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Northwestern Alberta

Settlement in Northwestern Alberta was initiated slightly later than the other more temperate regions of the prairies, but when the available land was all taken up on the prairies and the parkland, the long sunny summer days of the Peace River district began to take on a more desirable look. As it was, settlers came to the area willing to endure the gloomy winters in exchange for the long days of the growing season which were able to produce quick-growing crops on its fertile plains.

Fort Chipewyan, AB - View of Fort Chipewyan, no date. (OB736 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)Efforts to settle the area began as early as 1899, when Jean A. Lemieux, a priest from Quebec, established the Peace River Colonization and Land Development Company. The company was established to create a block settlement for French Canadians and although Lemieux managed to have about 20 townships set aside, nothing ever came of the scheme. The Oblates encouraged settlement in the area and two of the community’s priests, Jean-Baptiste Giroux and Constant Falher promoted homesteading south of the Peace River. In 1912, 24 settlers applied for homesteads, and gradually the towns of Falher, Donnelly, Guy, Girouxville, Tangent, Dréau, Marie-Reine, and St. Isidore were established. The two largest centres of the area, Peace River and Grande Prairie, also attracted French Canadian entrepreneurs.

Northeastern Alberta

St. Paul - Saint Jean Baptiste Society at St. Paul, Aug. 29, 1915. (OB8200 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)Settlement in Northeastern Alberta began when the Saint-Paul-des-Métis colony was winding down. Around 1908, in the region north of the North Saskatchewan River and west of the Saskatchewan border, land became available and French-Canadians were among those who first took homesteads. In 1907, settlers claimed land in the Vincent Lake area, and the following year, at Moose Lake. Father François Bonny, a Franco-American who had been with the Society of African Missionaries, came to Alberta in an attempt to regain his health and became the parish priest. The beginnings of settlement in this area were not easy. The policy of the Ministry of the Interior concerning the opening of a territory stipulated that a railroad must be available for the farmers, so that they could sell their livestock and cereals, as well as be able to purchase merchandise at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the railroad was not yet built and would not be for many years, a great hindrance to the settlement.

In spite initial setbacks the colony faced, many French-speaking settlers took homesteads, and eventually the region became known as "Alberta-North," and also "Little Quebec." On the North Saskatchewan River, at a shallow fording spot, Edmond Brosseau had settled. Of Franco-American origin, Brosseau married the daughter of a Métis fur-trader from St. Albert, a L’Hirondelle, and together the couple tended a hotel and store. On the south side of the river, Duvernay was established, in remembrance of a patriot of the 1838-1839 Upper and Lower Canada rebellions. With the abandonment of the colony of Saint-Paul-des-Métis, over 100 French-Canadian settlers arrived to take homesteads on the four townships which were being opened. Gradually, with this current of settlement, entrepreneurs set up stores, post offices were opened, schools were built and sometimes, if the centre was important enough, a church was constructed. Regardless of their success at the time, few of these centres exist today.

Lac la Biche, AB - View of Mission, no date. (OB1057 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)At the height of the French settlement in the Northern Alberta region there were the communities Lafond, Foisy, Lavoie, St. Lina, Bordenave, Thérien, St. Vincent, La Corey, St. Édouard, Grand Centre, and Bonnyville. Despite ethnic backgrounds of the settlers, the names of the communities were not always French. Fort Kent was a reminder of the former home of some of its French-speaking New England settlers; Cold Lake had been known as "lac Froid" but was anglicized; and Mallaig was chosen by employees of the Canadian National Railway for a manager’s Scottish home. Although the names of the settlements were sometimes deceiving, French was the language of choice by many in these Alberta communities.

As available land in the parkland belt was taken up, the parish and colonising priests, with the encouragement of Bishop Legal, encouraged settlers to take homesteads further and further north to the very edge of the boreal forest. Settlement in these areas was less successful, as early frosts were common and often damaged the crops on land more suitable for grazing and hay than for cereals. Eventually homesteading in the more marginal areas within the boreal forest was discouraged by the government agents. Despite the challenges presented by the northern region, many communities were established in the Lac La Biche area, including Brièreville, Grandin, Gourin, Plamondon and Normandeau. Many of those who settled this area were Franco-Americans, and a group, those of Gourin, all came from a small town of the same name in Brittany.


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