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Exploring Bastille Days and Milwaukee's connection to French heritage

Posted at 1:14 PM, Jul 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-12 14:14:56-04

MILWAUKEE — Bastille Days is the largest French independence day celebration in North America. In its 38th year, the festival is expected to draw around 250,000 people.

Milwaukee is certainly known for its German and Polish heritage, but the French were the first Europeans here. This is a breakdown of French settlers' impact on the Cream City.

1674: Father Jacques Marquette makes the first written record of Milwaukee.
1795: Jacques Vieau establishes a fur trading post the Milwaukee and Menonomee Rivers
1820-1840: Solomon Juneau, Vieau's son, inherits his fathers assets and builds the first log cabin in the area. He is considered the founder and first mayor of Milwaukee. He helped lay out roads, sell land, build a courthouse, and other necessary attributes of a city.
1850: There were around 20,000 settlers in the Milwaukee area.

The French played a major role in the establishment of the city. In fact, Wisconsin was originally called 'Ouisconsin' for about 100 years before being changed to the modern spelling. Given all of this, why is Milwaukee known more for its German and Polish heritage than its French heritage?

"I think it's because we don't have a very big French immigrant base here," Anne Leplae, the executive director at the Alliance Français de Milwaukee, said. "So we have that really rich French history, but we don't have the immigrant population that the German or the Polish or the Eastern Europeans have in Milwaukee."

Leplae also mentions that French men marrying Native American woman could also have contributed to this.

Milwaukee's French culture is on proud display at Cathedral Square Park. A replica Eiffel Tower as well as countless French flags fly high for the four-day independence day celebration.