A short history of the French in Minnesota

Our board member Pierre Girard, also a board member with the French American Heritage Foundation, shares a brief history lesson on the French influence in Minnesota:

Medard Chouart des Groseilliers and Pierre Esprit Radisson (both born in France) are considered the first Europeans to set foot in what eventually became Minnesota. This occurred in the 1650’s. They were followed by the trappers, fur traders and voyageurs. As they traveled and lived among the Native Americans they began giving the lakes, streams and rivers French names. They also named land areas with French names describing the topography they encountered. Then the first immigration of settlers began moving in from Canada. They were also of French origin so they continued using the French place names.

The area continued to be the source of fur bearing animals whose hides were being shipped to Europe for the fur hats that were in style for 200 years. Gradually the settlers, the half Indian/half European (Metis) and the Native people created communities with French names. The fur bearing animals began to disappear, the styles in Europe began to change and life took on a more settled style. In the 1840’s and 50’s treaties with the native people allowed folks from “out east” to begin moving to the new state of Minnesota. This brought the commercialism of New England and the familiar names of the English like Pillsbury, Washburn and other wealthy people to the area.

By this time Pierre (Pig’s Eye) Parrant had already settled St. Paul and Pierre Bottineau and other Frenchmen had settled Minneapolis. French was the predominant language of what became Minnesota from approximately 1640 to 1850, more than 200 years. They spoke “Royal French,” the French Samuel de Champlain had ordered spoken by all of the people in Quebec, in 1608. That is still the basis for the French spoken in Canada today, which is different from Parisian French.

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Chenonceau: The castle of the ladies

IMG_1405It’s a testament to girl power five hundred years in the making. It’s the second most visited chateau in France (after Versailles) with about one million visitors representing 150 nationalities each year. It lies in a region listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chenonceau, the French renaissance masterpiece known as the “castle of the ladies,” is located about 20 miles east of Tours in the Loire Valley.

Built on top of an old water mill on the river Cher, the stone fortress tells the story of France through timeless themes of love, jealousy, war and new ideas. Its “modern” history dates back to 1535, when King Henry II gave the estate, not to the Queen, but to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. De Poitiers expanded the residence, adding a bridge across the river and creating gardens on the grounds.

When the king died in 1559, his widow Catherine de Medici forced Diane out of the castle and added the now iconic gallery on top of the bridge and also expanded the gardens. After Catherine’s death, the castle went to her daughter-in-law, Louise of Lorraine, and following the assassination of Louise’s husband, King Henry III, she was said to aimlessly roam the chateau’s corridors and became known as the white queen. (In those days, white was the color of mourning.)

In 1733, the estate was sold to a wealthy farmer named Claude Dupin. It was his wife, Louise Dupin, who transformed the castle into a center for learning. She attracted some of the greatest scholars and philosophers of the day to her literary salon, including Voltaire and Rousseau. Her cleverness also saved Chenonceau during the French Revolution – in addition to appreciating her relationship with the Enlightenment crowd, she convinced revolutionaries that her bridge was the only way to cross the river for miles.


Exhibit at Chenonceau commemorating their history as a military hospital during World War I

Chenonceau also contributed to the French history of World War I and II. In 1913, the chateau was acquired by Henri Menier of the Menier Chocolate Company. During World War I, his brother, Gaston Menier, did his part for the war effort by setting up a temporary military hospital at the castle and covering all of the expenses himself. 120 beds were installed in the gallery above the river and on the ground floor a highly efficient operating room was equipped with one of the first x-ray machines.

During World War II it was situated on the Demarcation line and the galleries spanning the river allowed many people to cross into the free zone with the Menier family helping to smuggle out people fleeing Nazi tyranny. It became a tourist attraction in 1952 and is still owned by the Menier family today. Chenonceau has welcomed its fair share of famous visitors including President Harry Truman, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

The chateau is located about 20 miles east of Tours and is among the most accessible in the Loire Valley as the town’s train station lies across the tracks from the gate house where one can purchase tickets. (The train to Chenonceau is clearly marked at the Tours train station and counter agents speak English if help is needed.) Past the gift shop featuring the obligatory trinkets for sale, I walk down a tree lined path with the chateau directly in front of me. I’ve heard people describe it as if you’re walking into Disney World and now I understand what they mean – it does remind me of seeing the magic kingdom castle for the first time.

The chateau is an example of 16th and 17th century Renaissance style with tapestries lining the walls illustrating daily life from that time period. One of my favorite places was the chapel and as I pass the strong oak door I enter a small room filled with stained glass windows (unfortunately the original windows were destroyed during World War II but they were replaced in the 1950s). The chapel was saved during the French Revolution again due to the cleverness of Madame Dupin, who had the idea to turn it into a wood store, thereby camouflaging its religious nature.

The kitchens feature high ceilings and a plethora of copper cookware hanging leisurely about and I stop to imagine the hustle and bustle that must have taken place during a royal feast. Don’t miss the opening to the small landing platform off the kitchen – that is where supplies would enter the building from boats making their deliveries via the river below.


One of Chenonceau’s gardens

The long gallery spans about 200 feet across the river and I look at a historic photo of when it was a hospital during World War I, with soldiers lying in beds neatly spaced along the slate floor. Have I mentioned the gardens? I step out onto the balcony at the front of the chateau where I get a bird’s eye view of the perfect landscaping. As I am looking from the balcony, Diane’s garden is on my right and Catherine’s garden is on my left.

In Diane’s garden diagonal paths separate eight triangles of green all leading to a water fountain in the center. Throughout the year this geometric plot is populated with a variety of shrubs and flowers including pansies, daisies, begonias and climbing roses. Catherine’s garden features five lawns centered around a circular pond and sports a plethora of roses and lavender.

Other features of the grounds include a 2 ½ acre maze (I make it to the center and am rewarded with a view from a raised platform), a carriage gallery filled with a collection of horse-drawn vehicles, a tea room for fine dining and a vegetable garden.

The sun shines brightly as I await the train back to Tours, returning to the modern world after spending the day reveling in the history of some of the most enchanting women of the era.

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Les Américains À Tours 1917 – 1919


When I had the privilege of visiting Tours last year, I received a copy of “Les Américains À Tours 1917 – 1919,” a book about when Americans were in our sister city during World War I. As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the great war, we will not forget the sacrifices both French and American soldiers made for those who came after them. The following are excerpts from this book. Learn more about purchasing your own copy by visiting the publisher’s website.

After President Wilson’s address to the Senate on April 2, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany four days later on April 6. This decision was received with great enthusiasm by the Allies who were filled with renewed hope of victory in the not too distant future. The City of Tours was by no means immune to this happy turn of events, celebrating by decking itself out in the colors of the stars and stripes.

Opened in October 1915, the Tours-Parcay-Meslay airfield welcomed its first US aviators on July 8, 1917. It was very busy training observation pilots, observers and photographers in particular. At the turn of 1918, eight squadrons and 1,089 servicemen were stationed there.

In January 1918, General Pershing decided to centralize in Tours all the administrative units backing up the troops in action. All of these units were merged into one department called “Services of Supply” on March 13, 1918. More than 2,000 Americans subsequently descended on the city to run this mammoth logistics operation. This supply corps set up several workshops across industrial sites, not least those of the Paris-Orleans rail company, in Tours and Saint-Pierre-de-Corps. A whole host of specialties were carried out in these workshops, but most were tasked with making and mending uniforms. This hive of activity relied on extra help from the local civilian workforce, which in turn brought additional jobs for the city’s economy. From January 1918 to September 1919, Tours served as the general headquarters on the home front for the US Army, becoming, for a time, the capital of the United States in France.

Community ties blossomed between the Americans and the Tours population especially through charities contributing to the war effort. The most prominent was the Red Cross, which proved steadfast in its offer of care and solace to Allied soldiers and generous donations of money to their families. It had a base in Tours from October 1917 to January 1919 and was assisted by the YMCA.

Despite the language barrier, the Americans and the local population engaged increasingly with each other, growing accustomed over time to the intermingling of two cultures. During World War I, the values of American civilization were mainly conveyed through the movies, but what really brought the two communities together more than anything else was music. American musicians introduced the Tours population to a new upbeat and lively musical genre that proved a real hit: jazz. The US soldiers also showcased their ideals through sport, inviting the locals to the major contests they organized and sharing such new disciplines with them as baseball. For the Americans, their time in Tours gave them an insight into the French lifestyle, prominent figures that have gone down in history, the royal chateaux and French cuisine.

The signature of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 heralded the US troops departure from Tours, which happened relatively discreetly and in stages. No official ceremony was held to see them off. Their brief stint in Tours nevertheless left a legacy of invaluable technical improvements in terms of communications, hygiene and water supply.

Through a great many accounts that conveyed a sense of warmth they all shared, Tours and its population expressed wholehearted gratitude to the Americans. On July 4, 1918, the municipality of Tours celebrated Independence Day in grandiose style. The naming of the stone bridge after US President Wilson, voted on by the Municipal Council on August 13, 1918, was a further sign of the city’s fond memories. But the most prominent gesture of friendship came in the form of a monument, shaped like a fountain, in remembrance of the US logistical organization in Tours. Dedicated in 1925, it was finally inaugurated on August 5, 1937. Later, the city of Tours would endeavor to cement its cultural affinities and ties of friendship with America. In 1960, Stanford University opened a campus in Tours and in 1991 the city of Tours signed a twinning agreement with Minneapolis.

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Notes from our sister city

Post its“Bienvenue en Touraine – Vive L’Amerique!” read one of the notes from an attendee to the Minnesota exhibit at the Foire de Tours in May. As the home to 3M, the inventor of post-it notes, Minneapolis and Tours Sister Cities members came up with an idea to ask our French friends to send greetings on multi-colored sticky notes to those “across the pond” in the North Star state. “Minneapolis – une ville magique et ouverte – J’y ai des amis qui me sont chere. Belle initiative!” (Minneapolis, a magical and open city, I have friends there who are dear to me. Nice initiative!”)

Most contained simple greetings in both French and English and many were signed “Bisous” which is a French expression used to end a note meaning “kisses.” “Quel plaisir de connaître votre pays” read one – “What a pleasure to know your country.” Others mentioned how much they enjoyed viewing the exhibit, which showcased aspects of Minnesota life.

“Felicitations! Superbe exposition – tres bon sejour.” (Congratulations, superb exhibit – a very good day.) This one was signed from Xavier and Valerie with the date 9/5/2017, which represented one of the days the exhibit was open (5/9 to Americans as the French style of representing dates is listed with the day first instead of the month).

Some included predictions (“Hi guys, I’m the future French president”) and some referenced cultural aspects of Minnesota (“Prince forever!” read one and “My brother loves the Timberwolves, sorry I prefer the Utah Jazz” read another). And yes, some of them were political. “Bienvenue en France! Vive les USA sauf Trump. Bisous!” (Welcome to France, Long live the United States except Trump, Kisses!”)

But one reminds anyone from either Tours or Minneapolis of the long history our countries share – “Lafayette came to America and America came to France. I was born near Omaha Beach. I thank the soldiers and their families so much. My heart bleeds and I am forever grateful. Peace and love all over the world.” It was signed simply “L.M.”

Hundreds of greetings were collected and showcased at Sister Cities Day in Minneapolis after the Foire, a colorful example of an expression of friendship that will not soon be forgotten.

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A French Civics Lesson

By Ed Coughlin, Former Minneapolis and Tours Sister Cities Board Member

Replacing a mayor without calling a special election


Holding More Than One Elective Office  

The sitting mayor of Tours, Serge Babary, was elected to the Senate at the end of September with official results being declared at the beginning of October.  Until this year, a mayor could be both senator and mayor at the same time.  A new law took effect this year requiring a mayor to step down as city executive in order to serve as senator.  He or she may still remain on the city council but cannot serve as mayor.   Therefore, Serge Babary announced his resignation resulting in the calling of a special session of the city council to vote for a new mayor within 15 days. During that period, the First Adjoint (vice-mayor), Jacques Chevtchenko, assumed the duties as mayor.

Size of a City Council

Unlike the United States where each community has its own city charter which sets forth how the community will be governed, France has specific rules that apply to all communities based on population.  Only Paris, Marseille and Lyon have exceptions to those rules.

Tours, with 135,000 inhabitants, must have a 55-seat city council.

The mayor is one of those 55 members and elected to the office of mayor at the first session of a new city council.  In addition to the mayor, there are vice-mayors called “adjoints” who are delegated specific duties in areas such as public safety, education, culture, parks & gardens, etc.  Here each city is allowed discretion in determining the number of its “adjoints”, not to exceed 30% of the council. Tours has voted to have 16 adjoints…not counting an additional five with neighborhood related duties.


Municipal elections took place throughout France in 2014 with the next elections set for 2020 (but they may be postponed until 2021).

Voters must select from among slates of candidates referred to in French as listes.  There are 55 names on each liste with the top name presumed to be a candidate for mayor. The seats on the city council are filled on a proportional basis by those named on any listes with more than 5% of the vote in the deciding round of the election.  Names on each liste must alternate by gender and the seats are filled starting with the top of the liste.

Under the proportional method used to fill the council seats, the liste with the most votes in the deciding round of the election will get well more than one-half the seats, providing the mayor with a governing “majority” and severely limiting the role of the “opposition.” The group in power are referred to as La Majorité since the mayor and that group should be able to call the shots if they remain united.

The 2014 election in Tours as an illustration of how the process works

Since this article is about replacing a mayor, I’ll skip over some of the details of municipal elections.

Voters in the first round of the election selected from among nine pre-printed listes, inserting just one into the envelope which would be cast into the ballot box.  Any changes to the 55 names on the pre-printed liste would invalidate the ballot.  There is no such concept as splitting a ticket.

After the first round, no one liste received an absolute majority. Four listes were eligible to move into the second round the following Sunday (a relatively rare occurrence).  Before the second round, on Monday and Tuesday, the liste of the incumbent Socialist mayor, Jean Germain, merged with a liste from the Green Party in order to improve their electability.  Voters had three listes to choose from in the second round.

In the second round, the liste with the most votes is the winner.  A majority is not required.  Any liste with more than 5% of the vote is entitled to share in the seats on the council.  I suppose you could say that there are Silver and Bronze medals.

Serge Babary ran on a liste which presented a united front from the outset. He is a member of the LR Party (formerly the UMP party of both Chirac and Sarkozy) and he partnered with members of the more centrist UDI Party.  They wanted one consistent message throughout the entire campaign and avoid splitting their base of support against what was considered by many to be the invincible liste headed by Jean Germain.  The last-minute merger between Jean Germain’s primarily Socialist (PS) liste and the Green Party liste did not achieve its desired result. They came in second with the Front National gaining enough votes to garner two seats on the council.

The actual results were as follows:

Head of Liste           Parties                           Votes                       %                  Seats

Serge Babary          UMP-UDI                       20,770                   49.75                  42

Jean Germain        PS-PCF-EELV-MoDem  17,398                   41.67                  11

Gilles Godefroy      FN                                  3,576                      8.56                    2

Although the leading listes both won over 40% of the vote, and despite the fact that the top vote getter did not get an outright majority, the modified proportional allocation formula gave 42 of the 55 seats to the liste led by Serge Babary (LR).

In order to ensure that the leading liste has a secure majority there is a two-step process in the calculation.  The first step gave a majority of 28 seats (50% +1) to the first-place finisher. The second step allocated the remaining seats as a proportion of the vote totals.  This gave an additional 14 seats to the leading ticket.   Clearly the system is designed to give the first-place liste a substantial Majorité.

When the city council meets for the first time, the entire council votes for the new mayor.  With 42 votes, there is little doubt about who will win.

The next step is to vote on the number of Adjoint positions to create and then take a vote on filling them.  When the listes were being drawn up, discussions took place about who would serve where in the city government.  The jockeying for position should have ended before the liste became public.   The top names on the liste of the Majorité (except for the number two name, Sophie Auconie, who was serving in the European Parliament) were elected by the council to fill the adjoint positions.  The structure of the listes assures gender equality so that you would expect eight men and eight women to be adjoints or adjointes.  There were no surprises.  With 42 votes and fresh from a victory, the result was assured.


Listes do not disappear.  Until the next general election, they continue to be the resource used to fill seats in case of vacancy. If vacancies occur, whether due to illness, death, moving to a new city, etc., they are filled by the next names on the respective liste.  For example, if one of the two FN seats were to become vacant, it would be filled from the FN liste from 2014 in the order that the names appeared.  The Majorité could not gobble up a seat from the FN.  The FN has two seats until the next general election.


The new mayor is selected by a vote of a special session of the city council.  It should, in theory, fall to the Majorité to select its candidate to replace the mayor, and, with 42 votes, there should be no surprises.

In Tours, the Majorité formulated a procedure for selecting its candidate and all the members signed onto it.  Individuals could nominate themselves prior to what looked like a papal conclave (no cell phones and no reporters inside the room).

Each candidate would give a 15-minute presentation (which was modified to 30 minutes).  Candidates could not be present during the other candidates’ presentations.  That was followed by a first round secret ballot.  If no one got a majority there would be a second round where the leading candidate (in the case of three or more) would win.  If two candidates had the same number of votes, the older of the two would be selected.

In Tours, Christophe Bouchet and Xavier Dateu ran for the office.  Thibault Coulon withdrew from consideration and never formally entered the race.  Since Dateu was touted as the frontrunner, Coulon was perceived as throwing his support in favor of Bouchet.   The results of both rounds of voting were 20-20 with two abstentions.  Bouchet was the older of the two and declared the winner.


The evening before the special session of the city council, Xavier Dateu announced that he was going to put himself forward as a candidate.  There was some confusion in his mind over whether there should have been a third round prior to going to the “tie-breaker.”    That led to much speculation over the internal discipline of the Majorité and even whether there would be mass resignations.


There were no significant surprises.


Both names were put before the city council.  The spokesperson for the Left announced that they would abstain from voting since they believed that the process was flawed and that there should have been a special election called to put the question before the citizens.

Whereas one would have expected “the system” to produce 42 votes in favor of one candidate (Serge Babary would still have a vote since he has kept his seat on the council) the results of the secret ballot were as follows:

Christophe Bouchet                  30

Xavier Dateu                              15

Abstentions                                10

The Majorité did not line up squarely behind their candidate.  He only got 30 of 42 votes but enough to easily win the election.

Since there was a total of 45 votes cast for one of the two candidates, the winner needed a majority of 23.  Christophe Bouchet was voted in as mayor.

At that point he presided over the special session, taking over from the most senior (age) member of the council who was the opening presider.


On a show of hands, the number of adjoints was fixed at 16 (no change in number).

A new liste of candidates for adjoint was provided to the council members (prepared in advance by Christophe Bouchet) and it was approved by secret ballot.

The specific functions of each adjoint are not determined by a council vote but announced later in the week.


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Minnesota Stars at the Foire de Tours


The entrance to the Minnesota tent at the Foire de Tours

In May, nearly 100 Minnesotans traveled to Tours, Minneapolis’s sister city in France, to showcase the north star state at their regional exhibition called the Foire de Tours. Each year, the Foire, a ten day event, selects a region or country to feature as part of its fairgrounds. Minnesota was invited this year as 2017 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the American arrival in France during World War I.

In addition to the exhibition space which highlighted aspects of Midwestern life from archival photos from the Minnesota Historical Society to music from Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, the Foire also featured gastronomic specialties from Minnesotan Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and known as the “Sioux Chef.” Members of the official delegation from Minneapolis were treated to


Salade Amerindienne

Salade Amerindienne (Native American Salad) which featured mixed greens, roast turkey, maple squash, corn, green beans, toasted seeds and honey dressing.

A non-alcoholic drink named after Minnesota’s baseball team, the Twins, featured orange juice, bananas, pressed lime and Grenadine. While walking through the Foire, a member of the Minneapolis delegation was approached by a high school student from Tours who had studied in the city of lakes. When asked how he liked Minnesota he simply replied, “It wasn’t very French.”

For our first night in Tours, we were invited to the opening of an exhibition at the Chateau de Tours featuring nearly 50 World War I posters on loan from the Weisman Art Museum. Afterward, we headed to City Hall for the opening of La Presence des Americains a Tours 1917-1919, which highlighted the role the city played as a supply base during the epic conflict then known as “The Great War.”


The city hall of Tours, an official polling place for their presidential election

As the city hall served as an official poling place for their presidential election, we were granted special access to observe their election day process. Leading up to the vote, residents were noticeably nervous about the outcome, with one remarking to me, “Well, we’re all just praying for Sunday.” On Sunday evening, we joined approximately 100 people in the main room at city hall where results were coming in on a big screen television. A cheer and audible sigh of relief went up as the crowd was made aware of the victory of Emmanuel Macron, the youngest man ever elected to the French presidency.

At the Cimetiere la Salle, we inaugurated a memorial dedicated to the American


Members of the Minneapolis delegation joined French dignitaries in honoring those lost during World War I

soldiers who lost their lives while serving in France from 1917-1919. This solemn occasion also lent itself to a humorous, “lost in translation” moment – next to the seating for local citizens and veterans, members of the Minneapolis delegation were placed in a section titled “Personalities.”

Of course, being in France meant the wine flowed freely and we enjoyed many whites and reds from the nearby Loire Valley. When I remarked to one of our hosts from Tours that the wine was amazing, he simply looked at the bottle and replied, “Oh yes, that was a good year.” As an American, I felt honored that they celebrated our visit by cracking open one of the best varieties of their regional specialties.

As any trip to France does, it ended much too soon. While we said our goodbyes and merci beaucoup to our friends from across the ocean we renewed a commitment to our shared history and the values that transcend boundaries and define us both.

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Foire de Tours highlights indigenous cuisine and the creations of award-winning chef Sean Sherman

150117_SeanSiouxChef-450x450The Foire de Tours, a regional exhibition showcasing Minnesota in our sister city from May 5-14, will feature gastronomic delights from Minneapolis-based chef Sean Sherman. Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and founder of the company The Sioux Chef, recently took some time to give us a sneak preview of what attendees can expect.

You have traveled to Europe – have you been to France and/or Tours?  

I have been to Europe a few times, back when I was younger, and just this last fall for the Slow Foods Terra Madre in Italy. My partner, Dana, has an exchange family in Nice, so we stopped there on our way home and had a lovely time. I have not yet been to Tours.

What interested you in participating in the Foire de Tours?

The team from Meet Minneapolis introduced us to the sister city relationship and the Foire de Tours and told us that they wanted to showcase some of the interesting culture here. I love the idea of sharing the bounty of each culture with people from a very different region. I also understand that many French are interested in learning more about Native American history, so I hope that we can show France what we have been doing!

What can attendees expect to see on your menu?

We hope to showcase some of the foods that are produced in our state like hand harvested wild rice and Red Lake walleye. We’ll have a Matt’s style burger and normally our team doesn’t use any wheat flour, dairy or refined sugars but we are incorporating some current Minnesota staples like apple and blueberry pies.

One of the hot trends that the French are masters at is not just having food that tastes good, but also the presentation and “art” of making something look good on the plate (sometimes it almost looks too good to eat). As a chef, you not only have to be a good cook but you have to know how to present food in an appealing way. How did you develop your style of putting those two elements together?

When I first moved to Minneapolis, I was hoping to attend art school but then I saw how much it cost so I stayed in the kitchen. I decided to focus my artistic talents onto the plate instead. I learned the basics of Italian, French, Mexican, etc. before I started to work on my own heritage. All throughout that, I put a lot of care into making pretty plates. I like to have fun with the colors and the dishware, but of course most importantly it has to taste good!

Chefs obviously spend their days cooking for other people. Do you have a favorite meal that you don’t cook yourself (at a restaurant or something that someone else makes for you)?

I like so many types of food, anything except fast food. If I had to choose one, I really like Mexican food, and Dana makes really good migas from her time living in Texas.

Thanks to Sean Sherman for taking part in our Q&A. For more information on The Sioux Chef, please visit their website.


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