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Swiss Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

  S witzerland, like Canada, is a multicultural country. The Swiss have four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romanch (a Latin dialect in use before the time of Christ).

The Swiss union of diverse linguistic and cultural groups originated in 1291 when farmers from the Alpine valleys of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden decided to join forces in order to prevent the surrounding feudal lords from taking over their territory. Through their control of strategic mountain passes, the united front was successful in keeping out all intruders. Ten more states joined the alliance by 1513, which remained intact for over 300 years. In 1848, the federal state of Switzerland was founded, somewhat limiting the power of the local cantons.

The first Swiss to come to Canada were soldiers and administrators who arrived in New France as early as 1604. In 1649, the Swiss settler Pierre Miville and his son Francois were granted lands in the seigheury of Lauzon on the St. Lawrence River near Quebec city. Several Swiss gained prominence during the French colonial regime, including Jacques Bizard (1642-92), who became mayor of Montreal, and Lawrence Ermatinger, who was one of the founders of the Northwest Company.

French speaking Swiss also gained distinction in the early years of British rule in Quebec. Conrad Gugy (c.1734-86) was a member of the Legislative Council, and Sir Frederick Haldimand became Governor General of Quebec in 1778.

Following the War of 1812 between Canada and the United States, some of the Swiss troops that had fought on the side of the British decided to settle at Perth in what is now Ontario and Drummondville, now part of Quebec.

In 1821, about 200 Swiss recruited in Switzerland by Lord Selkirk's immigration agents settled at the Red River colony in what is now Manitoba. Most found the area unsuitable to their needs and later moved to the United States. Once the Canadian West was opened up for settlement, Swiss pioneers established themselves in what is presently eastern Saskatchewan and Alberta. Carl Stettler, a prominent Swiss, found the Alberta towns of Stettler and Blumneau in 1904.

The Swiss were among the first to settle the Canadian Rockies. Several acted as mountain guides once the Canadian Pacific Railway opened up the area to mountain climbing. Swiss guides normally worked the tourist season each year and returned to Switzerland when the season was over, but in 1912, some Swiss guides and their families settled permanently at the village of Edelweiss, near Golden, British Columbia.

Many Swiss-Albertans arrived following World War I to seek employment in the hotel and restaurant business, dairy farming, various trades and the professions. Several were guides and wardens in provincial parks, occupations that still attract Swiss-Canadians. According to the census figures, the number of people of Swiss descent in Canada surpassed 110,500 in 2001. Over half the Swiss in Canada today reside in Quebec and Ontario. Approximately 17,4000 presently live in Alberta. 

There are a number of Swiss organizations in Alberta. In Calgary, the Swiss Club Matterhorn, which was founded in the early 1920s, came back to life in 1960 after almost 40 years of inactivity. Since then, the club's membership has increased steadily, and in the 1970s and 1980s it became the mother club of the folk dance group Alpenroesli. Other Swiss clubs were founded in Calgary during the 1970s, such as the Jodlerklub Heimattreu and the Rifle Club Tell. Later on, the Alberta Swiss Crossbow club opened in Calgary.

 In Edmonton, the Edmonton Swiss Society holds social gatherings and participates in the city's Heritage Day festival. The Edmonton Swiss Men's Choir performs at various social and cultural festivities. In June of each year, the club sponsors a Landsgemeinde at Stettler, which brings Swiss Canadians in Alberta together for social and cultural celebrations. The Wild Rose Yodel Club, based in Central Alberta hosts its own spring festival in Rimbey and a Harvest Festival in Innisfail. While some of the Swiss organizations have disappeared over the years, these have managed to remain. 

Albertans of Swiss origin celebrate Switzerland's National Day on August 1 to commemorate the alliance of 1291 that united the Swiss cantons. On this occasion a large bonfire is lit to symbolize the preservation of a free Switzerland; at nightfall children stage a lampion parade. The celebrations also include crossbow competitions and a traditional game in which participants throw a heavy rock. The latter is a custom that dates back to the early 19th century when alpine herdsmen would gather together to play the sport.

Many Swiss in Canada receive the Swiss Canadian News, which is published quarterly by the Swiss government and distributed to members of Swiss organizations in Canada. In Toronto, the Swiss community publishes The Swiss Review on a monthly basis. It is also distributed to Swiss Canadians throughout the country.

Despite their small numbers, the Swiss in Alberta boast a large number of social and recreational organizations. Their willingness to participate in community organizing stems from a long Swiss tradition of civic awareness and democracy, the hallmark of Swiss culture for centuries.
 


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