Though the area had been surveyed as early as 1909, prior to
1911, approximately 115 km northeast of Grande Prairie was
populated almost exclusively by Aboriginal peoples. The Oblates
had noted its suitability for farming, and Father Henri Giroux
and Father Constant Falher were commissioned to recruit
potential homesteaders. In May 1912, the priests arrived with a
group of French-Canadian settlers. The settlers scouted the
area, chose suitable land for their homesteads, and returned to
Grouard to file for ownership. After some deliberation, the
community was named Saint-Jean Baptiste de Falher in honour of
their recruiting agent. The recruitment by the Oblates
continued, and in 1913, Father Dréau turned his local homestead
into the community’s first church.
In 1915, the parish of Saint-Jean Baptiste de Falher split into
the separate communities of Falher and Donnelly (the latter
named after a railway official). That same year, the railroad
reached both locales and also brought the end of the First World
War. Subsequently the region enjoyed tremendous growth as
veterans were encouraged to take homesteads.
As the population grew, there was expansion into the southern
forests. From 1925 to the early 1930s, local families (many of
them French) laid the foundation for the establishment of Guy
(named after Bishop Joseph Wilfrid Guy, the apostolic vicar of
Grouard). With the onset of the widespread economic devastation
that characterized the Depression, the region’s cheap land and
established communities became extremely attractive for those
looking to settle.
In 1930, Roman Catholic priest Jean-Francois Mallet was
appointed to minister to Guy. The population increased once
again and much of the land was cleared by hand and worked. The
development of all three communities continued with the building
of schools and churches. Over the years, several feminine
religious orders took part in the spiritual development of the
citizens while managing the education of their children.
Today Falher is a town of 1,100 people that boasts a strong
agricultural industry. The community has never lost touch with
its French origins, evident by bilingual road signs and the
École Héritage School, which is French only. As a matter of
interest, Falher is also the honey capital of Canada.
The modern Donnelly has a population of 400, and is still a
farming community. It houses a junior and senior high school,
and students are bussed from nearby communities to attend.
Donnelly maintains close ties with neighbouring communities such
as McLellan, which has the nearest hospital and Royal Canadian
Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment.
Farming continues to be the prevailing occupation of the region,
although it is now done on a very large scale. The town of
McLennan was chosen for the bishopric seat when the railroad
bypassed Grouard. As a result, the cathedral and the bishop’s
palace are there, as well as a modern hospital.
St. Isidore, near the town of Peace River, was established in
the 1950s by a group of settlers from Quebec. It is an unusual
example because, instead of settling according to the usual
homestead system, the residences are grouped into a small village.
Aubin, Cécile et al. Histoire – History: Guy – Ballatar –
Whitemud Creek. Guy Historical Society. 1987.
Beaupré, Marie Simon et al. Leurs Reves; Nos Mémoires (Region
Peavine Creek). Bulletin Commercial, Edmonton, AB. 1979.
Palmer, Howard and Tamara. Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of
Cultural Diversity. Western Producer Prairie Books. Saskatoon,