Many of the first settlers to Alberta were French-Canadian. French was in fact the first European language spoken in Alberta. These French origins are still evident today and, according to the 2016 Census data, more than 418,000 (or 11%) of Albertans are French or French-Canadian descendants.
The Alberta's Francophone Heritage website samples these individual and community stories, from the era of the fur trade to contemporary francophone communities confidently embracing the future.
From the Francophone Community Profile of Alberta:
Grande Cache, Miette, Lac La Biche: at the time of the voyageurs, the vast spaces west of the Great Lakes were for the most part given French place names. French also predominated at Fort Edmonton, constructed in 1795 by the Hudson’s Bay Company. A century later, a great wave of migration brought settlers of many origins to Alberta, seeking fertile land and prosperity in the West. French then became a secondary language. In 1892, when the Legislative Assembly made English the only language of debate and instruction, local priests undertook a vast recruitment campaign in Quebec and New England. This helped to swell the ranks of the original Francophone settlements in the province, and gave birth to new settlements in the northern regions.
A network of French schools developed with the Church’s help. Nevertheless, at the same time, the government required that all compulsory school subjects be taught in English. The Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta (ACFA), created in 1926 and supported by La Survivance (1928), took on the dual task of providing bilingual teachers for the French schools and ensuring the effective teaching of their mother tongue. The cooperative movement in Alberta owes its growth to these two institutions.
Protected by linguistic arrangements made when the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created in 1905, public Catholic education in French continued up until the 1930s. It was not until 1964 that an amendment to the Schools Act permitted teaching in French for an hour per day. Franco-Albertans gained control over their schools in 1993. The Government of Alberta established a Francophone Affairs secretariat in 1999.
See also: Alberta and the Francophonie – Timeline
Alberta's francophone communities
Alberta has approximately 2,000 communities and natural sites with French-influenced names, such as:
- Grande Prairie
- Lac des Arcs
Over the years, these names have transformed into English approximations. For example, Grande Prairie retains the French spelling but is anglicized as "Grand" Prairie in pronunciation.
Some early francophone communities were ministered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), a prominent religious congregation at the time, who named these communities in honour of patron saints. Other communities were named after the wildlife or geography of a specific region, or after prominent local French-speaking individuals.
Four Alberta municipalities are officially bilingual:
- Beaumont (15 km southeast of Edmonton)
- Legal (35 km north of Edmonton)
- Falher (420 km northwest of Edmonton)
- Plamondon (204 km northeast of Edmonton)
These and 5 other municipalities (Morinville, St. Albert, St. Paul, Bonnyville and the Municipal District of Smoky River) form the Alberta Bilingual Municipalities Association (ABMA).
French-language population growth
French is the mother tongue of 1 in 5 Canadians and approximately 88,220 Albertans.
According to 2016 Census information, Alberta's French mother tongue (francophone) population is among the fastest-growing French-speaking populations in Canada. The francophone population grew by approximately 29% between 2006 and 2016. Excluding Quebec, Alberta has the third largest francophone population after Ontario and New Brunswick.
In areas where the francophone population is concentrated – St. Paul, Bonnyville, Peace River, Calgary and Edmonton to name a few – French is spoken at home and a greater number of services in French are available.
Bilingual population growth
French is a common second language for Canadians because it is widely used and accessible through education, media and Canadian culture.
This is true also in Alberta, where the number of bilingual residents is rising steadily. According to the 2016 Census, Alberta ranked 5th in bilingual population size: 268,640 Albertans were bilingual in 2016 compared to 238,780 in 2011, an increase of 12.5%.
Changing economic and social relations are creating a demand for enhanced skills, including competencies in languages other than English, in an ever-increasing number of entrepreneurial, professional and technical fields.
There were 704,890 kindergarten to grade 12 students enrolled in Alberta schools in 2016-17. Reported student enrolment in international language programs for the same year show that French was the most commonly learned language in Alberta schools.
More than 199,000 Alberta students were enrolled in French-language programs, well ahead of the next language, with a little over 5,000 enrolled in Spanish-language programs.
The overall number of Alberta students enrolled in French-language programs is rising steadily:
- 199,452 (or 28%) of kindergarten to grade 12 students were enrolled in either French Immersion, Francophone or French Second Language programs (2016-17)
- 44,302 (or 6%) of Alberta's student population participated in French immersion programs (2016-17)
- 8,143 students (EC-12) were enrolled in francophone schools (2016-17)
- 147,007 students (K-12) were enrolled in French as a second language (2016-17)
Symbol of Distinction
The Franco-Albertan flag, created in 1982 by French-speaking Alberta youth, is blue, white and rose. In June 2017, the Province of Alberta adopted it as the first Symbol of Distinction under the Emblems of Alberta Act. See Emblems of Alberta for the meaning of the flag's colours and symbols.
Alberta Francophonie Month
On March 1, 2018, the Alberta government proclaimed March as the annual Mois de la francophonie albertaine (Alberta Francophonie Month). The month of March provides an opportunity to highlight the vibrancy and energy the Francophonie brings to Alberta.
There is no better time to celebrate the diversity of Alberta’s Francophonie than during March, which already attracts many events and activities as part of the national initiative, Rendez-vous de la Francophonie.
Find out more about French-language events in Alberta.