French Canadian Interview Project


The interview project was conceived in 1999, when local historian and fellow Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society member Vic Johnson asked me to consider interviewing descendants of the French Canadians in our community-before it was too late. He had completed several French-Canadian oral histories about twelve years ago, but he needed help. I delayed my response, but then Mr. Johnson reported that another potential interviewee had died.

Project begins in fall 2000

I decided to include a "French Canadian Interview Project" in my three fall semester 2000 Western Civilization courses-two HIST 1514 (to 1815) and one HIST 1524 (1815 to present). At first, I set this component of the semester grade at 15%. Later when I realized the amount of work that would be involved in the interview project, I raised the weight of the grade to 20%. When the fall 2000 semester came to a close, I provided an "interview project" grade evaluation form for each student to complete. The students stated the amount of work they invested in the project. The level of work corresponded with a self-imposed grade on the project. If a team of students were to complete certain responsibilities on the project, I asked them to assign a grade to the other student team members.

I did not eliminate any of the regular requirements in my Western Civilization courses. A minimum ten-page interpretive problem paper, class participation, seven quizzes, a midterm exam, and a final exam comprise the other requirements for my Western Civilization courses. In other words, the interview project was added to existing course requirements.

French and Indian re-enactors visit campus

In September 2000, I acquainted my students with the French-Canadian aspect of our local history by introducing them to historical reenactment, local historical societies, and website searches. The Kankakee Community College Cultural Diversity Committee had already planned a French and Indian re-enactment encampment at the college on September 22. The students were to interview the re-enactors and complete a questionnaire. The students who were unable to be on campus for the reenactment were given alternate assignments which included attending the Feast of the Hunter's Moon in West Lafayette, Indiana on October 14-15; visiting a local historical society; or conducting an internet search which listed websites related to local history from the 1600s to the early 1800s.

Realizing that students today are multi-talented when it comes to computer technology and skills, I set an expectation for the project: an off-line web page ready historical documentary by the end of the semester. My expectation for the French Canadian Interview Project had gone through a metamorphosis from a simple audio taped oral interview to web pages on the Internet. These pages would offer the complete interview transcript, brief biography of each interviewee, family photographs, family trees, family documents, maps, links to area historical societies and newspapers, local history references, chronology of local history, and traditional French-Canadian recipes. The students indicated their technical experiences and capabilities on the appropriate forms. From these responses, I could create an organizational chart with individual job responsibilities.

Interviewees are chosen in October 2000

Vic Johnson had given me a list of eight individuals who had agreed to be interviewed, so I mailed an introductory letter to the interviewees on September 29, 2000. After some adjustments-three potential interviewees declined for various reasons, but one more was added-each of the three Western Civilization classes would have two descendants of the French-Canadians to interview. The French-Canadian descendants who agreed to be a part of this project are Bernice (Fortin) Bissaillon, Cecile LaMarre Enright, Sister Madeleine LaMarre, Lenore Pallissard, Leland Ponton, and Anne Richard.

Throughout October, I distributed articles about local history and related websites to my students. By the end of October, the interpretive problem paper deadline was past for all three Western Civilization classes. Therefore, the time to focus on the French-Canadian Interview Project had arrived. I mailed my second letter with a permission form to the interviewees on October 20, and followed up with a phone call to each interviewee in which I promised a complimentary copy of the videotaped interview. As Director, I set an agenda of activities for October 30 to November 10 and a checklist for November 13 to December 7. Please appreciate that the time to create these instructions was considerable. Early on in the project, I realized that I had to assume the responsibilities of the Director position. In late October, I distributed software (provided by the KCC Humanities/Social Sciences Division) included zip disks, 35 MM film, blank CDs, audiocassettes, and videotapes to the students. A special expression of gratitude goes to my division chairperson Lou Anderson for his support throughout this project.

Interviews begin in November 2000

Ideally, I wanted to extend my good wishes to each interview team and interviewee right before the actual interview, but after getting hopelessly lost in rural St. Anne on a dark November 12 Sunday evening, I gave up this notion. After all, this was the students' project, and they should have free reign without my hovering. Actually this "hands off" policy has worked very well. The students have assumed a unique ownership of their work and responsibility in the project. They informed me that they really enjoyed the first contact visit-before the actual interview session. Two students were going to bring flowers to separate interviewees on the day of the interview. This project has allowed me to connect with the students on another level-somewhere in between the regular classroom professor-student relationship-a level that allowed them to talk with me as an equal about their project adventures and new awareness of local history. Every class session begins with an update on the project. One interview team reported that they were glad that I placed a Video Director and Audio Director on all teams because their interviewee was less talkative in front of the video camera.

In early December, I presented this project at the annual meeting of the Illinois State Historical Society Symposium in Springfield, Illinois. One commentator at the symposium said that the work on this project was "cutting edge." During the winter holiday break I personally delivered a gift from the KCC Humanities and Social Science Division to each of the interviewees. This was a delightful experience since I and four of the interviewees had never met each other in person.

Interviews transcribed in spring 2001

During the spring 2001 semester, my next three Western Civilization classes carried on the project. The first hurdle was that the interviews had to be transcribed. Upon the advice of my colleagues Steve Liehr and Rochelle Kunkle, I solicited volunteers to transcribe the interviews from Professor Kunkle's transcription class. Deep expressions of gratitude go to the transcribers: Rhonda Bridges, Linda Burdick, Liz McDermott, Shirley Neal, Patty Rogers, Leatha Romine, Kim Spivey, and Janice Williams.

By mid semester, the transcriptions had been completed. However, many words were unclear to the transcribers--e.g., French works, geographical reverences, and family members' names. So, one of the new responsibilities for my Western Civilization students was to complete the transcribed interview by visiting each interviewee. Other students were assigned to organize the photo gallery, write concise biographies, and create family trees for each interviewee; collect traditional French-Canadian recipes, create maps with geographical sites referred to in the interviews, and organize the web pages with links to other related websites, local history references, and local history chronology.

Toward the end of spring 2001 semester, one student, Scott Zumwalt, took charge of putting the web pages together. This monumental task consumed many hours during spring and summer. By August, Scott was transferring to Illinois State University. So, I took over, and continued to build the web pages. The KCC Computer Services Department has been very helpful in completing this task--I am especially grateful for the counsel, advice, and programming skills of Jose Hernandez.

December 7, 2001 grand opening highlights project and website

By mid fall semester 2001, I had recruited my new Western Civilization students to review, critique, and proof read the web pages. They have mopped up some unfinished components and planned the ceremony for the grand opening of the web pages on Friday December 7, 2001. View the grand opening program produced by the students. Kankakee Community College hosted the Grand Opening of The French Canadian Interview Project web pages on December 7, 2001—sponsored by the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society, the KCC Cultural Diversity Committee, the KCC Humanities/Social Science Division, and my Western Civilization course students. View the college's publicity flyer for the grand opening event.

The web page highlights consisted of transcribed interviews, family/friend photo galleries, family trees, biographies, recipes, and other items related to six local individuals of French-Canadian descent: Bernice (Fortin) Bissaillon, Cicele (LaMarre) Enright, Sister Madeleine LaMarre, Lenore (Duby) Pallissard, Leland Ponton, and Anne (Raymond) Richard.