Overview

Although Salem today is most well-known for its Halloween festivities, witch hysteria, and famous American literary figures, it is also a city that has welcomed several waves of immigrants who have shaped its economic and social life and who continue to bring cultural and linguistic diversity to its streets.

One of the most important groups to populate the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were French-Canadian immigrants who came to work in area textile mills and leather and shoe factories. Between 1840 and 1930, approximately 900,000 French-speaking Canadians left Québec to find work in New England’s factories and mills. In the first decades of the 20th century, French-Canadian immigrants from Quebec and their Franco-American children made up over 20% of the city’s population, a significant percentage compared to other French-Canadian destinations in New England, and Salem was one of a handful of Massachusetts cities dubbed a Petit Canada or Little Canada.

As they did in other New England cities like Lowell, Worcester, and Fall River, Massachusetts, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Lewiston, Maine, and Manchester, New Hampshire, the French-Canadians of Salem built churches and schools, started businesses and opened shops, created credit unions, newspapers, and social clubs. In time, they became teachers, policemen, firemen, doctors and nurses, tradesmen, business people, professionals and politicians. They held on to French-Canadian traditions while beginning new traditions in their Franco-American families. They changed the city just as they themselves were changed by it.