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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
Background, People, Culture, Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource and Alberta Lottery Fund


Francophone Edukit

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Coal hoisting inclineWhile most of the Franco-Albertans of the early West resided in the larger communities, there was a quiet, long-standing presence found in the skilled French miners and labourers of Lethbridge and elsewhere in southern Alberta. There was also an underlying Métis population comprised of long-time migrants from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. When many French-Canadian homesteaders from Saskatchewan migrated to southern Alberta centres, to take advantage of employment opportunities, the border between the provinces became a very permeable line.

A North West Coal and Navigation Company steam trainIn the 1860s, prospectors from Montana poured into Blackfoot territory in southern Alberta in search of gold. They encountered a land called Sik-okotoks, or "the place of the black rocks," named for the abundance of coal outcroppings that characterized the region. Whiskey traders of Fort Whoop-up were the first permanent settlers in the area, arriving in 1869 from Montana to trade a boiled mixture of ethanol, river water, chewing tobacco, and lye for bison hides. Little development occurred until the railway arrived in 1885, but by that time, important entrepreneurs already had their sights on the region.

Alexander T. Galt, whose family name went on to grace more projects than can be detailed here, brought the region’s coal deposits to the attention of various friends, among them Mr. William Lethbridge. In 1882, Lethbridge became the president of the newly created North Western Coal and Navigation Company, and contracts were drawn up with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to deliver coal to commercial centres (mostly in Medicine Hat) to heat homes and fuel train engines. The large-scale mining operations assured a rapid growth that the community enjoyed for years, and ultimately became the driving force behind the birth of the City of Lethbridge.

Golf Course, Paradise CanyonLethbridge continued to grow largely thanks to the financial support provided by the mines. Attracting people to the area for land development was sometimes difficult as outsiders viewed Lethbridge as barren. Lethbridge is one of the warmest cities in Canada, and irrigation efforts were necessary for the community to thrive.

Presently, Lethbridge is one of Alberta’s largest cities, and the local French community that came from early immigrant miners and labourers is still present. French immersion is offered at some of the over 25 grade schools in the city, and the francophone community benefits from the "École La Vérendrye" which teaches just over 100 students in French, from kindergarten to Grade 12. The University of Lethbridge offers courses on French language and culture, and Lethbridge’s French education falls into the influence of the French Catholic organization, "le Conseil scolaire catholique et francophone du Sud de l’Alberta" (CSCFSA).


Baker, William. Lethbridge: Founding the Community to 1914: A Visual History. Lethbridge Historical Society. Lethbridge, Alberta. 1992.

James, Geoffrey and Wiebe, Rudy. Place: Lethbridge, a City on the Prairie. Douglas and McIntyre. Vancouver, B.C. 2002.

Johnston, Dr. Alex. Lethbridge: From Coal Town to Commercial Centre: A Business History. Lethbridge Historical Society. Lethbridge, Alberta. 1997.


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