The Missionary Oblates of the Immaculate Heart of Mary came to the Canadian West towards the mid-19th century. With the signing of treaties with the Aboriginal Peoples, the Oblates continued to serve the various missions and parishes, on Reserves and communities throughout Alberta - both as parish priests and missionaries. Their involvement in Indian Residential Schools was as Principals working with the female religious orders who ran the schools.
The Oblates of Grandin Province were mainly French-speakers though there were also English, German and Polish speaking Oblates that served in various communities throughout Alberta. The Oblates became involved in the promotion of settlement in the Canadian West and actively recruited settlers mainly for rural areas where they established parishes. With the arrival of settlers from Eastern Europe, the Oblates drew from the pool of missionaries from Poland and other countries to answer the need for missionaries and parish priests.
As the papal charter of the Oblates was missionary work, once the parishes became functional, they were supposed to be administered by secular clergy chosen by the bishop. There was no problem as long as the bishop was also an Oblate, but after the death of Bishop Émile Legal in 1920, the management of the archdiocese was turned over to Henry John O’Leary. This brought major changes to the Archdiocese of Edmonton, where previously the clergy was mainly French-speaking (and multilingual). An English-Canadian prelate, John Thomas McNally, had been named bishop of the Diocese of Calgary in 1912 so there was already a precedent in Alberta. Thus, in 1920, in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, the Oblates turned over most of the parishes they had helped to develop to the incoming secular clergy. They continued, however, to serve many parishes in Edmonton, St. Albert, Lac Ste. Anne and other communities. The Oblate province of Alberta-Saskatchewn continued to be managed in French, and a papal order in 1927 made it official.
In the Edmonton region, the Oblates operated the Juniorat Saint-Jean, which became the Collège Saint-Jean in 1942, after the closure of the rival Jesuit College. It provided a much-needed educational service to the French-Canadians across the Canadian West. The Collège Saint-Jean was affiliated with the University of Alberta in 1963, and, in 1976, sold the Collège to the University. Members of the Oblate order remained on staff for many years and some former Oblates are still active with the educational institution. The Oblates also had an important role in the management and financing of the French newspaper La Survivance (now Le Franco), providing several of the newspaper’s editors. They participated actively in the organization and the continued activities of the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta (ACFA).
The present Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan was created in 1967, and previous to that date (as it still is today), the Diocese of Grouard was staffed predominantly by the Oblates, mainly because of the many missions still found in the area. Today, there are no more Oblates in the Diocese of St. Paul. In the extreme Northeast corner of Alberta in the region of Fort Chipewyan, which was long administered by the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith and where a few remaining Oblates tend to the parishes there, is in the process of being transferred to the diocese of St. Paul.