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Museum L-A unveils new Franco Trail project; organizers expect boost in tourism

Museum L-A intern Catherine Picard of Quebec gestures toward a map of “Franco Trail L-A.”

Representatives of Museum L-A recently took to the stage at a local Franco-American landmark, the Gendron Franco Center, to unveil the museum’s new “Franco Trail L-A,” a self-guided walking tour featuring at least 18 Lewiston-Auburn sites and attractions relevant to the history of local Franco-Americans. The new initiative includes a paper map, a website, and a free smartphone app that guides users taking the tour. 

Museum L-A executive director Rachel Desgrosseilliers credited Catherine Picard, an intern from Quebec, with developing the project with the support of Lojiq, an organization that promotes partnerships between Quebec and other countries. 

“The impetus for doing this came through our attending the Reseau Francophone-Francophile in Quebec a couple of years ago,” said Desgrosseilliers. “They kept pushing us to create a project because we had a large Francophone population in Lewiston-Auburn.”

Desgrosseilliers also credited Guillaume Sayinzoga, a volunteer at the museum, with developing the project’s technological features. Franco Trail L-A’s free app can be downloaded on smartphones and its website is at www.francotrailla.com.

Picard explained that Franco Trail L-A makes the French heritage of Lewiston and Auburn accessible to local residents and tourists by identifying relevant attractions and businesses and placing them in a historical context.

“Franco Trail L-A is a tourist tool that visitors can use to plan their schedules, movements, their entire program for the day,” said Picard. “All attractions and businesses are grouped in this one convenient tool – Franco Trail L-A – and there are multiple ways to use it.”

The unveiling event was attended by Marie-Claude Francoeur, a representative of the Boston branch of the Quebec Government. “Our communities share a common history, culture, and values,” she said. “We share a language – lost for some – but always still in our hearts. This trail gives us opportunities to go back and revisit where we came from.”

At the conclusion of the event, Desgrosseilliers challenged the various municipal representatives in the audience to be prepared for the tourism she expects the project will generate. “Museum L-A has an advertisement that will run in a motor coach industry magazine next year,” she said. “That means we have that long to prepare.” 

The expected influx of tourists to the community was the impetus for creating a bus tour package to go along with Franco Trail L-A. Picard was tasked with creating an itinerary for the bus tour test run, which took place last week.

“Creating the itinerary was an eye opener,” said Desgrosseilliers. “We learned which businesses already have the capacity to open their doors to bus tours… Visitors find our cities beautiful and fun. A visitor from London said that Maine is the most American and down-to-earth. To visitors from away, we are real people with a ‘joie de vivre’.”

As they continue to add to the project’s app and website, the museum and its partners are open to suggestions for improving the experience of people using the trail. The project was developed by the museum in consultation with Sts. Peter and Paul Basilica, the Gendron Franco Center, the Franco American Collection at USM’s L-A campus, and the L-A Metro Chamber of Commerce.

“Many people have been working diligently to incorporate the many aspects of Lewiston-Auburn’s Francophone heritage – including fun, food, and history – into a tourism package that will draw visitors to our community,” said Desgrosseilliers.

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