In an article by its founder, Raymond J. Barrette, in Volume 1, Number 1 of Le Journal de Lowell, which appeared in February of 1975, he states that it had been more than one century since Lowell had seen its first French language newspaper. It was in 1874 that l’Echo du Canada, an edition of the Journal de Fall River, appeared here. More than a dozen others, some more short-lived than others, followed this one. There was La République, L’Abeille, which had the unique distinction of being the first French language daily on American soil, L’Union, Le National, Le Bien, and Le Clairon. L’Etoile had the longest life of them all. Having been a daily for many years it became a bi-weekly publication and eventually disappeared from the Franco-American scene in August of 1957.
In 1975 Raymond J. Barrette single-handedly succeeded in resurrecting francophone journalism in Lowell with the founding of Le Journal de Lowell. While many were lamenting the absence of a French language newspaper, Raymond approached local merchants and persuaded them to support his cause with an advertisement. He succeeded and the first issue appeared in February. It was a 4-page paper measuring 9” x 14” containing articles of local interest and 31 advertisements. For the masthead logo, at the suggestion of Harvey Bisson , he chose a bell resembling the Franco-American monument, which stands on the grounds of the Lowell City Hall. Not only does it signify the freedom enjoyed by Americans, but in the early years the mill bell dictated the daily life of the mill worker. It served as an alarm clock and rang several times during the day to announce the beginning of the workday, break time, lunch, etc. Since so many of these mill workers were Franco-Americans it was thought that the bell was a significant symbol.
Raymond typed the articles at home, prepared the rough layout and delivered the copy to the printer. He traveled on foot or by bus since he had no automobile. When ready, he picked up the finished product and distributed it across the city. It took no time for a great number of readers to subscribe enabling them to receive their copy by first-class mail. The rest of the newspapers were distributed to stores and businesses where interested readers would pick them up gratis.
This first issue was so well received that two more pages were added in March and the number of advertisers increased to 40. Accordingly the articles covered a broader scope of interest for all who enjoyed reading French. By the end of its first year of publication, Le Journal had subscribers across the state of Massachusetts and in eleven other states plus the province of Québec. As publication continued, the number of subscribers also increased monthly, not only locally, but also nationally, from Maine to California and beyond including Canada, Europe and Africa.
The monthly task of preparation, publication and distribution soon became overwhelming and Raymond solicited Albert Côté to assist him. While Raymond remained publishing editor, Albert was given the title of assistant editor in June of 1975. Depending on the amount of material, each monthly issue ranged from 4 to 6 pages, the exception being the December 1975 issue with 8 pages.
May of 1976 saw the first major change for LE JOURNAL DE LOWELL. It now appeared in tabloid size and on newsprint. This change allowed the staff to make all the preparations and send the publication “camera-ready” to the printer.
The following month, in early June, Raymond Barrette was struck by a car while crossing a street and was hospitalized with a fractured left arm. This seriously limited his activities and the life of Le Journal came into question. Raymond spent more than a month in the hospital and knew that even after recuperation he would be unable to continue with the newspaper. Each workday meant his early rising to get public transportation to his employment with the Massachusetts State Department of Health in Boston and a late return home at night. This was just too much for him, let alone publishing a newspaper. Would the paper continue then, or would it cease?
Raymond convinced his assistant that he should continue the task. Côté, a full-time French teacher, confronted his Anglophone spouse with the crisis. She agreed that the task was worth the effort and in July of 1976 Barbara and Albert Côté became the proprietors and publishers of Le Journal de Lowell.
LE JOURNAL DE LOWELL was not a politically oriented newspaper. Its sole purpose was to document the presence of the francophone people in the Greater-Lowell area and report on their activities. Le Journal had no agenda. When Raymond founded Le Journal in 1975 he had three goals in mind: 1) to offer a line of communication for all the Franco-Americans of the greater Lowell area; 2) to promote the reading of the French language, and 3) to help us all to preserve our French heritage.
It was with great pride that the Côtés issued their first ever 12-page edition in December of 1976. Although it contained 63 advertisements there was still ample space for articles. Many of the ads were seasonal and afforded the publishers a bit of a financial cushion to assure that the newspaper would continue publication. At no point during its existence was Le Journal De Lowell a profit making enterprise. Its publication was a work of community service and all funds received were used to cover production, publication, and distribution costs.
Up to now, subscribers received their newspaper via first-class mail. By January of 1977 there were enough paid subscribers to acquire a bulk rate mailing permit. Unfortunately it took a little longer to receive the paper, but the savings in money was significant enough to warrant the additional work required to satisfy the postal authorities.
Until January of 1977 a 1-year subscription to Le Journal De Lowell was $2.00. With rising costs, the subscription rate was increased to 2.50 in February 1978. In another effort to keep up with rising costs, Le Journal began to accept political ads in August of 1978. Although this involved significantly more work for the staff due mostly for the need to translate each ad into French, the income from them helped meet the bills.
May 1992 saw another first for Le Journal de Lowell: the introduction of color, as limited as it was. By this time the subscription rates were $6 for the United States and $7 for Canada. The overseas rate was $17.00.
Unable to keep up with the rising costs of publication without sacrificing established standards, the publishers, without prior notice, informed their readers that the December 1995 issue they were reading was the last to be published unless someone else came to the fore to pick up the reins. Le Journal de Lowell died at the age of 21 years and 10 months.
A complete collection is in the hands of the Mogan Cultural Center in Lowell, MA and the Boston Public Library has the collection on microfilm.