The Francophones


Nicole deCap of LaFleche, spring of 1979

FTLComm - Tisdale - March 25, 2001


Perhaps no other ethnic group in Saskatchewan is as diverse and complex as to their origin and how they came to become part of the people of this province. It is so important to understand that those people who either were or still are French speaking can be from a really wide variety of backgrounds.



la Verandrye

The first French speaking people to venture on to the Great Central Plains were the first Europeans to do so. Most scholars believe it was the Quebec based explorer and adventurer la Verandrye who travelled out across the plains. He and his fur trading fellows were out here first and all of the aborigine groups were give their names which were commonly used up to a decade ago but these traders. The French fur traders lived and worked with the people whom they enlisted to assist them and as a result of this close relationship a whole new ethnic group emerged, the Metis.




It is therefore important to point out that the first permanent Saskatchewan living people who spoke French were only partly French as they were the basis for the settlements along the Saskatchewan River and first made their homes in Cumberland House. The French of that era (1760s) is still spoke in that community and people there with French Quebec names proudly identify themselves as part of this remarkable hybrid culture.




Though there were these Metis in the North and in the woodlands a much larger group of Metis came out of Manitoba where they could simply not make a deal with the local authorities and though they and their leader Louis Reil were instrumental in creating the province of Manitoba they could not secure land and the freedom that they deserved and so they settled at Battoch near Duck Lake, mid way between Saskatoon and Prince Albert. Here they thought they would be able to foster their unique culture, their way of life and start fresh.




However, Ottawa and the leader of the new country of Canada John A. MacDonald was more than certain that one unique part of a country was more than enough and there was no room for two Quebecs. Seeing that their future was not to be the people of Battoch with those aborigines who also realised that a full fledged invasion was about to occur launched the ill-fated Reil Rebellion in 1885.




When the picture was taken that appears at the top of this there was a woman still living in LaFleche who as a little child has sat on the knee of the Metis General, Gabriel Dumont. The LaFleche settlement had already been established South of Moose Jaw and as Dumont and some of his assistants headed for refuge South of the border they stopped over in LaFleche.



St. Hubert

The revolution, the reign of terror, the Napoleonic wars had thrashed the life out of France in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The cycle of continued violence and unrest seemed to be unending with the Paris Commune then the invasion by Prussia. So it was that some wealthy French rural people decided that enough was enough and they decided to relocate in the North West Territories. They chose a site along the Pipestone Creek South West of what is today Whitewood and there became St. Hubert. To make life bearable they brought with them servants and farmers to make a go of a settlement. Jalberts, Demonseau, Jamet, are only some of the names of these people who live there to this day. The Aristocrats had reveled in being able to take their carriages and head down to Cannington Manor for the races but conditions changed and most had returned to France before the turn of the twentieth century.




Before Saskatchewan was a province there were French settlements often village sized as in the case of Dumas North of Wawota but the families of that community continued to converse in French in the mid fifties. This was hardly a unique case as there were villages like it sprinkled around the South East of Saskatchewan as their place names attest to that fact today. Places like Lajord, Francis and Sedley each with their early settlers having made their way to this part of the world.




Around Rockglen there was a significant Belgian community while large numbers of Francophones settled at Willowbunch, Gravelborg, and as already mentioned at laFleche and as far West as Pontex. Gravelbourg of all of these seems to have been most important as it retained its language on street signs, the common language of commerce in the town and CBC located a French outlet of Radio Canada in that community.




With only a few French sounding names in each town and village their numbers always seemed small by proportion to other ethnic groups, but taken as a whole, one realises that as part of the mix of the general rural population their numbers are enough to more than warrant French language services almost to all parts of the province. It is remarkable that this did not take place and one wonders why these people did not demand these services half a century ago.




Some of the wholly French communities in Saskatchewan are directly related to Quebec like those in a line from Zenon Park to Prince Albert. Families from many of these communities have relatives in Quebec and maintain a close connection between their communities.




The Roman Catholic Church has provided support and cultural continuity for the French speakers of Saskatchewan as so many of the clergy are Quebequois to the point that for the most part in much of Saskatchewan Roman Catholicism and Francophone culture are consider by most as one and the same.