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St. Joseph Elementary

The First French School

The pastor took up the challenge and in November 1883, a modern and spacious brick school was opened on Moody street with an enrollment of 400 boys and 390 girls, under the direction of the Grey Nuns of the Cross. St. Joseph’s school was the first Franco-American school of the archdiocese. In 1891, when the enrollment rose to 1,200, Fr. Garin separated the girls from the boys, and a grammar school for boys, St. Joseph’s College, under the direction of the Marist Brothers from France, was built on Merrimack Street.

In the early years of immigration, the Franco-Americans lived mostly in the Acre around Broadway. But as the population increased, they spread away from the center of the city towards the empty area of land near the mills on the other side of the Northern Canal west of the Lawrence mill. The owners, the Locks and Canals, decided to rent building lots. In 1875, Samuel Marin built in Aiken Street the first block in “Little Canada” as the area came to be called. Soon E. H. Duprez followed his example and in 1884, Felix Albert constructed the first building between Ward and Perkins Streets. Little Canada soon comprised Cheever, Aiken, Tucker and Ward streets. As soon as then had enough money, however, the Franco-Americans crossed the canal and bought property in the better built Yankee section along Moody Street. Two-thirds of the French population lived in Little Canada. By 1888, the population augmented to 13,000 and by 1896 to 19,545. By this time, Little Canada included the entire area from Moody Street to the river. After the turn of the century, the population continued to expand and by 1904, Little Canada was no longer the largest Franco-American section. It was now, the area bounded by Merrrimack, Pawtucket and Wannalancit Streets.

With the expanding population moving away from the center of the city and with St. Joseph’s filled to capacity, Father Garin began the construction of the vast and beautiful St. Jean Baptiste church on Merrimack Street which would be completed (except for the bell towers) only in 1896 after the old missionary’s death. Built at a cost of $203,000, it is one of the largest churches in the city.