Sudbury’s Flour Mill neighbourhood: Writers looking for stories about area's early Francophone population

·6 min read

Moulin-à-Fleur; The Flour Mill.

A founding community in Sudbury, and former home to much of the city’s original Francophone population.

But whether you are Francophone, or your French-language education featured a talking pineapple, you might notice something gets lost in translation.

Fleur: flower. Not flour.

But there is no mistranslation here, but for the modern one; in this case Fleur, a remnant of old French, means "finest, best, choicest," and refers to "Fleur de farine” - the finest part of the flour. The French name translates correctly as "Flour Mill" and not "Flower Mill.”

Now, for another interesting tidbit.

Though the area of Sudbury is still known today as The Flour Mill, the silos that still stand in the area were only an actual flour mill for 10 years.

That was the bit that surprised Samantha Morel as well, when she first became curator of the Greater Sudbury Museums. “When first learning about history of the Flour Mill neighbourhood I was surprised to learn that the actual mill and its silos were built in 1910, but that all milling operations were completely stopped by 1920, shortly after which the mill’s structures - except the silos - were torn down.”

Those silos are a defining feature of the area, though many citizens throughout the years have expressed a desire to tear them down.

But the tearing down of structures can also be the tearing of memories as well. and while the city of Greater Sudbury pays tribute to the area with the museum and maintenance of the mill owner’s house, so many of the original francophone inhabitants of the area have left, lost the stories of their great-grandparents building the city they live in, or left. And this could mean that the stories of the Francophone Community in the Moulin-à-Fleur* could be lost.

That is, until there is an attempt to preserve them.

And that’s where former Sudbury resident, Serge Dupuis, who is now a historian and professor at Laval University (Université Laval) and Normand Carrey, a psychiatrist who is originally from the Moulin-à-Fleur, come in.

The two wanted to create a record of the Francophone History of the area, and they’ve almost done it: but now it is time for the memories to come back. Time for the pursuit of those whose family lived in the Flour Mill, created a community and in every sense of the word built the city of Sudbury.

In order to complete the next portion of his book, Dupuis requires information from the public. A simple survey, taking about fifteen minutes.

You can find it here.

Dupuis hopes to receive all survey information by November 15.

While Dupuis and Carrey have already completed what is known as the “literature review” portion of their research, they are now searching for the personal stories of the people who founded the Moulin-à-Fleur.

The Francophone people who came to the area for work, and found a life, and a community.

“In 1883, teams of men building the Canadian Pacific Railroad arrived in the area that would become Sudbury; many of the men in these work teams were Francophones,” said Morel. “The same year, Father Jean-Baptiste Nolin (a Jesuit priest) founded the Roman Catholic parish of Sainte-Anne-des-Pins (St. Anne of the Pines). The Jesuits were given a grant of land by the CPR in 1884. This same land was subdivided later on for the use of French Canadians who had decided to stay in the area and start families.”

In the early years of the community’s settlement, most worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway or for the companies the CPR contracted, like the Laberge Lumber Mill, built around the 1900s, and the Manitoba and Ontario Flour Mill (built in 1910.)

But as Morel notes, it became a place you could find just about anything. “Between the CPR and the Jesuits the town had all the necessities: a store (run by CPR), a hospital, a telegraph office, a school, a blacksmith, a carpenter and lots of boarding houses.”

One could also find a link to the Francophone culture left behind in the move to the new world.

“From around 1900 until the Second World War, Francophones made up around a third of Sudbury’s population - the proportion was even closer to 40 per cent by 1951,” she said.

She describes the majority of Francophone workers as working-class people with jobs in various industrial and labour industries, but also notes the importance of what they created. “The Francophone settlers of the area were, very literally, instrumental in helping to build Sudbury from the ground up.”

So if your family is from the area, or you have stories or handed-down memories from the beginning of Sudbury, the place that offered community and that unmistakable feeling of home to so many who were striking out in search for their future, you should certainly complete one of the surveys listed above.

And if this has reignited your interest in your own community, you’re in luck.

In addition to a soon to come new permanent addition to the Flour Mill Museum, with which Dupuis hopes to co-ordinate the release of his book, you can visit the Flour Mill Museum’s Heritage House (with COVID-19 restrictions in place; more information can be found on the city of Great Sudbury website.)

It’s nearly 120 years old, and one of the few remaining structures of its era. The home is set up to tell the story of a local working class Franco-Ontarian family at the turn of the last century.

“Learning about one of the many families whose hard work and sacrifices built the city we inhabit is more affecting, and more meaningful, when standing inside the confines of the four walls in which they actually lived, struggled, laughed, and died,” says Morel.

But it’s not just understanding their emotional experiences; it’s an opportunity to use their old ways to solve new, and not so new, problems. “Making the past feel relevant and vital inspires people to get excited about the many lessons those times have to offer that may help us avoid repeating past mistakes,” says Morel. Whether that is discovering techniques pioneered during the depression to aid in modern challenges, “many of the reuse techniques pioneered during the Depression era are helpful today in pursuing sustainable living.” As well as paying attention to science in times of crisis. “The disregard of public health recommendations during the Spanish Flu pandemic resulted in over 100 deaths in the Sudbury region alone.”

But if you do have a certain distaste for the silos themselves, you’ll have to get used to it. There was once an attempt to reuse the silos for another purpose, but after two days of work, “all they could manage was an ‘indentation’,” says Morel.

In 1956 Sudbury’s mayor even offered a $25 prize for anyone who could suggest a successful method of demolishing the silos, but as Morel notes, “they’re still a super prominent landmark, so we know how that went.”

If you would like to share your stories of Francophone history in the Moulin-à-Fleur with Serge Dupuis and Normand Carrey through the surveys, visit this website.And if you would like to learn more about the Flour Mill Museum (Musée du Moulin-à-Fleur) visit the city’s museum page.

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com