Cartier on Lisbon Street. Between the two of them, they convinced me to join Rhéa’s drill team. Soon, I was spending an evening, or if it was close to competition time, two evenings a week practicing with Rita and other Franco-American girls under Rhéa’s direction[1]. (Carmel Boucher, who was now teaching at Ste-Marie Grammar School, was also on the team.)

Besides marching, we also did other things. In May 1938, we performed in a play that was part of a number of short skits presented at a meeting of the Union St-Jean-Baptiste. The

1930s Franco-American Girls in Marching Drill Team Uniforms

1930s Franco-American Girls in Marching Drill Team Uniforms

USJB was a sponsor of the drill team and so by performing we Franco-American girls were giving something back to them, expressing our gratitude. I enjoyed being in plays. On July we were part of a parade in New Auburn. Here was a prize for the best fanfare, and we won first place!. Rhéa received a special commendation.

We wore woolen uniforms and hats that resembled top hats. These hats had a long feather coming up the front. The outfits were fine for spring and fall marching, but in the summer, we were very hot wearing these uniforms! It was probably in 1938, too, that we went to Fall River on a bus to march for a huge competition[2]. Although I was about 18, my parents were very worried about me going away and staying in a hotel, and they made a big story about it. The fact that we would be many girls together and would easily be able to take care of one another did not calm them, but they allowed me go.

In those days, there was no highway and we had to drive through towns on Route 1—Biddeford (ME), Portsmouth (NH), Newburyport (MA), Salem (MA)—and the drive to Fall River, which you can now make in 4 or 5 hours, took the whole day.

Once in Fall River, we stayed in a hotel. Some of the girls bought cigarettes and we tried to smoke them but I did not like the experience. I don’t remember if Rhéa was still with us or if she had gone off to see her many relatives who lived in Fall River. (Little did I know that these were people I would know well in a few years!) I don’t remember if we won prizes in that competition, but we did well enough. Some of the other teams were very good and deserved to win prizes.

We learned that Rhéa was engaged and, in August of 1938, the girls of the Conseil Gabriel drill team decided to throw her an engagement party. Two of the girls—Lumina and Simonne Carrier—lived on Pine Street and they offered their parents’ apartment to host the evening event. We had music, songs, games, and dancing. Mr. and Mrs. Carrier spent the evening with us as did the chief drill team instructor, Mr. Despins. There was a buffet meal, and we gave Rhéa many gifts. We knew that after marrying she would not continue to lead the drill team, and we wanted to show her how much we appreciated all she had done for us Franco-American girls. She and Maurice Lavigne were married On September 15, 1938.

It was probably sometime after that that I stopped being part of the drill team, but I have fond memories of my experience. It provided me with a fun activity with a group of Canadian girls and young women with whom I was comfortable[3].

[1] In 1938, when she was 25, Rhea married Maurice Lavigne who also worked in the mills. His family lived downtown. With her marriage, her work for the drill team began to wind down and her role was taken over by other women.

[2] The next year, in September 1939, the competition was held in Lewiston. Over 600 girls representing 20 teams showed up. The governor of the state (Lewis Barrows) was there to review the parade.

[3] Some of Adélard Dulac’s daughters were on the drill team. They lived up Sabattus Street. Because their father had broken contact with his brothers at the plumbing company, these girls were not cousins I had known well.

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2 Responses to A Marching Drill Team of Franco-American Girls

  1. Marie Cummings September 16, 2013 at 7:25 AM #

    Your style is so unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff from. I am used to finding good information from your blog articles. Thank you for posting. Your site has helped me a lot. I loved this article about the drill team your mother was in–even if I don’t know anything about that time in historyor about drill teams.

  2. Denis Ledoux September 16, 2013 at 2:07 PM #

    Dear Marie,

    It’s interesting that you point out you liked the article and didn’t know anything about the time or the subject. I think that is what memoir writing ought to do–let us glimpse into the life of another person and see what made her/him tick. So, thanks for the compliment. I hope you rad all the entries about my mother’s life.

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