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St. Joachim / Edmonton

In 1838, the population of the fort des Prairies (Fort Edmonton) consisted largely of Francophones, former voyageurs from the Saint-Lawrence Valley and their families. That year, two secular priests from the Diocese of Quebec, Norbert Demers and Modeste Blanchet were on their way to the Pacific Coast at the request of the Hudson Bay’s Company (HBC) in their efforts to implant a colony of settlers in the disputed Oregon region. Edmonton, AB - St. Joachim Church [in Fort Edmonton], c1887. (OB574 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)They stopped at the HBC posts on the way, and at Fort Edmonton (or fort des Prairies, as they called it) they took the time to tend to the Catholics of the region. Many had not received the sacraments for many years, and most of their wives and children not at all. So it was that 25 children and five adults were baptised into the Catholic Church, and three marriages were performed.It was to be another four years in 1842, before the secular priest, Jean-Baptiste Thibault, on a mission visit from Saint Boniface, came again to the fort des Prairies. At that time, he opened the first baptism, marriage and sepulchre register which he named “Registres des Forts des Prairies”; it served the entire region.The next year, this register was kept at Sainte-Anne Mission, at the lake of the same name, where the roving missionaries had established their residence. From Lac Ste-Anne, Thibault visited fort Edmonton from time to time, and in 1852, exhausted by years of travel on his missions, he was replaced by Father Albert Lacombe, who, at that time, had not yet begun his noviciate studies to join the Oblates.

R.P. Albert Lacombe, OMI, Nov. 1911. (OB3146 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)It is during Bishop Alexandre Taché’s Episcopal visit to Fort Edmonton, in March of 1854, that the mission was named in honour of saint Joachim. The choice of the name St-Joachim was a counterpoint to Ste-Anne mission, as according to the tradition, Joachim and Anne were the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Oblates were aware of the respect the Indigenous peoples had for their elders, and naming these missions after the grand-parents of Christ was a way of capitalizing on this cultural trait. This sort of synchronism as often been used by missionaries of the Catholic Church

Whenever Father Lacombe (or other missionaries) visited Fort Edmonton, they were always well received by the Chief Factor John Rowand, who allowed them to use a small building within the fort for religious services and where they could stay on these visits. Rowand died during the summer of 1854, and it was one of his successors as Chief Factor, William Christie, who in recognition of the peacekeeping services of the missionaries, particularly with the warring Aboriginals, had a small chapel built for the Oblates inside the fort. Christie noted in the Post journals that the building was completed in time for the religious service of Christmas Eve of 1859. The building has a small room behind the chapel which was used as a residence, a most convenient design which the missionaries used extensively in their early missions. In 1865, Edmonton’s first school was established, but it was only for boys, the children of the post’s employees. It is often said that it was the first school in Alberta, but the Grey Nuns at Notre-Dame-des-Victoires at Lac la Biche had been keeping a day school since 1864. Nevertheless, then brother Constantine Michael Scollen was the first teacher of the Edmonton school, unfortunately the school did not flourish and was closed in 1868.

Within a few years the North West Mounted Police arrived and took over the business of peacekeeping from the Oblates, although they continued to be called in to help occasionally. Settlers also began arriving, and it understandable that the presence of a chapel inside a fur trade fort was disruptive, so in 1876, the chapel was dismantled and moved outside of the fort. A local businessman, Malcolm Groat, donated nine acres to the Catholic Church about three kilometres North-West of the fort for the church and a graveyard. The location today is south of 107th avenue and west of 116th street, where the present-day Saint-Joachim Graveyard is located. The chapel was rebuilt and although it was further from the fort, it continued to attract its followers.

The disappearance of the herds of buffalo, on which the First Nations depended for food, made it relatively easy for the Canadian government to negotiate treaties with them, and accept to take reserves. After 1885, following the 1885 North-West Rebellion, many Métis who lived in Edmonton left the town site. The Canadian government began actively promoting settlement, and homesteaders began pouring in and settling in the region. The Oblate fathers joined in the promotion of settlement, seeking out good French-Canadians, which they found mostly south of the border in the United States. A large proportion of those who settled around Edmonton and in the greater area had lived in the US. For these Francophones, Saint-Joachim mission was a rallying point.

Mgr. Émile Grouard, OMI, [1910-1912]. (OB3045 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)In 1886, Bishop Vital Grandin of the Diocese of Saint-Albert had purchased some land a few hundred metres west of the old fort, which would soon close its doors. Grandin named his nephew, Father Henri Grandin as the resident missionary of Saint-Joachim mission. He sent Brother Patrick Bowes, carpenter and church builder for the Oblates, to build a new church at the new site. It would soon prove too small for the present congregation, which over the years, was steadily increasing. The present church of Saint-Joachim was built in 1899; it is included in the repertoire of historic buildings of the province of Alberta.

Mgr. Émile Legal, OMI, [1897-1920]. (OB3272 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)As the city grew, the French community gathered around the church, and many illustrious Francophone families had their homes in this neighbourhood, today known as Grandin. The mission is finally elevated canonically to a parish by Bishop Émile Legal on April 26, 1910. But the parish was then serving all of the Catholic faithful of Edmonton, and a few years later, Legal created St. Joseph parish, on the northern edge of Saint-Joachim parish, on 111th street, so as to better serve the English speaking parishioners. Bishop Henry John O’Leary, Legal’s successor, chose this church to be his cathedral, today it is Saint Joseph’s Basilica, on the south-west corner of 111th street and Jasper Avenue.

Saint-Joachim parish resumed its calling as a rallying centre for Francophones, and its Oblate clergy continued to support the local community in the protection of their religious and linguistic rights, especially when it came to schools with the passing of a law in 1892 making English the language of instruction in the schools of the Northwest Territories, giving limited use to French. Several institutions also establish themselves in Saint-Joachim parish, notably the Edmonton General Hospital which is operated by the Grey Nuns, having moved from St. Albert in 1895. The Misericordia Hospital, originally a home and hospital for unwed mothers, managed by the Sisters of Mercy, also removed from their original site to across the street of what is today Bishop Grandin Elementary School. They have since relocated to the west end of the city of Edmonton. The Faithful Companions of Jesus, an order of nuns, had arrived in Calgary in 1885 where they had established a school; the order came to Edmonton in 1888, opening St. Joachim’s School District No. 7. They had 23 students upon enrolment and 35 by Christmas. The English speaking children jokingly named the school “Saint Whack-Em”, the French name being difficult to pronounce in English. This was at a time when corporal punishment existed in schools.

The Oblates remained for many years at the Saint-Joachim location, managing their missions from this location, and contributed generously to the French community of the parish and across Alberta. The Oblates were collaborators with members of the French community in the creation of the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta (ACFA) in 1926, of the weekly newspaper La Survivance in 1928, and twenty years later in the promotion and establishment of a French language radio station in Alberta (CHFA), later sold to the Société Radio-Canada. Several members of the Oblates served as editors of La Survivance, notably Fathers Achille Auclair (1930-1934), Gérard Forcade (1934-1949), Paul-Émile Breton (1942-1944 and 1950-1953), Jean Patoine (1953-1972), Clément Tourigny (1964-1965), and Jean-Maurice Olivier (1965-1967). Father Jean Patoine was also parish priest for Saint-Joachim parish and secretary-general of the ACFA.

References

Champagne, Joseph-Étienne, o.m.i., Les Missions Catholiques dans l’Ouest Canadien (1818-1875). Scolasticat Saint-Joseph, Ottawa: Éditions des Études Oblates, 1949.

Champagne, Juliette, La Mission Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, Lac-la-Biche, 1853-1963, entrepôt et couvent-pensionnat, Narrative history and interpretative matrix for the historic site:, final report, in-house occasional paper, Alberta Culture and Historic Sites Services and Lac La Biche Mission Historical Society, 1992.

Legal, Émile Joseph, Short Sketches of the History of the Catholic Churches and Missions in Central Alberta. Winnipeg : West Canada Publishing Co, 1914.
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Levasseur, Donat, omi, Les Oblats de Marie Immaculée dans l’Ouest et le Nord du Canada, 1845-1967. University of Alberta Press and Western Canadian Publishers, 1995.

Levasseur-Ouimet, France,  D’année en année, de 1659 à 2000, Faculté Saint-Jean, l’Institut du patrimoine, Faculté Saint-Jean, 2000.

_____________.  Saint-Joachim, la première paroisse catholique d’Edmonton, 1899-1999. Edmonton: F. Levasseur-Ouimet, 1999.

Notices and Voyages of the Famed Québec Mission to the Pacific Northwest, translated from the French to English by Carl Landerholm, Oregon Historical Society, Champoeg Press, Portland, 1956.


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