While 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.
In 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.
Lethbridge 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
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.