Edmonton’s French Quarters
Does Edmonton really have a French Quarter? Actually it has had two. The first French Quarter was located on the North side of the City near the Saint-Joachim French Catholic Parish. For Edmonton’s francophone community this area marks the birthplace of many of the community’s associations, and institutions.
Situated at the very heart of the first French Quarter, the Saint-Joachim Catholic Parish was first established in 1838 in Fort Edmonton. Four different buildings will carry the name Saint-Joachim Church the last of which was built in 1899 and still exists today. A great many of the French community’s associations were established by parishioners of Saint-Joachim: la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (1894) la Société du parler français (1912) and l’Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta (1926).
Over the years, however the French Quarter migrated to the South side of the Saskatchewan River in the Bonnie Doon district. The many associations and institutions that are situated on either side of la Rue Marie-Anne-Gaboury constitute the heart of this second French Quarter.
In 1988, 91st Street was renamed in honor of Marie-Anne Gaboury, the wife of Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière and Louis Riel’s grandmother. The project was sponsored by a francophone youth group, Les Jeunes entrepreneurs francophones.
La Cité francophone which is situated on the East side of la Rue Marie-Anne-Gaboury houses a large number of francophone associations. The idea of a French cultural center was first discussed in 1944 but the project was only realized 50 years later, in 1996. The offices of L’Unithéâtre and of the French newspaper Le Franco were the first to move into the new Cité in 1996. Presently the City houses La Librairie le Carrefour Bookstore, the offices of both the provincial and the regional ACFA, the Centre de développement musical (CDM) the Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord, L’Alliance française d’Edmonton, la Fédération des ainés francophones de l’Alberta (FAFA), Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta (FJA), l’Institut Guy-Lacombe de la famille, le Centre d’expérience préscolaire (CEP), a medical clinic…
Campus Saint-Jean is situated on the West side of la Rue Marie-Anne-Gaboury. Founded in Pincher Creek in 1908, Saint-Jean moved to its present location in 1911. Elsewhere in the French Quarter are the residences of the Soeurs de la Charité de Notre-Dame d’Évron, the Sisters of Assumption, the Filles de Jésus, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, the Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin Catholic Parish, the Manoir Saint-Thomas and the soon to be establish Centre de Santé Saint-Thomas. Le Centre culturel Marie-Anne-Gaboury, le Centre ‘82 situated on Whyte Avenue and the many francophone schools that are scattered all over the city are also considered to be part of the French Quarter.
In fact when one tries to explain what constitutes The French Quarter it is best to remember that it is not only a geographical location. The French community is not really composed of buildings but rather of groups and associations. It might even be more accurate to describe the French Quarter as being an idea, a language and a way of life shared by a group of people.