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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
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Mallaig
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Mallaig Hotel, circa 1955-1956.Although the area that became Mallaig was first surveyed in 1906 by M.W. Hopkins, and opened to homesteaders the following year, it did not take its name until 1928 when a railway station was built in the area.

Though some ethnic diversity was reflected in the area's first settlers, many were French. These settlers—factory workers, labourers from overcrowded cities, recruits of the colonizing priests, and American and Central European immigrants – were often too poor to pay for a farm and settled closer to the railroad.

Until the establishment of Mallaig, the residents of the area (many of whom were originally from France) attended the parishes of Sainte-Lina, Thérien or St. Vincent. There was a post office southwest of the present-day townsite called "La Madeleine," named presumably to remember some of the homesteaders’ previous residence in France. Many of the Frenchmen were still bachelors when the First World War erupted and rejoined their regiments, as obligated by Canadian and French law. Most of them never returned to Canada; some were killed in action, while others were seriously wounded or lost.

Good farmland made agriculture vital to the growing community’s continued existence. According to law, homesteaders had three years to break 30 acres of their land, fence their quarter section, and build a house before they could make a formal claim. This feat was accomplished through communal cooperation—cattle were sometimes branded and kept in the nearby Beaver Valley by ranchers, while expensive steam-driven threshing machines were moved from one farm to the next

In 1928, the railroad reached the area. A new post office was constructed and named after a Scottish railroad engineer’s hometown of Mallaig. Immigration into the area increased dramatically. A small town appeared virtually overnight; the first stores, smiths, schools, and churches were built as a complement to their grain elevators. Modern services such as electricity and natural gas heating were gradually introduced.

Mallaig never grew to more than a hamlet but continues to enjoy superb farmland and close proximity to St. Paul. Many of the original family names still live on in Mallaig’s businesses and government. Mallaig belongs to the parish of St. Jean-de-Brébeuf which houses several churches, and the community also boasts the Mallaig Haglund Museum, the Mallaig Community Library, the Mallaig Unity Centre and Curling Rink, and the bilingual École Mallaig Community School.

Source:

  • Mallaig – Therien History Book Committee. Precious Memories – Mémoires Précieuses: Mallaig – Therien 1906-1992. Mallaig: Mallaig History Book Committee, 1993.
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