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.