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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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South Region




Entrance to a coal mineIf, today, the French-speaking population of Southern Alberta is found mostly in the large centers, there is nevertheless a long-standing French presence in the area. The coal industry drew French and Belgian immigrants to the area, highly qualified in the field, to work in the coal mining towns of the Rockies, Drumheller, and Lethbridge. The mining town of Lille, for example, had a population of 400, many of whom were French, but was abandoned in 1912, to pursue of a higher grade of coal. Its residents migrated to other nearby mining towns, such as Bellevue.

The French presence was also visible on ranches. The Count G. W. de Roaldes was the owner of a ranch at Millarville near Calgary. French-Canadians were also cowpunchers.

Some French-Canadians settled in the Palliser triangle, in settlements such as Ouelletteville, but many were forced to abandon their farms due to chronic drought in the region. These people were moved further north by the provincial government in the 1930s.

In the Rockies, during the early days of tourism, French was commonly heard, as several of the Swiss guides spoke the language. Today, in part because of the Official Languages Act, French continues to be present in the National Parks, and the region is home to a steady stream of migrants from Quebec who are attracted by the charms of the area. Those who have relocated to Alberta’s mountains work in all fields, from the restaurant business to mountain guiding.

There are many French names in the Rockies, be it of mountains, lakes, ranges, passes or valleys; some date from the early days of exploration. Mount Edith Cavell was renamed during the First World War; the early French-Canadian voyageurs called it "la montagne de la Grande Traverse," or the Mountain of the Long Pass as they made their way across the mountain passes and glaciers to Athabasca Pass. Others like Roche Miette, from a voyageur of the same name, or Maligne River (vicious or mean) are just as old. Mount Bourgeau is named after the botanist Eugène Bourgeau who accompanied the Palliser Expedition in 1860. Many other mountains were named following the First World War to honour war heroes, such as Mount Clémenceau. Indeed the French influence in the Rockies is undeniable as even the terminology of mountaineering has incorporated many French words, for example, cirque, aiguille, arête, etc.

Calgary has always had a core French-Canadian population. Today this can be evidenced by the large Catholic-French school, l’école Sainte-Marguerite Bourgeois, which offers classes from the kindergarten to grade 12, and has a community school center located at the Cité des Rocheuses. Many schools in Calgary also offer French immersion programs, and French education is available outside of the city as well. Canmore’s École Notre-Dame des Monts is a Catholic-French school which caters to kindergarten to grade 5; and Cochrane’s École Notre-Dame des Vallées includes students from kindergarten to the grade 6. One of Calgary’s oldest Catholic parishes is Sainte-Famille where parishioners are served in French.


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