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L’Ouest Canadien

The newspaper
Frédéric-Edmond Villeneuve (1867-1915)

The newspaper was published in Edmonton, in the North-West Territories, at the time of the Klondike gold rush (1898-1900).  It was the first French-speaking newspaper in what was to become Alberta. The editor-in-chief and part owner of the newspaper was an Edmonton lawyer, originally from Montréal, by the name of Frédéric-Edmond Villeneuve.  He arrived in 1897 with father Morin and took no time in leaving his mark in the region.

Frédéric Villeneuve knew that it would not be an easy task to start up a French-speaking newspaper in Edmonton. In the editorial of the first-ever issue, he wrote:

To publish a paper in the North-West Territories, where the French-Canadian population is still very low, might be on our part a reckless enterprise; but relying on the kindness of our compatriots and the goodwill of our colonizing friends, we have confidence in our endeavour .

Published on Thursday with a circulation of 900 copies , L’Ouest Canadien consisted of four pages, of which the second and third pages mentioned local, regional, and international news. The newspaper was five columns wide and was filled with advertisements from local and Québécois businesses. Some advertisements occupied two columns.

The cost of a subscription was one dollar par year, payable in advance . Unfortunately, readers did not always pay on time. The classified ads (5 lines or less) cost $1.00 for three publications or 10¢ per line for the first publication and 5¢ for each subsequent one.  For permanent ads, one had to speak directly to the newspaper; the client first had to subscribe to the newspaper.

Frédéric Villeneuve formed an association with four other individuals to form “La Compagnie d’imprimerie Canadienne d’Edmonton Limitée”:  Joseph E. Laurencelle, manager of the Banque Jacques-Cartier; Father Jean-Baptiste Morin, colonizing-priest; Joseph Cartier, clerk with Banque Jacques-Cartier (all of Edmonton); and Eugène Villeneuve, businessman, of Montréal.  The enterprise’s capital was $2,500 divided into  2,500 parts of one dollar each.   
There is no doubt that the newspaper L’Ouest Canadien was important to the region’s francophone community; indeed, it was the wall on which the francophone population could lean for the “defense of the French and Catholic interests in the Territories (...) we raised our voices to defend our interests and our rights when they were under attack.”

When the first edition of L’Ouest Canadien was published, other newspapers from Canada greeted the new weekly with words of encouragement. The Edmonton Bulletin  welcomed the newspaper in these terms:

The first copy of L’Ouest Canadien, Edmonton’s new French journal, made its appearance in the journalistic arena on Friday.  The new magazine is a five-column, four-page weekly publication, replete with local news and well patronized by outside as well as local merchants.  It has an able editor in the person of Frederic Villeneuve, late of Montreal.

The entreprise was born under difficult conditions. The editor-in-chief wrote in the first editorial:

We do not have any money, but we ask each reader to publicize our newspaper. Once the printing organization is complete, we believe we will be ready to give our readers and subscribers an interesting newspaper, useful to the work of colonization in this beautiful district of Alberta.

In May 1898, Villeneuve made the following announcement: “L’Ouest Canadien moved its workshop on the street parallel to the slope, behind Banque Jacques-Cartier; the office is still in the Gallagher Block.”

It was not easy to produce a quality paper every week — all the more so because Villeneuve was a lawyer and esquire which did not leave him much time to do anything else.

The newspaper’s personnel was reduced to a minimum. During the fall electoral campaign of 1898, the publication of L’Ouest Canadien was suspended “to give our editor-in-chief the opportunity to visit several regions.” In fact, Villeneuve was a candidate for the Territorial elections in the St. Albert riding. He was to win the nomination against Dan Maloney.

In May 1899, the newspaper apologized to its readers in these terms:  “The stoppage of the newspaper during the last two weeks was not the result of ill faith from the newsroom nor the administration.”

In September 1899, the newspaper moved into new offices   located on the south side of  Jasper Avenue, between McDougall Street (100 Street) and First Street (101 Street).  Some weeks later, the paper announced that “Father Morin was recalled to Montréal” and that he would cease to be a colonizing priest for Western Canada.

In December 1899, “2,500 copies of a special issue were printed to be distributed to all those who wanted information about the country.”   It was the last attempt at vigorously attracting pioneers in the region. Some months later, after many attempts to ask readers to pay their dues, the February 22, 1900 issue was to be the last. The editorial gave the main reasons:

The French and Catholic population did not sufficiently understand the importance of having a devoted newspaper to defend its dearest interests. Even if it was small, it helped inform people about the region, attracting the attention of the pioneers and on some occasions, it valiantly defended the interests of the French-Canadian and catholic population in the Territories.

In thanking its collaborators and advertisers, Frédéric Villeneuve claimed to get out of this enterprise with his head held high:

We believe that we have accomplished what we set out to do. Independent from political parties, we “gave back to Cesar what was due to Cesar”; we spoke loudly to defend our interests, our rights when they were under attack and we believe to have always done our duty.  Nevertheless, success did not match our expectations.

The initiative of Frédéric Villeneuve and of the Société de Colonisation d’Edmonton was not viable in a land of colonization; regardless, he is worthy to have accepted the challenge.

Frédéric-Edmond Villeneuve (1867-1915)
Frédéric-Edmond Villeneuve was born in Montréal on March 6, 1867.  He studied law and became a member of the Québec Bar on January 16, 1891.  He practiced law in Montréal before coming to Alberta in 1897.

He lived in Edmonton and opened an office in the Gallagher Block, next to the offices of the newspaper L’Ouest Canadien.  During his stay in Edmonton, he resided at the Queen’s Hotel, located two streets away from Gallagher Block. He also opened an office in St. Albert, where he would go every Saturday morning. He held important posts in the Francophone community — first as the first vice-president and later as president of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society in 1898 and 1899 successively.

His interest in the population of Western Canada led him into politics and he was elected to the North-West Territories Legislature in Regina on Novembers 4, 1898. He won against his two adversaries. The parishes of Saint-Albert, Morinville, Hamel, and Saint‑Pierre voted for him. The other public role was that of assistant-commissioner for the 1901 North-West census.

Villeneuve was hospitalized for the first time in November 1899, suffering from inflammatory rheumatism.   In 1901, his father was very ill; Villeneuve made some trips to Montréal — notably to address matters identified in his father’s will. In April 1902, he announced his intention of retire from political life to live in Montréal. He endorsed the candidacy of Richard Secord during the May 21, 1902 elections; Daniel Maloney was elected by a majority of six votes. Villeneuve left Edmonton for good in June 1902.

Once in Montréal, he became the library’s curator from 1909 to 1915.  During his stay at the municipal library, he was able to measure up to the expectations when he acquired an important book collection, the “Collection Gagnon.”  During the federal elections of 1908, Villeneuve ran as an independent candidate for the riding of Maisonneuve.

He died in Montréal, on April 23, 1915. He was married to Louise Howie.  In 1905, when the parish of St. Pierre near Edmonton had to choose a name for its post office, the name Villeneuve was chosen.

L’Ouest Canadien  03.02.98:1.

Lowes Directory.

Towards the end of the second year of publication, if one believed the words of the editor Frédéric Villeneuve, many customers had not paid one cent of their subscription.

L’Ouest Canadien 22.02.00:2.

Edmonton Bulletin 07.02.98:1.

L’Ouest Canadien  03.02.98:2.

L’Ouest Canadien 12.05.98:3.

L’Ouest Canadien 20.10.98:3.

L’Ouest Canadien 18.05.99:3.

L’Ouest Canadien 14.09.98:3. The new offices were located on the south side of Jasper Avenue, in front of 100 a Street.  At the closing of the paper, the building became the Victoria Hotel, owned by Mr.  Corriveau and Mr. Cloutier; at that time, the hotel had an annex, which will become the “Union Bank” which later became the “Union Bank Inn”, on Jasper Avenue.

  L’Ouest Canadien 21.09.99:3.

L’Ouest Canadien 07.12.99:2.

L’Ouest Canadien 22.02.00:2.

L’Ouest Canadien 22.02.00:2.

Edmonton Bulletin 18.12.99:1.

 


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