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Ethnic Settlement in Alberta: Francophones

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The first French-speaking people to come west were Métis traders working for the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. But as historian David Leonard points-out, by the mid-1800s, another group of Francophones was establishing itself around Fort Edmonton and further north.

But not all of the first settlers in the west who spoke French were Métis. Oblate missionaries attempted to establish enclaves of Francophone culture in western Canada.

The members of the order of Oblates of Mary Immaculate first arrived in 1842, when Father Jean Baptiste Gibeau visited Lac Ste. Anne and spent time at Fort Edmonton, and decided that the environment was ripe for conversion to the Catholic faith.

And he managed to persuade Bishop Provence in St. Boniface to send other missionaries west to try to convert the native to tenets of the Christian faith, as exemplified by the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1844, Father Henri Bourassa established a catholic mission at Lac Ste. Anne. Along with the Métis, who made an annual pilgrimage to the mission, were many Cree and some Iroquois traders who converted to the catholic faith.

The most energetic of the Oblate fathers to settle in the west was, of course, Father Albert Lacombe who, in 1861, moved the mission at Lac Ste. Anne to the Pembina River at present-day St. Albert. And shortly thereafter it became a Vicariate, the Vicariate of St. Albert, along with Athabasca, Mackenzie and Saskatchewan.

And Father Lacombe was very successful in converting a number of the natives to the Christian faith, as exemplified by the congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate. And, in 1871, so strong was the Roman Catholic population, that Bishop Provence decided that it was time to establish a Bishopric in the district.

And with this development, many more Francophones, in addition to the indigenous Métis and the native people, were encouraged to come and make settlement at St. Albert.

By 1880, the population at St. Albert reached two thousand people.

Not only was it the largest community between Winnipeg and Vancouver, there were more people who spoke French around St. Albert and Fort Edmonton than those who spoke English.

On the Heritage Trail, I’m Cheryl Croucher.

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