Grand Trunk Railway

  1. Location and Background
  2. History
  3. Migrations and Towns
  4. Traveler: Albert Béliveau

  1. Traveler: Albert Béliveau

Albert Béliveau
My father was born in the Little Canada section of Lewiston in 1887, the eldest of five children. He attended parochial and public schools in Lewiston and in 1904 they moved to Livermore Falls. At age thirteen, he was forced to leave school. The economic circumstances in the Livermore Falls-Jay area caused him to work in his father's bakery in Chisholm, which is part of Jay, for a number of years. When they moved to Rumford in 1907, he worked at a foundry and then at the International Paper Company. His employment experience is somewhat representative because families at that time had just sustained a very unpleasant economic difficulty during the 1907 depression. The emphasis was on economics; his parents like all parents of that age, measured success in economic terms. They were deprived and denied, so the children rather than being encouraged to go to school and college were directed to go to work.

My father decided he wanted something better out of life. He entered the law offices of my grandfather, Matthew McCarthy, where, for four years, he read and studied law under my grandfather McCarthy's tutelage; at the same time, acting as a secretary and bookkeeper, and carrying out a number of duties and assignments. In 1909, he entered the University of Maine law school. He never went to college, mind you ... parochial school, high school, no college education, studied law in my grandfather's office, on to law school. He completed a three year course in two and was admitted to the bar in 1911, after achieving the highest score to that date on the bar examination. Back in those days there weren't as many lawyers as there are today. There are 4000 lawyers in Maine today, but when my father started practicing with my grandfather back in the early 1900s, there were 300 lawyers in this state. He served as the Oxford county attorney from 1914 to 1916. In 1917, he entered the United States Army and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General's Corp and was assigned to France for the remainder of World War I.

My father told me that he received the commission because, first of all, he was a lawyer, and secondly because he was bilingual. The principal focus of World War I was in France and they badly needed bilingual officers who could negotiate with property owners and with the allied governments on the return of property and how to deal with prisoners-of-war. As a consequence of that, he was immediately given a commission and sent over to France. Much of it was after the war, he was a single man, had a commission and traveled around the countryside negotiating war claims against the allied government.

After his experience in World War I, he returned to Maine, to Rumford, and became interested in the formation of the American Legion. As a matter of fact, he attended the formative meetings of the American Legion in Paris with General Pershing. He and General Pershing became very good friends. At one point, my father was General Pershing's translator, as he traveled about trying to establish the American Legion; they had visions of creating an international Legion association. They weren't successful, but they did create the American Legion in the United States. My father founded the Napoleon Ouelette Post in Rumford (Napoleon Ouelette was World War I veteran from Rumford who was killed in France) and he was elected Departmental Commander for Maine at that time as well. He also married my mother, Margaret McCarthy, who was the daughter of Matthew McCarthy, my father's boss. That marriage, back in the early 1930s, was the first marriage between French and Irish, and it was seen that way in Rumford. Now, Rumford is not unlike the Old Towns, Millinockets and the other mill towns where you had a strong Irish community and a French community.

My father became very active politically. He was described as a vibrant and aggressive force during the infancy of the Maine Democratic Party. All of you here are much too young to remember when Maine was a One Party State. Republicans dominated this state until the 1950s and 1960s. One day, we were in a court house and two young lawyers came up. I was sitting in my father's chambers, twelve or thirteen years old. They were talking politics. My father said, "You're both Republicans aren't you?" and they said, "Yes, we graduated from law school after we passed the bar. Even though our parents were Democrats and we really believed in what the Democratic Party philosophy meant at that time, we became Republicans because we thought this would enhance our profession, our business opportunities". My father said to me after they left, "You watch these people. Twenty years from now, you see whether or not they've achieved anything in their lives". I happened to go to law school and came back and I became the district attorney and saw these guys. Believe me, they didn't accomplish what they thought they were going to because they denied something very fundamental. You don't deny your background, your heritage, and your culture.

One day, I was walking with my father on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, and this fellow came up to him and said, "Hi, Judge. How are you" My name is James Baker?. My father said, "No, No, your name was Boulanger. You anglicized it somewhere, at sometime". The man felt very embarrassed. That same day, we ran into a man named Fisher. My father said, "No, you were Poisson; you're denying your heritage". It's incredible how those things impress you.

My father twice ran as Democratic candidate for Congress in the 1920s. That was when it was unheard of, first for a Democrat to run, secondly for a French Catholic to run. I still remember his stories of what he was exposed to as he traveled around the Second District. At that time, Maine had three Congressional Districts. One incident I recall vividly. There was a fellow who followed him throughout the campaign. Each time my father would put up a political poster, this fellow would remove it. This was an old Yankee who didn't believe that French Catholics had any standing in the state. So, one night my father waited for him. When he tore down the sign, my father assaulted him; nailed him, but good. This happened to be, unfortunately, in Piscataquis County where a Democrat was considered a rare bird. The Republican sheriff arrested my father and they arraigned him for jury trial. Somehow the case was dismissed and to this day I don't know what happened. Justice was done.

He had a very active trial practice. He had a quick mind, ready wit, and a great ability before a jury. Back in those days, I said there were three or four hundred lawyers and there were three or four lawyers who had developed a reputation as good trial lawyers, of French Catholic descent. In 1935, he was appointed by Governor Brann to the Superior Court, the first lawyer of French-Canadian descent to serve on that court; where he served for almost 20 years. Now that's important. This is 1935, it's recent history. Back then, as today, approximately one out of four people in Maine were of French-Canadian descent. One of my themes of today is that, while we have this numerical superiority in Maine, our presence in this state whether it be political, social, economic or professional is not reflected. And that was the case back in the 1930s. He served on the Superior Court for almost twenty years. Why was he there so long?—because he was a Democrat, he was French, and he was a Catholic. Every Republican governor during that time period, passed over him for appointment to the Supreme Court. For those reasons, not because he wasn't competent, not because he wasn't qualified. Solely because he had that background.

What the written record does not disclose is the discrimination and difficulties that my father experienced during his professional career. As I said, he was the longest serving judge on the Superior Court and was consistently passed over for appointment to the Supreme Court by governors who were unwilling to recognize that a person of French Canadian ancestry was competent to serve on that court. Finally, in 1954, at the age of 66, he was appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor Cross. Again, the first French Catholic to be appointed to the Supreme Court, the highest court in this state. But he was denied appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by a governor who feared that such an appointment would jeopardize his prospects for reelection. My father had one year remaining on his term, he was a senior judge. Historically he should have been the Chief Justice. But a democratic governor, who was standing for reelection, was reluctant to appointment him—fearful that the Republicans, Anglos and Yankees who would support his campaign would turn against him. After that, he retired from the Supreme Court and resumed his law practice in Rumford. When my brother and I graduated from Law School, we returned and joined him.

My father's life probably represents the difficulties that a young Franco-American was exposed to, how he overcame those difficulties, the challenges that confronted him and how he ultimately prevailed. But during this process, as he evolved from a young man, to a lawyer, to a judge he had certain experiences that those of us who are of Franco-American descent can relate to. Sociologists and behaviorists tell us that we are strongly influenced by our childhood environment and particularly by values impressed upon us by our parents. I think that goes without saying.

Sévérin Béliveau
(Photo by Yvon Labbé, Lewiston, Maine, 1996)
This is an edited version of a portion of a speech made by Sévérin Béliveau on 11-12 April 1992 at a conference called " Beyond the French and Indian War " in Old Town, Maine and sponsored by the Franco-American Centre. Sévérin Béliveau is a prominent Maine political figure. He has served as Oxford County Attorney, as well as in the Maine House and Senate. He ran for Governor of Maine in 1986, and presently runs a very successful law practice in Augusta. Sévérin is a proud 12th generation Franco-American, has generated a 13th generation with his wife, Cynthia Murray Béliveau, and possesses a unique perspective on the French situation in Maine.

For further background see:

Barry Rodrigue; Avec Tout Mon Coeur: Albert Beliveau, The Life of a Franco-American Jurist, 1887-1972; Augusta: unpublished manuscript, 1992-93. Copies are held by Barry Rodrigue, the Béliveau family, and the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine.

Others roads :
The King's Highway - Lake Megantic Route - Coos Road - Canada Road - Aroostook Roads - Airline Road
Grand Trunk Railway - California Tote Road - Canadian Pacific Railway