Les Indiens Sur Raquettes patch, Lewiston, 1960Item 25297 info
In 1908, snowshoeing became an organized social sport with the founding of the Canadian Snowshoe Union.
Snowshoe clubs had distinctive colors for their uniforms and insignias.
Clubs often had clubhouses, sponsored various events, and participated in competitions.
Louis-Philippe Gagne, Lewiston, ca. 1947Item 33637 info
A former sports editor for a Québec City daily newspaper, Louis-Philippe Gagné immigrated to Lewiston in 1922.
He carried with him the hope of transplanting the raquetteur tradition to his adopted country.
First snowshoe convention, Lewiston, 1925Item 25288 info
Two years after Gagné's arrival, not only had he founded the first U.S. snowshoe club, Le Montagnard, but he also had promoted the establishment of several others in the Lewiston-Auburn area.
By 1925, they were numerous enough to host the first International Convention in downtown Lewiston.
Ernestine Gagne and grandchildren, Lewiston, ca. 1972Item 33635 info
AT 5'1", 110 pounds, Gagné had a giant influence on Franco-American culture in other ways as well.
He was editor of Lewiston's French newspaper Le Messager and for decades wrote a political commentary column that was widely read in New England and Canada.
He was elected mayor of Lewiston twice and also served as an Androscoggin County Commissioner.
Louis P. Gagne honorary membership card, ca. 1950Item 33636 info
During the early days of radio, Gagné hosted live broadcasts and had an influential editorial program called "L'Oeil" (The Eye) on WCOU.
He was also a musician and impresario responsible for bringing popular Canadian performers to Lewiston.
His promotion of snowshoe clubs brought him acclaim from throughout Franco New England and French Canada.
Ice Palace, Lewiston, 1925Item 6556 info
Androscoggin Historical Society
In a speech given on the 25th anniversary of the first International Snowshoe Congress, Louis Philippe Gagné described the creation of the American Snowshoe Union.
He said Le Montagnard Club took a vote in 1924 on whether to invite the Canadian Union to a convention.
Many members were unsure they were ready for such a venture, but Gagné already had invited the clubs. Still, the opponents persisted.
Gagné recalled, "When the vote was taken, I counted the raised hands pro or con. Thirty members were present, but no one knew the exact number.
"Fifteen voted for the invitation, and when the others raised their hands against, I stopped counting at fourteen!!"
Ice palace, Lewiston, 1925Item 25285 info
The illuminated ice palace in City Park in Lewiston was one of the features of the first International Snowshoe Congress.
Written on the photo is "Souvenir du Palais de Glace. 7 Feb. 1925. Lewiston, Me."
Montagnard Snowshoe Club members, Lewiston, ca. 1930Item 25282 info
Le Montagnard, formed in 1924, was the first snowshoe club in the U.S.
It was named after Le Montagnard Club of Montreal, the first Canadian Club, formed in 1895.
It adopted the original club's gray and scarlet uniforms, as well as the club's motto, "Toujours joyeaux" (always happy).
Le Montagnard clubhouse, Lewiston, 1985Item 25300 info
At its beginning, Lewiston's Montagnard Club had 30 members. By 1950, it was one of Maine's largest social clubs with more than 1,000 members.
It also was instrumental in spreading the snowshoe club movement throughout New England.
The club owned a large meeting hall on Lisbon Street, complete with a first-floor movie house known as The Ritz.
The club also had a large chalet on No Name Pond from which ice was harvested to build the ice palaces at the conventions.
Le Montagnard Band, Lewiston, 1960Item 25280 info
The club's members enjoyed year-round activities, including baseball, hockey, bowling and pool.
The Montagnard Band was active throughout the year, performing regularly at City Hall and in the City Park.
It toured the Northeast and was featured in the movie Peyton Place, which was filmed in Camden in 1957.
Albert Cote, Lewiston, ca. 1960Item 25291 info
A lifetime member of Le Montagnard, Albert E. Coté (1915-1986) also served as president of the Maine Snowshoe Union, the American Union and as chairman of the International Snowshoe Congress.
Although not of athletic build, he was a pillar in the international organization, devoting countless hours promoting the movement for more than two decades.
A trophy was named in his honor.
Coté also was active in the Democratic Party. He represented Lewiston in the state Legislature for 30 years.
In the picture, Coté is wearing a Montagnard uniform.
Souvenir booklet, L'Union Canadienne des Raquetteurs, 1928Item 25289 info
L'Union Canadienne des Raquetteurs, the Canadian snowshoe organization, started in 1907.
The booklet celebrates the 20th anniversary of the group's conventions. The first was held in 1908 in Québec City.
Conventions included snowshoe competitions -- sprints, hurdles and marathons of various distances.
Sprints could be from 100 to 880 yards, hurdles were usually 120 yards, and marathons from one to 10 miles.
At the 1929 international convention in Lewiston, one participant arrived from Manchester, New Hampshire, after a 140-mile trek on snowshoes.
Snowshoe convention, Montreal, ca. 1947Item 25284 info
At a snowshoe convention in Montreal in the late 1940s, representatives from Lewiston-Auburn are in the front row.
Second from left is Auburn mayor Rosaire Hallé. Next to him is Lewiston journalist Charlotte Michaud.
At center is the colorful mayor of Montreal, Camillien Houde, who held elected office on the national, provincial and local levels and is best remembered as a long-term mayor of Canada's second-largest city.
Though he presided over Montreal for 18 years, his reign was interrupted when he was jailed for sedition during World War II for advocating that Québec citizens resist the draft.
In 1939, as host to King George VI, he purportedly said to the king, before an enthusiastic crowd, "You know, some of the cheering is for you too."
L'Oiseau de Neige, Lewiston, 1927Item 25286 info
Snowshoe clubs could be for men, women, or mixed.
L'Oiseau de Neige -- the Snowbirds -- was a woman's club in Lewiston-Auburn.
Like the men's clubs, the women's groups were social as well as athletic organizations.
Les Diables Rouges clubhouse, Lewiston, ca. 1935Item 25294 info
Les Diables Rouges -- the Red Devils -- was one of many Lewiston-Auburn snowshoe clubs.
The Lewiston-Auburn area was the capital of the American Snowshoe Union, which had some 40 clubs in New England.
At least 15 clubs were located in Lewiston-Auburn. Others included Les Dames Montagnard, Le Jacques Cartier, Les Amies Choiseies, La Gaieté, and La Feuille d'Erable.
Les Diables Rouges, Lewiston, ca. 1935Item 25293 info
Les Diables Rouges members wore red and white uniforms.
Member Fernand Despins played Santa Claus in Lewiston for many years wearing his Diables Rouges uniform.
Identified on the back of the photo are Roland Cailler, Ernest Morency, Vic Fournier, Lorenzo Drouin, Lucien Rivard, Bob Richard, Fernand Despins, Lucien Roux, Ray Simpson, [?] Provencher and Rosner Bouvier.
Club Passe-Temps banquet, Lewiston, ca. 1965Item 25299 info
Le Club Passe-Temps was founded in 1923 and is one of the oldest remaining active Franco-America organizations in Lewiston.
With headquarters on Cedar Street, across from the former Ste-Marie Church, the club has won numerous awards in sports and drum and bugle corps competitions.
It also has a scholarship fund and donates to various community causes.
Lewiston ice palace, Main Street, 1926Item 25281 info
Other clubs in Lewiston-Auburn were Les Hibous Blanc, Les Hirondelles, Le Renard, Le Travaillant, L'Acme and Le Cavalier.
Throughout the years, Lewiston hosted more national and international conventions than any other U.S. city.
Panorama of snowshoe convention, Lewiston, ca. 1926Item 25292 info
At the first International Snowshoe Congress convention in Lewiston in 1925, more than 800 French-Canadians traveled to the event.
Many arrived on chartered train cars at the Grand Trunk station on Lincoln Street. They arrived wearing their colorful costumes.
In 1950, some 3,800 people attended the convention in Lewiston.
The 1955 convention was expected to attract 6,000 people, owing in part to the more than 30 newly formed Canadian clubs.
Snowshoe club presidents, QuebecItem 25287 info
Unidentified former presidents of the Canadian and American snowshoe clubs pose at a summer camp in Québec.
Their summer reunion reinforces the social as well as athletic nature of the clubs, which celebrated the bonds between Franco populations in Canada and the U.S.
Bert Dutil, Lewiston, ca. 1961Item 25283 info
Bert Dutil of Lewiston served as president of the American Snowshoe Union in 1961-62 and poses with some of his paraphernalia.
He belonged to the Club Passe-Temps and was a founder of the Pine Tree Warriors, a drum and bugle corps.
Regina Carrier, Mary Ann Vachon, Biddeford, 1927Item 111 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media
Biddeford, which also had a large French-Canadian population, had two snowshoe clubs, both of which survived into the 21st century.
Le Rochambeau Club has a clubhouse on South Street and Voltiguer Snowshoe Club, founded in 1926, has headquarters on Elm Street in Biddeford. Both also had women's clubs: Les Dames Voltiguer and Les Dames Rochambeau.
Other clubs in Maine included Les Pieds Legers of Brunswick and Le Paresseux and Les Dames Paresseux, Le Rumford and Les Dames Rumford, all of Rumford.
Raquetteurs, Biddeford, 1927Item 112 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media
The snowshoe club movement, while on the decline in the U.S. in recent years, once had a significant influence in state politics.
Its conventions regularly received salutations from senators and governors.
Even by 1941, a story in Time magazine noted that snowshoeing had been replaced in popularity by skiing. The magazine called it a "dwindling sport," except for the 42 clubs and "2,300 addicts" in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The article commented that those "addicts" still held yearly national championship events and joined with Canadians for international events.
In 1941, it reported, Quebec had 75 "clubs de raquette" and innumerable festivals.
Le Montagnard, the premier American club, dissolved under allegations that its leadership had become more racketeers than raquetteurs.