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Guillaume TeasdaleProfessor Guillaume Teasdale chronicles the early French presence in Windsor-Detroit in his book, Fruits of Perseverance, published this month by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Historian’s book chronicles early French presence along Detroit River

If you are reading this anywhere in Windsor, you are almost certainly sitting on what was once a French farm.

It’s a fact few ever turn their minds to, says UWindsor history professor Guillaume Teasdale. But the French colonial presence that straddled the shores of the Detroit River dates from 1701, with windmills and orchards on long, narrow tracts of land known as “ribbon farms” stretching to the water’s edge.

“I don’t think people think about that,” he said. “They see the French street names and they know people who have French last names, but that’s it.”

Dr. Teasdale’s fascination with the history of French-speaking communities outside of Quebec has manifested itself in his first book, Fruits of Perseverance, published this month. While borne of his doctoral dissertation, the book is geared to a general audience.

It chronicles the French presence in the area from the founding of Detroit by French military entrepreneur Antoine Laumet de Lamothe Cadillac, to 1815 — two decades after the Detroit River became an international border. After the fall of New France in 1763, French settlers along the Detroit River found themselves “living under the British flag in an Aboriginal world.”

Then came the War of 1812.

“Those battles took place in the back of French farms,” Teasdale said.

Teasdale began his research for the book while still a doctoral student at York University. Born in Northern Ontario to French-speaking parents who moved to Trois-Rivières while he was still an infant, Teasdale said he kept in touch with family in Ontario and was always aware of French-speaking communities outside Quebec.

“The Great Lakes were a fascinating place,” he said. “There used to be a stronger connection between Detroit and Montreal than Detroit and anywhere in the United States.”

Teasdale said he feels fortunate to now be living and teaching in the setting of his research.

“My understanding of local history became much richer being here,” he said. People have shared their family histories with him, bringing tales of the past to life.

“I feel so lucky to be at the University of Windsor because people here are so passionate about local history.”

Teasdale plans his next local history research project to focus on the Huron/Wyandot people, removed by the U.S. government in the 1840s and 1850s, some ending up in Oklahoma.

A public launch of Fruits of Perseverance, with copies available for purchase, will take place in Alumni Hall’s McPherson Lounge on Wednesday, Feb. 27, from 6 to 8 p.m.

—Sarah Sacheli