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The French Canadians

Catholic mission at St. Albert, Alberta, ca. 1886-1894. Until the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, most of the white settlers on the Canadian Plains were of French origin. One of the first Catholic mission centres had been established at St. Albert as early as 1843. The first buildings, a church and a priest's residence in St. Albert, were erected in 1861. In 1863, the Youville Convent was built, where the Sisters of Charity cared for orphan Indians and so-called "halfbreeds", as well as for the victims of smallpox, scarlet fever, and typhoid epidemics. This religious centre was the base for Catholic missions in the north for more than 20 years. When the railway was finally completed, the church helped to ease the Native populations and local Métis into a more agricultural lifestyle.

Last photograph of Father Lacombe at Lacombe Home in Midnapore, Alberta. With the success of the mission at St. Albert, Father Morin also brought a number of French Canadians to Morinville, north of St. Albert, and then to Legal and Riviere-qui-barre. Neither the French Canadians nor the Natives and Métis were enthusiastic farmers and they were soon pushed out by other colonists who possessed more advanced agricultural skills.Father Lacombe gathered a number of those who had failed at the farming lifestyle and moved them to a new settlement at St. Paul des Métis. However, lack of transportation facilities isolated these communities, which, out of necessity, managed to become self-sufficient, their schools and churches being financed from Quebec. In this early French Canadian communities French remained the sole language in the schools until the new influx of European settlers forced the establishment of English and Protestant schools as well.

However, even by 1911 St. Albert boasted a population of 1,000 people - 761 of which were French, 151 British, and 87 of other nationalities. By 1916, there were close to 25,000 French Canadians in Alberta, many residing in Edmonton and the surrounding area.

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  • Ethnic Settlement in Alberta: Francophones - Oblates from France attempted to convert native and Metis peoples to the Catholic faith beginning in the mid-1800s. Father Lacombe moved his mission to St. Albert, which became a large enclave of francophone culture.
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  • Ethnic Settlement in Alberta Part 2: Francophones - In the late nineteenth century, francophone culture flourished in St. Albert and Edmonton. But when the railway began to supply the community of south Edmonton with greater commercial success, the surrounding francophone communities suffered.
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  • Ethnic Place Names: French, Part One: Demicharge and Cassette Rapids on the Slave River - Listen to hear of the voyageurs, French fur traders and some of the first Europeans to enter western Canada. The rapids along the Slave River provided one of the most difficult challenges to these brave men.
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  • Ethnic Place Names Part Two, French: Pierre au Calumet, La Crete, Carcajou - Ever wonder how the French communities of Calumet, La Crete, and Carcajou got their names? Listen, and find out!
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  • French Oblate Names: Part One - The Petitot River was named after the famous Oblate priest, artist, and scholar, Father Petitot, who came to Alberta as a missionary in 1862. Listen to learn more about this amazing man.
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  • French Oblate Names, Part Two: Father Vegreville - Father Vegreville was an Oblate priest and an expert linguist of native languages. The original francophone community to the east of Edmonton named their town in his honour in 1906, and Vegreville later became the center of Ukrainian settlement.
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See also:

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.