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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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Grande Prairie
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Peace River

Grande Prairie

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Surveyors pose at lunch time in the grande Prairie area, circa 1907.From humble beginnings, Grande Prairie grew to be a close-knit community in Alberta’s beautiful Peace River Country. Located 460 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, Grande Prairie was founded along what was hoped to be a railway route. Regardless of early plans, the community had a long wait before the tracking reached them.

In the late 18th century explorers, surveyors, and traders, including Alexander Mackenzie (1793), were carried by the Peace River through one of Canada’s final frontiers, an area of dense forest and freezing winters. By 1881, a Scottish Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) employee, Thomas Kerr, established an HBC trading post near Cutbank Lake.

The Grande Prairie Regional CollegeWhile Grande Prairie carries a French name, its establishment was carried out by settlers and missionaries from several backgrounds. While Father Émile Grouard is often credited with coining the term "la grande prairie," it was likely to have been called that by French-speaking voyageurs that often used the term for any large open plain.

Grande Prairie enjoyed increased traffic during the Klondike Gold Rush, and after Alberta became a province in 1905, there was a flood of immigrants. By 1909, promotional material was in the hands of real estate developers who bought land and divided it into town lots that became the settlement of Grande Prairie.

Main Street in Winter, Grande Prairie, 1935.The railroad arrived in 1916. Banks and businesses established themselves in the community alongside the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) barracks and the Montrose School (Grande Prairie’s school division came to be in 1911). By 1919, Grande Prairie had achieved town status and was the largest community north of Edmonton. The budding community became an attractive region for many French immigrants.

Grande Prairie’s role in the Second World War is defined by it being a key stop along the air route to Alaska and Russia. The barnstorming era made popular by community fairs led to the creation of a crude airstrip in the early 1920s and the foundation of an airport under Western Canada Airlines in 1927.

Today Grande Prairie is a city of just over 40,000 people. The French-speaking community is small but evident; there is a French-speaking public school École Nouvelle Fontière, with an enrolment of just under 80 students; and French immersion programs are offered at several other schools.

Source(s):

MacGregor, James G. Grande Prairie. Grande Prairie Book Committee. Grande Prairie, AB. 1983.

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