BRIEF HISTORY

The French presence in the region within the boundaries of modern-day Saskatchewan, go back to the time when France exerted an influence on almost all of North America.

From 1752 to 1755, Louis de la Corne and his cohorts explored the Carrot River Valley, in what is now the east central region of Saskatchewan. They built Fort à La Corne on the Saskatchewan River east of where the North and the South Saskatchewan Rivers meet. The site, which was also named Fort Saint-Louis and Nippeween, marked the most western extremity of a line of the French fortifications in the Northwest. People at garrisons at Fort à La Corne in the middle of the 18th century started harvesting wheat, a crop for which Saskatchewan became renowned in the 20th century when the province became known as the breadbasket of the world.

The arrival of representatives of the Roman Catholic Church in 1818 heralded the beginning of a new chapter for the French language in the Northwest. Their first visits to the trading posts in the Qu’Appelle Valley in the South and at the Churchill River in the North resulted in the establishment of permanent missions to serve the Métis population. In 1846, missionaries Alexandre Taché and Louis-François Laflèche established a Catholic mission at Île-à-la-Crosse, a trading post and meeting place that attracted native tribes and a large francophone Métis population.

After he became Bishop of St. Boniface, Alexandre Taché, as well as his successors, sought to build a Catholic French-speaking community spanning the plains from St. Boniface, Manitoba to the foot of the Rockies.

Beginning in 1870, Métis communities settled in regions which later became part of the province of Saskatchewan. Talle-de-Saules (Willow Bunch), Saint-Laurent-de-Grandin and Batoche were founded with the arrival of Métis families seeking to preserve a semi-nomadic lifestyle.

A migratory shift toward the Canadian prairies began at the end of the 19th century and peaked in the 1920s. Throughout this period, French speakers of various origins settled in the newly-created province of Saskatchewan. French Canadians from the St. Lawrence River Valley, a good number of whom had first settled in the United States, moved to the province under the direction of colonizing missionaries. They created small villages where they set up schools, parishes and businesses. An almost equivalent number of Francophones from Europe (France, Belgium et Switzerland) immigrated to Canada, joining the French Canadians or establishing their own villages in Saskatchewan.

The opening of the territory with the construction of the railway brought an influx of immigrants of mostly non-francophone settlers to Saskatchewan.

During the early decades of the 20th century, the right of Francophones in Saskatchewan to use French as a language of education was severely limited and eventually abolished. Francophones created associations to support their struggle for survival as a linguistic community.  A French-language newspaper was established in 1910, followed by the Association catholique franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan in 1912 and a French-language college, Collège Mathieu, was established in Gravelbourg in 1918.

In 1952, two French-language radio stations were established in Gravelbourg and Saskatoon. In the 1960s, the necessary amendments to the Saskatchewan school act were made in order to allow for education in French. During the 1970s, the Fransaskois community established a series of cultural centres. French immersion programs were started in many school divisions. It was at this time that Francophones in Saskatchewan began to refer to themselves as “Fransaskois.” A French language weekly newspaper, l’Eau Vive, and an annual summer celebration, the Fête Fransaskoise, were also created.

The year 1982 saw the beginning of a judicial struggle for the full implementation of linguistic and constitutional rights. Parents began a long process to obtain governance of schools, which became a reality in 1993.

In June 1999, the Association culturelle franco-canadienne (ACFC) became the Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise (ACF), which today remains the chief representative of the Fransaskois community and oversees the global development of the francophone community in Saskatchewan.