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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
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Végreville
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Végreville

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Breaking land in the Vegreville areaThe town of Vegreville was named in honour of Father Valentin Végreville, a French Oblate who is remembered for his 50 years of missionary work that included the mastery of several Aboriginal languages. Father Vegreville died in 1903 and had never visited the community that bore his name.

In 1894, the French land prospectors M.M. Joseph Poulin, Benoit Tetreau, and Octave Letourneau were sent by a group of Franco-Americans living in Kansas to scout for a good settlement locations. The scouts were directed by enthusiastic surveyors to the Vermilion Valley, and they took with them Théodore Théroux, a teacher. Even before arriving in the valley, the scouts were so impressed by the quality of soil in Edmonton that they immediately wrote to their beneficiaries in Kansas, inviting them to come to Alberta. The Franco-Americans encountered Father Jean Baptiste Morin on their arrival in Edmonton and it was from there that they travelled to the Vermilion Valley to stake their claims. In this way, the "real" father of Vegreville was Father Jean Baptiste Morin, who headed the colonization efforts for this community. By the beginning of 1895, a post office was established and named Vegreville.


Father Végreville and his community namesake.

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Main street in Vegreville, 1909.This was a busy time for the young settlement. Théroux became the first teacher of the new (and first) Independent Catholic School, built to accommodate the many French families that were moving to the area. By 1903, it was obvious that Vegreville was going to grow rapidly, so 80 acres were surveyed for town lots. By 1904, the first Catholic church was built and blessed by Bishop Legal. Father Bernier, who was born in Quebec and studied in France, was appointed parish priest. The growing population caused Father Bernier to call for aid, and in 1904, Father Jean Garnier arrived in Vegreville. Father Maur Mourey soon followed, arriving in 1907.

As sometimes happened, the railroad took a different route that was near, but not through, an established settlement. A number of Vegreville residents, particularly business owners and the clergy, moved to the site eight kilometres north on the Canadian Northern Railway’s newest surveyed route. A new church was erected under Father Bernier at "new" Vegreville, and the Daughters of Providence established themselves as teachers at the new St. Martin’s Roman Catholic Public school district. The sisters taught in French as well as English.

With the growth of St. Paul and the French community in that region, some of the earlier settlers to Vegreville relocated to be part of a larger French community. Ultimately, the French community in Vegreville was gradually assimilated into the greater community and the local school became simply a Catholic school.

Today’s farming community of Vegreville is situated near Beaver Hill Lake, 88km east of Edmonton, and 145km west of Lloydminster. Vegreville continues to capitalize on its excellent farmland, and has grown to around 5,400 people. The community is home to the Alberta Research Council and boasts education from elementary to the college level. French immersion programs are available at several of Vegreville’s schools, and Immigration Canada has an important centre in the town as well.

Source(s):

Hardin, Samuel H. History of Greater Vegreville. Publisher unknown. 1969.

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