Rare copies of Sanford’s short-lived French language newspaper emerge, offer view of bygone era

Posted Aug. 21, 2013, at 9:48 a.m.

SANFORD, Maine — The headline in La Justice de Sanford on May 10, 1945, said it this way: C’est La Victoire.

In the European theater of operations, that long, bloody siege called World War II was over. It would go on in the Pacific for a few more months, until Aug. 15.

The French language weekly newspaper La Justice de Sanford, which began publication on Jan. 16, 1925, chronicled it all.

The precise time it ceased publication remains somewhat murky, but for about 20 years, La Justice de Sanford provided news of the day to the citizens of Sanford who spoke French — and there were many. When the mills were flourishing and immigrants from Quebec and New Brunswick made their way to Sanford for steady work, French was the first, and sometimes only, language spoken in many households.

Recently, the Sanford Springvale Historical Society was gifted 10 bound volumes of La Justice de Sanford by Moses Barrieau of Kennebunkport, the son of Moses J. Barrieau, who is believed to have been the newspaper’s last publisher.

The gift is considered a major one, as copies of the newspaper are scarce, and the volumes given this summer are in addition to the four volumes Barrieau had earlier given to the historical society.

Society president Harland Eastman said he is delighted.

“Your gift is one of the most important donations ever received by the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society. Words cannot adequately convey our gratitude,” he said in a letter to Barrieau.

Earlier this week, Eastman joined Gilles and Claire Auger to take a look at some of the volumes at the historical society’s museum. Claire Auger is the niece of Lionel LaFrance, who had been editor and publisher of the newspaper for most of the years it was in publication.

Lionel LaFrance, who had another business, LaFrance Funeral Home, published the newspaper from at least 1929 until May 13, 1942, when he and his wife Fabiola drowned while fishing at night at Bunganut Lake in Alfred, leaving their three young boys orphaned. Their middle son, Gerald LaFrance, who lives in Sherbrooke, Quebec, was 9 years old when his parents died, but has a memory or two of his father’s association with the newspaper. In those days, the publisher and editor sold advertising, as well as handling the news side of the business.

“I used to accompany him, when he went to sell ads,” said LaFrance, in a telephone interview Monday. “I used to follow him on Main Street.”

While his father was busy making sales, the young boy would look at the merchandise.

He said he remembers the newspaper being around the house.

“I knew it was his newspaper,” said LaFrance.

Gilles Auger noted that, at one time, there were 60 French language newspapers in New England. There were a number of La Justice newspapers in roughly the same time frame as La Justice de Sanford, with the nearest in Biddeford, but the two do not appear to have been connected.

Editors and publishers prior to LaFrance are in question. According to the “Bicentennial History of Sanford” by Capt. Albert Prosser, Florence H. Mahen was the first manager but her surname is in doubt, and a look at town directories from the period show the name could have been Florence Maheu.

On Monday, the Augers perused some of the pages — brittle and fragile now, but fascinating nonetheless. While most advertisements were in French, there were a few in English, too. National news, particularly war news, dominated the front pages, while local news appeared on the back pages.

Besides war news, there were chronicles of fetes and of the election of selectmen such as Arthur Carignan, Horatio Hall and Maurice J. Maurice.

Noting their fragile nature, Eastman said perusal will likely be reserved for serious researchers.

Moses J. Barrieau is listed as editor on the masthead about one month after the death of the LaFrances. The newspaper appears to have continued through the end of 1944, but whether it continued through all of 1945 remains unclear — there are editions during the end of the war, but the exact time when La Justice ceased publication is not known and the donor could not be reached for comment by press time.

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