Settlement in Northeastern Alberta began when the
Saint-Paul-des-Métis colony was winding down. Around 1908, in
the region north of the North Saskatchewan River and west of the
Saskatchewan border, land became available and French-Canadians
were among those who first took homesteads. In 1907, settlers
claimed land in the Vincent Lake area, and the following year,
at Moose Lake. Father François Bonny, a Franco-American who had
been with the Society of African Missionaries, came to Alberta
in an attempt to regain his health and became the parish priest.
The beginnings of settlement in this area were not easy. The
policy of the Ministry of the Interior concerning the opening of
a territory stipulated that a railroad must be available for the
farmers, so that they could sell their livestock and cereals, as
well as be able to purchase merchandise at a reasonable price.
Unfortunately, the railroad was not yet built and would not be
for many years, a great hindrance to the settlement.
In spite initial setbacks the colony faced, many
French-speaking settlers took homesteads, and eventually the
region became known as "Alberta-North," and also "Little
Quebec." On the North Saskatchewan River, at a shallow fording
spot, Edmond Brosseau had settled. Of Franco-American origin,
Brosseau married the daughter of a Métis fur-trader from St.
Albert, a L’Hirondelle, and together the couple tended a hotel
and store. On the south side of the river, Duvernay was
established, in remembrance of a patriot of the 1838-1839 Upper
and Lower Canada rebellions. With the abandonment of the colony
of Saint-Paul-des-Métis, over 100 French-Canadian settlers
arrived to take homesteads on the four townships which were
being opened. Gradually, with this current of settlement,
entrepreneurs set up stores, post offices were opened, schools
were built and sometimes, if the centre was important enough, a
church was constructed. Regardless of their success at the time,
few of these centres exist today.
At the height of the French settlement in the Northern
Alberta region there were the communities Lafond, Foisy, Lavoie,
St. Lina, Bordenave, Thérien, St. Vincent, La Corey, St. Édouard,
Grand Centre, and Bonnyville. Despite ethnic backgrounds of the
settlers, the names of the communities were not always French.
Fort Kent was a reminder of the former home of some of its
French-speaking New England settlers; Cold Lake had been known
as "lac Froid" but was anglicized; and Mallaig was chosen by
employees of the Canadian National Railway for a manager’s
Scottish home. Although the names of the settlements were
sometimes deceiving, French was the language of choice by many
in these Alberta communities.
As available land in the parkland belt was taken up, the
parish and colonising priests, with the encouragement of Bishop
Legal, encouraged settlers to take homesteads further and
further north to the very edge of the boreal forest. Settlement
in these areas was less successful, as early frosts were common
and often damaged the crops on land more suitable for grazing
and hay than for cereals. Eventually homesteading in the more
marginal areas within the boreal forest was discouraged by the
government agents. Despite the challenges presented by the
northern region, many communities were established in the Lac La
Biche area, including Brièreville, Grandin, Gourin, Plamondon
and Normandeau. Many of those who settled this area were
Franco-Americans, and a group, those of Gourin, all came from a
small town of the same name in Brittany.