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La Relève Albertaine

La Relève albertaine is a youth movement that was established in 1950 by the Association des éducateurs bilingues de l’Alberta (AEBA) following a suggestion made by Father Forget. The group will only last nine years but its impact on the Franco-Albertan community is still evident today since many of the community’s leaders were once active members of la Relève albertaine.

Two years after the idea was first presented, Father Forget toured the main Francophone centers of Alberta in order to introduce the idea of la Relève to the province’s Francophone teachers. During that same year, he also prepared the first draft of the group’s constitution. According to the final text of the constitution accepted by la Relève’s first provincial committee on April 4th  1959, la Relève describes itself as a movement whose aim is to regroup the French Canadian youth who want to ensure the presence of the French fact in Alberta and in Canada.

La Relève Albertaine est un mouvement de jeunes Canadiens-français désireur d’assurer le progrès de leur groupe ethnique et catholique en Alberta et de le promouvoir dans tout le Canada. (Relève, 4 avril 1959,1)

The movement also wants to help young Franco-Albertans develop a stronger sense of identity and solidarity by helping them realize the value and the pertinence of the French culture in the modern world. 

The motto of la Relève is “Soyons nous-même” and the organization is composed of three different levels: the local, the regional and the provincial levels. The main purpose of the local level is to study the proposed provincial action plan in order to better adapt it to local circumstances since it is mostly at the local level that the goals of the movement are actualized. The regional committee serves as a transition between the local level and the provincial level whose mandate is the promotion of the movement in and outside of the province. The Provincial Executive also prepares the yearly program and directs its application at the local level. And finally, the provincial committee organizes the annual meeting with the help of the regional groups.

It is interesting to note that one of the objectives of la Relève is to combine action and study. And so, every year, la Relève presents a program of studies that has been developed by the young members themselves. Every year, a new theme is chosen and specific activities relating to that theme are developed. These activities are generally completed in collaboration with the other associations and movements of the Francophone community.

La Relève’s 1955 program of studies deals with hobbies. The following year, la Relève has chosen to study culture. In 1957, the theme is entitled “Sois moderne” and it deals with personality development. Traditions and how to function competently in today’s world are two other themes developed by la Relève during its nine years of existence.

Because the Franco-Albertan community is scattered over a large geographical territory, it is not always easy for the Francophone youth to develop a sense of belonging to a larger community. In order to overcome the feeling of isolation that the Franco-Albertan youth living in the various regions experience, the members of la Relève are encouraged to correspond not only with other members but with other schools. The movement also uses the medias, particularly radio and the press to communicate with its members. Twice a month, the young members of la Relève prepare a radio program which is broadcasted on Sunday afternoon. The program is prepared by the members from different regions in the province. Also, the French newspaper La Survivance publishes letters and articles prepared by and for the young Franco-Albertans.

In order to meet as often as possible, the young Franco-Albertan members of la Relève organize regional meetings, family gatherings, and special celebrations. The regional meetings of the Provincial Committee are also great excuses to organize get-togethers of all sorts.

However, the movement’s most important event is the annual meeting which regroup very large numbers of members. The first annual meeting is held on November 5 1954. The main organizer of the meeting is a young man called Jean Papen. Born in Prudhomme Saskatchewan, Jean is a student at Collège Saint-Jean. Jean Papen is helped by a group of some 60 students from Saint-Jean and 30 students from l’Académie Assomption. Between April 1953 and October 1954 an invitation has been sent to all the bilingual schools of Alberta inviting them to send a delegation of students to la Relève’s first annual meeting. The response is unbelievable since more than 300 young Franco-Albertans will attend la Relève’s first annual meeting.

The next year, more than 300 young delegates will again choose to attend the annual meeting. The 1956 meeting which is held at Collège Saint-Jean is even a larger success since the meeting regroups more than 600 delegates from every corner of the province. The following year the annual meeting is held in Saint-Paul where accommodations are a bit scarce. Therefore, the organizers have decided to limit the number of delegates. Only 150 members are officially invited to represent their respective regions. At the 1958 meeting, however, the number of delegates is not limited and once again some 300 members will meet at Collège Saint-Jean for what will prove to be one of the last important annual meetings of the movement.

La Relève organizes a variety of activities one of which is the annual provincial competition for the Poirier trophy. In 1956, the movement will use the competition as a means of designing and choosing a group badge. The 1957, competition appeals specifically to the association’s young writers who are asked to prepare a short composition. In 1958, the participants are invited to design a flag for the association and in 1959 the participating contest members are asked to draw a picture representing one of the Francophone community’s traditions.

The youth groups will also have the pleasure of greeting many interesting visitors. For example in April 1957, Montreal’s Mayor Jean Drapeau who is visiting Edmonton at the time is named honorary member of la Relève albertaine. The following month, Maurice Richard, the famous hockey player is in town and he has accepted to be the main guest of Edmonton’s Francophone music festival “Le festival de la fierté française”. When Richard is presented to the crowd, the young president of la Relève Jacques Johnson is also on stage at the time since he is a member of the  boy’s choir les Troubadours and the group has just finished singing.  Johnson will quickly seize the opportunity to give Maurice Richard a badge of la Relève. A very emotional Richard then promises that he will give the badge to his own son asking him to wear it in honor of his young Franco-Albertan cousins.

La Relève also participates in the work and the activities organized by the community as a whole. For example, in March 1955, the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta (ACFA) will invite a representative of la Relève to serve as an “ex officio” member of its Provincial Executive Council. It is the first time that a youth group receives such an invitation. The following year, the president of la Relève will indicate his wish that every Regional office of the ACFA invite a member of la Relève to become part of their local executive.

For the older generation, la Relève is true to its name since in French its name has many important meanings one of which is “the changing of the guard”. This is in fact how the adults leaders of the Franco-Albertan community view the youth movement.

Il arrive souvent qu’inconsciemment, nous nous demandons : “Et quand nous n’y serons plus, qui donc continuera le travail? ...Qui…?” Tout simplement ces jeunes de la Relève qui se préparent, dans l’édude et dans l’apprentissage de l’organisation, qui se préparent aux tâches que nous leur laisserons.” (LS., 16 nov.1955, 2)

And how do the young members of La Relève see themselves and their role in the community? In March 1955, the vice-president of la Relève, Roger Hébert, states that the young people of the community should be proud of the precious heritage that they must preserve. In an article published in a December 1956 edition of La Survivance Jacques Boucher, a young man who will later become program director at CHFA writes that the members of la Relève are a bit like soldiers who are called upon to protect a language, a tradition and a culture.

…N’oublions jamais que notre rôle est en un sens celui du soldat, car nous devons sans cesse combattre pour protéger notre langue, nos traditions et notre foi. Nous serons vainqueurs si nous, les jeunes d’aujourd’hui qui sommes les adultes de demain, savons se tenir par la main et redire avec fierté “Restons, nous-mêmes.” (L.S. 5 déc 1956,2)

La Relève will hold its last annual meeting in 1959. After that, the movement will fade away but fortunately for the community, its work will not be lost. The members of la Relève will become the teachers, the doctors, the school principals, the business people and the political leaders of the community, including most of the presidents of the ACFA. We would be tempted to believe that the annual meetings, the numerous activities, the celebrations and the programs of study helped the young members of la Relève to develop the attitudes, the skills and the values needed to ensure the survival and the development of the Franco-Albertan community. But la Relève who, in its day, had replaced other youth groups will itself be replaced by other youth groups such as Le Comité des jeunes de l’ACFA and later by Francophonie Jeunesse de l’Alberta (FJA). 

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