Ties to France, Belgium and Canada celebrated on Internet website

by Tom Perry

Reprinted from the Green Bay Press-Gazette, October 19, 1997 with the permission of the Editor

          Brats and beer may be more visible around Northeastern Wisconsin than baguettes and beaujolais.
          But more than 350 years after Jean Nicolet soaked his boots in la Baye, Wisconsin's connections to French culture and heritage are getting a boost, merci beaucoup.
          Indeed, the state's ties to French Canada, not to mention the French-speaking parts of Belgium are substantial enough to have inspired the construction of an Internet website.
          Ken Fleurant, a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay professor, has the site up and running at
          Made possible by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, Wisconsin's French Connection, Going on 400 Years is a collaborative effort involving participants in the entire state.
          By the time the Wisconsin's official celebration of its 150th anniversary as a state rolls around in 1998, this electronic monument to the contributions made by French-speaking immigrants will be a resource for educators, academics, genealogists and francophiles the world over.
          In addition to local and family history, there will be information on business ties to France, festivals, folklore and recipes.
          Project coordinators have just completed a curriculum packet, which they are eager to get into the hands of language and social studies teachers.
          "It's already really taken off," Fleurant said of the website last week. 'We've been adding quite a bit."    
          Wisconsin's upcoming Sesquicentennial served as the impetus for the site. "It occurred to us that recently there has been a lot done about the  Germans, the Belgians and Italians," Fleurant said. "But in the last 25 years or so not much had been done on the French."
          Though there is considerable information on Wisconsin's French influences, that information "is all pretty scattered," Fleurant said.
          Also, the influx of people with ties to other nations in the past 150 years has overshadowed the French presence, which dates back to the 1600s.


     Thanks to Belgian immigrants, Northeastern Wisconsin has a leg up on the whole chicken-soup-eating world.
     What this region has that others do not is booyah, a super stew made with chicken.
     Ken Fleurant, chairman of the modern language program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, said the word "booyah"comes from the word to boil.
     In French that word is "bouillir"and the Belgian word is similar, Fleurant said.
     While chicken soup is universal, Northeastern Wisconsin is the only place in the world where booyah is found, Fleurant said.
     Apparently, there are as many different booyah recipes as there are people who make it.
     Booyah connoisseurs are invited to send recipes for the French connection website.
     "Maybe we'll find out how many there are,"Fleurant said. "But I don't know. Maybe they're closely guarded secrets."
     Recipes may be submitted to Fleurant at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, WI 54311, or by fax at (920) 465-2890, or by e-mail at


       This might be the reason that French influences on local lifestyles are subdued.
Except for a few statues, monuments and places names there isn't much else that serves as a reminder that the French were the first Europeans to stumble into what is now Northeastern Wisconsin.   Yes, Allouez, De Pere could be place names in suburban Paris or the Province of Quebec.
          But in terms of lifestyle, only the regional love affair with booyah, a Belgian gift to Northeastern Wisconsin, has survived to make something of a French-related ethnic statement at restaurants and church picnics. 
          Despite this, there are thousands of people in the region with ties to French-speaking ancestors, even if those people have lived here for generations.
          Beyond local families, there are hundreds of students studying French throughout the region. Dick Feldhausen, who taught French for 20 years in Green Bay, said the concept sounds like a winner to him.
           "Anything that will help promote French culture and history around here will be very beneficial," he said. "I think it could be especially helpful to elementary school teachers when they teach Wisconsin history."
          At UWGB, Fleurant expects the site to grow. And while not everyone has access to the Internet, this electronic monument to Wisconsin's French connections could not have come at a better time.




This fleur-de-lis-covered cow
is so French and so Wisconsin.

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