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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
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Francophone Edukit

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An illuminated Calgary city hall, 1912.Calgary was settled quite differently than many communities to its north as its foundation was not dependent on the fur trade or the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) fort that ultimately became Calgary was created expressly to circumvent the illegal whiskey trade that was decimating an already suffering Blackfoot culture.

Calgary parkWhen Éphrem A. Brisebois led his "F-troop" to the confluence of the Elbow and Bow rivers, he found Sam Livingston already in the area. An Irish adventurer credited with being the first permanent settler in the Calgary region, Livingston was quite a fixture in early Calgary. Brisebois went on to lead the creation of Fort Brisebois, which was renamed Fort Calgary by Colonel James Macleod after Brisebois fell out of favour with his superiors. The name originally comes from Calgary Bay of the isle of Mull, Scotland.

In 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) arrived at the fort, and Calgary’s population was boosted immediately. The following year Calgary was incorporated as a town, and in 1894, the town became a city.

The city of Calgary.By the turn of the 20th century, Calgary boasted a population of 4,000 people. The burgeoning city was rather advanced and while only the wealthiest could afford various services, waterworks, telephone service, and electricity were all available by 1889. Calgary continued its remarkable growth, and was narrowly defeated by Edmonton as the capital city of Alberta.

In 2003, Calgary’s metropolitan population was estimated at just fewer than 1,000,000 people, making it the largest city in Alberta. Calgary is also Canada’s richest city based on income per capita, and has survived some very sudden booms and busts, such as the population explosion between 1974 and the early 1980s resulting from the Arab oil boycott and the thriving Calgary-based oil patch.

In 1988, under Mayor Ralph Klein, Calgary hosted the Olympic Winter Games. The city continues to put on the annual Calgary Stampede, often called "the greatest outdoor show on Earth." The yearly event was conceived in 1912.

Calgary has been primarily British (English speaking) since its inception, but French language and culture still played an important, if quieter, role in its development. There have been many francophone figures that have been significant to the Calgary community. Father Doucet selected a spot for a mission just up the Elbow River. This spot became the centre of Calgary’s Roman Catholic community, and the Holy Cross Hospital, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Convent, and High School were all built in Doucet’s mission district. The Rouleau brothers (Charles and Édouard) were also important proponents of French language, culture and education in the city. Through their work with the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (which became the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta—ACFA), the Knights of Columbus, local school boards, and Alberta’s law courts, they made such a contribution that the area of Calgary in which they lived was named Rouleauville. Calgarian Dr. Louis Beauchemin, long-time president of the ACFA, was instrumental in founding the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Today, French immersion programs are offered at 22 schools in Calgary, which include 12 elementary schools, six junior high schools, and four high schools.


Byfield, Ted. The Great West Before 1900. United Western Communications Limited. Edmonton, Alberta. 1991.

Smith, Donald B. A History of French-Speaking Albertans. In Howard Palmer & Tamara Palmer (Eds.), Peoples of Alberta, Portraits of Cultural Diversity (pp. 84-108). Western Producer Prairie Books. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 1985.

Stenson, Fred. The Story of Calgary. Fifth House Publishers. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 1994.


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