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Ethnic Settlement in Alberta: Francophones

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The first French-speaking people to come west were Métis traders working for the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. But as historian David Leonard points out, by the mid-1800s, another group of Francophones was establishing itself around Fort Edmonton and further north.

(David Leonard) But not all of the first settlers in the west who spoke French were Métis. Oblate missionaries attempted to establish enclaves of Francophone culture in western Canada. The members of the order of Oblates of Mary Immaculate first arrived in 1842, when Father Jean Baptiste Thibeault visited Lac Saint Anne and spent time at Fort Edmonton, and decided that the environment was ripe for conversion to the Catholic faith. And he managed to persuade Bishop Provencher in St. Boniface to send other missionaries west to try to convert the native to tenets of the Christian faith, as exemplified by the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1844, Father Henri-Bourassa established a Catholic mission at Lac Saint Anne. Along with the Métis, who made an annual pilgrimage to the mission, were many Cree and some Iroquois traders who converted to the Catholic faith.

(David Leonard): The most energetic of the Oblate fathers to settle in the west was, of course, Father Albert Lacombe who, in 1861, moved the mission at Lac Saint Anne to the [inaudible] River at present-day St. Albert. And shortly thereafter it became a Vicariate, the Vicariate of St. Albert, along with Athabasca, Mackenzie and Saskatchewan. And Father Lacombe was very successful in converting a number of the natives to the Christian faith, as exemplified by the congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate. And, in 1871, so strong was the Roman Catholic population, that Bishop Provencher decided that it was time to establish a Bishopric in the district. And with this development, many more Francophones, in addition to the indigenous Métis and the native people, were encouraged to come and make settlement at St. Albert.

By 1880, the population at St. Albert reached two thousand people. Not only was it the largest community between Winnipeg and Vancouver, there were more people who spoke French around St. Albert and Fort Edmonton than those who spoke English.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

Government requirements of Homesteaders

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After Wilfrid Laurier was elected Prime Minister, the Canadian government launched an aggressive campaign to attract settlers to Canada's west. Thousands of immigrants answered the call to take up homesteads in Alberta.

But, as historian Pat Myers explains, they first had to meet the eligibility requirements.

And to do that, you filed a fee of ten dollars. You had to be a male, 18 years or older, or a female, who could prove that they were the sole support of children under 18.

Now this was fairly difficult; they were quite skeptical of women who wanted to take out homesteads, but the provision did exist for women who met the eligibility requirements.

Once you had filed for your land, to gain title to that land, you had to live on the homestead for six months a year, for each of the three years following the granting of your application. You had to break 80 acres, which is about 32 hectares of land, and you had to build a home worth at least 300 dollars.

Homesteading guides also established what animals and goods homesteaders could bring with them into Alberta.

The 1913 guide, for example, told prospective settlers they could bring in 16 horses, 16 head of cattle, 160 sheep, and 160 swine.

They could bring in their clothes; they could bring in household furniture, books, guns, musical instruments, used agricultural equipment, and other things, such as sewing machines, bicycles, and typewriters.

After travelling west by boat, train, or horse and wagon, settlers would file their claims at the Dominion Lands office. In return, what they got was a piece of paper giving the homestead's legal description.

Now what they were looking for in this waving sea of grass was the three-centimetre township stake, left by the surveyors. These were square stakes, that had the quarter and the section stamped on the top, and they were driven into mounds of earth, so they were a bit higher, but they were still quite hard to find.

Within each township, each section was marked with a slightly smaller stake, and from here, your quarter section could be identified.

Looking out over the unbroken prairie, or tree-covered parkland, the new homesteaders suddenly realized the hard work before them if they were to succeed in their new country.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.


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