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Southern Alberta

Several francophone communities were created in southern Alberta and some of these, especially those established at the beginning of the 20th century, still exist.

Campaigns promoting settlement by French Canadians in Alberta were staged by the federal government and led by clergymen such as Jean-Baptiste Morin, the first official land agent for the federal government. Alice Trottier explains to us that when Morin would visit Alberta, he would personally take the time to call upon the settlers he had recruited who had taken lands from Pincher Creek to Athabasca Landing1 Albéric Ouellette, also a priest, actively promoted the lands of the Palliser Triangle for the Canadian Pacific Railway and established the village of Ouelletteville, abandoned during the 1930s. The great number of Franco-Americans recruited by Morin settled all over the place, including the Brant region near Voisey, where a small group from Western Massachusetts took farms; historian Paul Voisey informs us that within a generation they were assimilated into the predominantly Anglo-Saxon population.2 The problem with the Palisser Triangle was its extreme aridity, which for some years before settlement had received an extraordinary amount of precipitation, and reverted back to dryness afterwards. Settlers in the region actually had to purchase water, and as there were no locally available combustibles, they had to make do with cow dung, which they dried and stacked to use for fuel. They called it "bois de vache", literally "cow wood." Many of these settlers left during the 1930s, when the provincial government offered to relocate them to other regions of the province where there was more rain.

Though some regions in southern Alberta were not a success for French Canadian settlers, many francophones did settle in Calgary. Such is the case of Judge Charles Rouleau and his brother Edouard (a doctor) who founded the little village of Rouleauville where the Catholic mission stood. A small group of French aristocrats also set themselves up ranching and raising cattle for a short while, south of Calgary at Millarville.3

The border between Alberta and Saskatchewan did not restrict movement between the two provinces, and there were a good number of French communities in southern Saskatchewan. There seems to have been a certain migratory flow, probably to access the work in the many coal mines of Alberta, in Lethbridge and the Crow’s Nest Pass. French prospectors and investors set up several coal mining companies such as the West Canadian Collieries in 1901, which created the town of Lille. Although the village existed for only 15 years, during its heyday, 400 Frenchmen and Belgians lived and worked there. Bellevue was another West Canadian Collieries town. At the time, about seven percent of the Crow’s Nest Pass population was French-speaking.

Resources

(1) - Jean-Baptiste Morin, Journal d’un missionnaire-colonisateur 1890-1897, Édité par Alice Trottier, f.j., histoire franco-albertaine, 3, Le Salon d’histoire de la francophonie albertaine, Edmonton, 1984, xii.

(2) - Paul Voisey, Vulcan, the making of a Prairie Communtiy, University of Toronto Press, 1988, 227-228.

(3) - Donald Smith, « French-speaking Albertans », Peoples of Alberta, ed, ed. Donald and Tamara Palmer, Saskatoon, Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985, 93-94.


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