French-Canadians participated in all aspects of industry in
Alberta after their arrival at the beginning of the 20th
century. Skilled tradesmen were in demand, especially
ironworkers and carpenters. The construction of the High Level
Bridge in Edmonton, for instance, attracted blacksmiths who had
worked on the Quebec Bridge, but were thrown out of work when it
collapsed into the St. Lawrence in 1907. The patriarch of the
Franco-Albertan Mailloux family (who eventually established a
foundry which exists to this day in St. Paul) was among those
who came to Alberta to work on the bridge.
Lumbering was also a very popular enterprise for
French-Canadians, as many of those who were from Eastern Canada
had experience in the field. Many operated small sawmills,
obtaining permits to exploit forested areas on Crown land across
the province. French-Canadians who went to British Columbia
looking for seasonal work always found employment easily as it
was common knowledge that they were capable workers and knew
their way around the dangers of the circular saw. The provincial
government condemned hundreds of small lumber mills, many of
which still belonged to Franco-Albertans, when it sold off forest
rights to large multinational operations in the 1970s.
On an individual basis, a man could also prepare dormers for
the many railways which were under construction. Trees simply
needed to be cut down, the timbers squared, and cut to the
There was always work on railroad crews and many a
homesteader left his wife alone with the children and the
livestock while he went to earn much needed cash away from home.
Working with a threshing crew was another way of earning a
living before combining became common in the 1970s. Some
entrepreneurs purchased threshing machines and went from farm to
farm with their crews. Others had huge steam driven tractors
that they used to break farmland, especially in the Peace River
Coal mining was another option for making some money. There
were many mines in southern Alberta, and numerous homesteaders
went to work underground until their farms could produce.
French-Canadians also invested in the oil industry. Most
notable was Dr. Louis Beauchemin of Calgary, long-time president
of the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta (ACFA), who
established Sun Oil of Calgary. After 1949, young
French-Canadians found work in the oilfield as derrick hands.
Many went overseas to work, and because of their common origins,
stuck together and formed long lasting friendships. Their
bilingualism served many of them well, as their employers needed
francophones to work in French Equatorial Africa, Algeria and
Morocco, and the young men fit the bill.
Franco-Albertans have also been involved in manufacturing.
Many potential settlers were skilled tailors and set up shop in
various localities. In Edmonton, the La Flèche Brothers
tailoring enterprise are a fine example and are still in