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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
Background, People, Culture, Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource and Alberta Lottery Fund


Francophone Edukit

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The Fur Trade Era

Mission Era

Early Settlement


Philip H. Godsell and actor at La Verendrye's celebration, Winnipeg, Manitoba.Alberta is far too easily perceived as being culturally monolithic, especially as concerns language use, but there is in fact considerable linguistic diversity to the province, not the least of which is French. The first Europeans to make contact with the aboriginal peoples of this region were the French explorers and voyageurs, as noted by historian Donald Smith who tells us that to the Blackfoot, the French were the "real" white men. This is probably due to the presence of the La Vérendrye clan, who during the 18th century, while searching for a passage to the Western Sea, were also involved in the fur trade for France. In this way they built forts in the upper Missouri basin and in present-day Manitoba and Saskatchewan, pushing back the frontiers of New France west of the Great Lakes and across the Prairies, but are not known to have seen the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. The Blackfoot may only have known of the presence of the French through hearsay and the inevitable trickling effect of fur trade goods.

However, the La Vérendrye clan established the French fur trade in what is today the Canadian West, even though it was briefly interrupted by the Conquest of New France in 1760. Fur traders from Montreal pushed on, and annually hired men from the Saint Lawrence valley to man their canoes. Towards the end of the 19th century, opportunities for settlers brought a few French-Canadians to the West. Recruitment abroad, in the United States and in Europe, brought other Francophones to take homesteads.


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