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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
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Falher and Surroundings
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Falher
and Surroundings

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Early farmersThough 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.

Falher School.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.

The Royal Bank of CanadaIn 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.

Source(s):

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, Saskatchewan. 1985.

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