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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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Sylvan Lake
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Sylvan Lake

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The earliest inhabitants called this body of water the Snake Lake. David Thompson, the notable Canadian map-maker and explorer, called it Methy Lake in 1814. John Palliser, another explorer and geographer, referred to it as the Swan Lake in 1859. It and the settlement on its south end have been known as Sylvan (from Latin, referring to wood) Lake since the early 1900s.

Sylvan Lake saw its first settlers just before the 19th century ended. Alexander Loiselle and his son Louis moved to the area from Michigan, bringing with them the materials to build a sawmill. Once the timber was cut, more settlers came. Among the first were the Archambeaus from France, who built their home from local stone. It was a copy of the house they left in the old country. The Archambeaus’ goats occupied the top floor until a fence went up. The house still stands, as does another Sylvan Lake "stone castle", the Balleu house (1910). The Belleu house is now a coffee shop.

Soon after the Archambeaus came, Dr. Tanche from Lille, France brought 30 French families to Sylvan Lake (1906). The doctor’s intention was to build a "true socialist colony". He had everybody sharing one large barn, cattle included. His dream endured less than two years, and then it went the way of all utopias. Half of the families returned to France. The other half got a homestead each somewhere else. What of the doctor? He left his Sylvan Lake homestead in 1917 and returned to France where he died.

When the Northern and Northwestern Railway came (1911), Alexander Loiselle branched out into the hospitality industry with his Alexander Hotel. The Varsity Dance Hall (1930) was a magnet for revellers from across the province.

Sylvan Lake has grown from 185 people (1923) to 8,500 (2004). It has developed into a resort "town for all seasons" and attracts approximately 1,000,000 visitors each year.

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