If, today, the French-speaking population of Southern Alberta
is found mostly in the large centers, there is nevertheless a
long-standing French presence in the area. The coal industry
drew French and Belgian immigrants to the area, highly qualified
in the field, to work in the coal mining towns of the Rockies,
Drumheller, and Lethbridge. The mining town of Lille, for
example, had a population of 400, many of whom were French, but
was abandoned in 1912, to pursue of a higher grade of coal. Its
residents migrated to other nearby mining towns, such as
The French presence was also visible on ranches. The Count G.
W. de Roaldes was the owner of a ranch at Millarville near
Calgary. French-Canadians were also cowpunchers.
Some French-Canadians settled in the Palliser triangle, in
settlements such as Ouelletteville, but many were forced to
abandon their farms due to chronic drought in the region. These
people were moved further north by the provincial government in
In the Rockies, during the early days of tourism, French was
commonly heard, as several of the Swiss guides spoke the
language. Today, in part because of the Official Languages Act,
French continues to be present in the National Parks, and the
region is home to a steady stream of migrants from Quebec who
are attracted by the charms of the area. Those who have
relocated to Alberta’s mountains work in all fields, from the
restaurant business to mountain guiding.
There are many French names in the Rockies, be it of
mountains, lakes, ranges, passes or valleys; some date from the
early days of exploration. Mount Edith Cavell was renamed during
the First World War; the early French-Canadian voyageurs called
it "la montagne de la Grande Traverse," or the Mountain of the
Long Pass as they made their way across the mountain passes and
glaciers to Athabasca Pass. Others like Roche Miette, from a
voyageur of the same name, or Maligne River (vicious or mean)
are just as old. Mount Bourgeau is named after the botanist
Eugène Bourgeau who accompanied the Palliser Expedition in 1860.
Many other mountains were named following the First World War to
honour war heroes, such as Mount Clémenceau. Indeed the French
influence in the Rockies is undeniable as even the terminology
of mountaineering has incorporated many French words, for
example, cirque, aiguille, arête, etc.
Calgary has always had a core French-Canadian population.
Today this can be evidenced by the large Catholic-French school,
l’école Sainte-Marguerite Bourgeois, which offers classes from
the kindergarten to grade 12, and has a community school center
located at the Cité des Rocheuses. Many schools in Calgary also
offer French immersion programs, and French education is
available outside of the city as well. Canmore’s École
Notre-Dame des Monts is a Catholic-French school which caters to
kindergarten to grade 5; and Cochrane’s École Notre-Dame des
Vallées includes students from kindergarten to the grade 6. One
of Calgary’s oldest Catholic parishes is Sainte-Famille where
parishioners are served in French.