Martha Pellerin’s family was among the last wave of French Canadians to immigrate to Vermont, arriving in the late 1950’s. Martha, in fact, was born here, but she grew up with a strong sense of French Canadian Culture because her family traveled back and forth across the border to visit family in Quebec, sometimes as frequently as two weekends a month. Thus, Martha’s experience bridged both cultures, as recent immigrants and members of Barre’s Franco-American community in the United States and as members of an extended French Canadian family network in Canada.
But there is another very important dimension to Martha Pellerin’s story. She was deeply engaged in her family’s sense of identity and the musical environment of the Pellerin soirees and New Years gatherings. With her father’s passing she took it upon herself to be the keeper of the family heritage, which in time grew to include the role of folklorist documenting song traditions and verbal artistry in French-speaking families on both sides of the border. Later, as activist cum performer, musical presenter, and festival organizer, she created opportunities for Franco-Americans of every generation to make connections with their own personal sense of heritage.
Martha passed away in 1998 at the age of 37. Her death was a tremendous loss, not only to her family, but also to the many people who knew her as advocate, organizer, performer and friend. Martha was a dynamo, both a practical nuts and bolts person who got things done and a visionary. She drew on her heritage as a basis for creating new forms that were relevant to contemporary life and envisioned tradition as a living entity – constantly evolving in response to a constantly changing world. She worked to create a bridge between French Canadian and Franco-American cultures so that cousins on either side of the border could come together and find common ground. Her legacy lives on.