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

 

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Lumber-planing engineThe first settlers, Frenchmen Théodore Gelot and Eugène Menard, came to Legal via California in October 1894. They complied with government regulations, stipulating that new homesteaders build a permanent dwelling and live in it for six months, in a rather creative way. The two men ingeniously built across the property line. They dug a hole 1.2 metres deep and 6 metres wide, erected log walls to 1.2 metres above the ground and used sod for the roof. The concept became known as le caveau (the vault). Many newcomers made use of it temporarily while waiting for more opulent accommodations to be built. Not Gelot and Menard—they lived happily in their dugout for six whole years.

Legal owes its name to the Oblate Bishop Emile Legal of St. Albert, who in 1899, approved the site for a future church. The settlement grew from five houses in 1905, into a village (1914) around this focus. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reached the settlement in 1911. The Grey Nuns arrived in Legal in 1920, and built a convent where they taught French and catechism. Economically, Legal became a service centre for the agricultural area surrounding it. Today, however, most of its citizens work in Edmonton or St. Albert.

The village of Legal became a town in 1993, and was proclaimed bilingual in 2000. About 65 percent of its citizens are French or of French ancestry. One third of its 1,058 inhabitants (2003) speak French exclusively. Church services are in both French and English. Legal has two school systems—almost 85 percent of the people are Roman Catholic. After Grade 9, students can attend a French high school in nearby Morinville.

The town celebrates its history, linguistic, and spiritual heritage on 28 permanent outdoor murals. Summer 2005 will see two more such murals going up. The murals are the 1997 project of L'Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta régionale Centralta. The artists used contemporary photographs to create each work. The other major attraction is the annual Fête au Village. This big, traditionally well-attended party takes place the last weekend in July.

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