History - The French in Kippens

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Kippens was, at one time, a French-speaking community. Many older residents of the community remember when French was spoken all the time.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, France would send fishing fleets here to fish the waters and some men would "jump ship", marry local girls, and settle here. French Acadians came over from Nova Scotia and Maragaree, drawn by the existing French population and the French governor. It is interesting to note that, in fact, the French were not allowed to settle here. The Treaty of Utrecht, which was signed in 1713, made settlement by the French illegal. The treaty stated that the French could fish in Newfoundland waters, but they were forbidden to settle here. This law was in effect until 1904. The French settled here anyways, and brought their French heritage and culture with them.

Today the French language is heard only infrequently. What has happen to it? There are several factors, which contributed to the decline of the French language in Kippens. Residents remember cases of Catholic priests "changing" names. For example, a child who was supposed to be baptized "Jean" would be baptized "John", the surname "LeBlanc" would be changed to "White", or "Aucoin" would be called "O'Quinn". We may ask why in these cases, someone did not correct the priest, but we must remember that this was a different era. It was a time when priests were held in the highest esteem, and parishioners did not correct, or go against, the priest. His word was really law in the eyes of a lot of people.

The Roman Catholic Church also controlled the schools. The teachers were usually English speaking, and the children had to speak English at school.

Another factor, which was very important in the decline of the French language, was the construction of the Air Force Base in Stephenville. The Base, which started up in the 1940's, was the largest employer in this area. It changed the community's way of life almost overnight. People who wanted to work at the Base were at an advantage if they could speak English, since that was the language, which the Americans spoke. People who could not speak English soon discovered that this was a handicap for them. Most people made it a point to learn to speak English, and in all the hustle and bustle of the new life that the Base brought, the French language slowly took a back seat tot he English language.

There has been, in the past several years, an increase interest in the French language and culture. People are trying to recover their French ancestry, and there was a renewed interest in learning the French language.

Kippens once had its own graveyard. There were not very many people buried there--estimates run between fourteen and twenty graves. This graveyard was located on a hill in back of Gaudet's property, and it has since grown over with trees and brush.