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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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Harvest crewRiviere Qui Barre is one of a group of francophone settlements just north of St. Albert. Many offshoots of francophone culture came together in these small Alberta towns, villages and hamlets at the end of 19th century. Francophone people gathered from all over, including Quebec, the United States, Belgium, and France, and settled in the area.

The inhabitants of what is now the Alexander Reserve were in the area first, followed by the French from Quebec in the 1880s, and then the French from Kansas, (whose first order of business after getting here was, quite understandably, digging tornado shelters). The settlement also got a post office and Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches by 1895.

Despite being shallow, many found the river frightening. The Cree called it Kepoohtakawa—the river that blocks the way. The river may not have co-operated, but the soil was certainly productive. Men came across coal seams while digging wells, which resulted in an active coal mine between 1910 and 1913. The mine caused a minor economic and population boom. Riviere Qui Barre had 250 inhabitants in 1911. The settlers used the mine as ammunition in their lobbying for a railway line to go through the hamlet. The line, however, went through Morinville instead, taking all dreams of expansion with it.

A farm yardIn its heyday, Riviere Qui Barre served as a stopping place for prospectors en route to the Klondike—The Old Klondike Trail was just west of the hamlet. The prospectors enjoyed the comforts of the hamlet’s Hotel Shamrock. They came with varying degrees of knowledge and street smarts. One Englishman shipped the hay to feed his horses all the way from Europe in case he couldn’t get it here. Another, when told that the squeaky wheels of his wagon were dry, poured water all over them and went on his way.

Riviere Qui Barre had 78 people in 2001. The Roman Catholic Church, St. Emerence, has been in a new building since 1968. The Camilla school, a light and airy building, serves the surrounding area and the Alexander Reserve. The pioneers rest in a small roadside cemetery, and the flat landscape they cultivated is dotted with purebred cattle and farmed buffalo.


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