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Prior to Britain’s control over all of what was to become British Canada (in the run up to confederation and independence), much of what was New France was governed by administrators based in Québec City and Montréal.
It is well known that the reach of New France extended from Labrador in the North, to New Orleans in the South.
But surprisingly, today, what were the “westernmost” reaches of New France rarely receive attention in the media or elsewhere outside of the Prairies (especially in Québec itself). It is a history which is better known to students from Western Canada than to those elsewhere (much of this history is mandatory learning material for high school students in the Prairie provinces).
When I first moved to Eastern Canada way back when, I was surprised (even shocked) to learn that very few people in Eastern Canada knew anything about the pre-British, pre-1763 New France influence throughout Manitoba, into the heart of Saskatchewan, and even into Alberta.
Coming from Alberta and having lived in all four Western Provinces, at the time I simply took it for granted that was a part of history which everyone everywhere knew about.
Funny how it is “Louisiana” which primarily manages to
disproportionately steal everyone else’s thunder garner so much attention when it comes to talking about the “far-reaches” of New France and subsequent turns-of-events… but whatever… damned Cajuns, Zachary Richard & Louisiana!!! I suppose Louisiana is cool too 🙂
As an aside, I believe it was from the New France era that the word “Soyeu” became part of Prairie French in Western Canada, and particularly Albertan/Saskatchewan French. It’s an old word from Old Picard and old Wallon French which literally means to saw something in half… ie: “Wednesday” (which saws the week in half).
In Québec and Ontario, the closest might be the French expression “nombil de la semaine”, but “soyeu” is more of a direct translation for “Wednesday” than it is an expression.
When I moved to Québec at the beginning of the 2000s, I told a friend that I would call her on “Soyeu”. It was only when I saw the look her face that I realized that nobody outside of Western Canada knew what “soyeu” meant… Lundi, mardi, “soyeu“, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche — NOPE… just blank stares in both Québec and Ontario.
Nowdays, young Francophones in Alberta generally just say mercredi. However it is still interesting to know that there continues to be somewhat of a direct New France influence on Prairie French.
At least two French forts (and possibly two others) were built in Saskatchewan in the 1750s.
(The HBC established their own “Fort Espérance” after the British hand-over, but it is speculated that a New France fort existed at the same site in Saskatchewan much earlier)
At least one French fort (Fort la Biche) and possibly one other (Fort la Jonquière) were built in Alberta in the 1750s.
After the change of administration from New France to British North America, many of the forts in Western Canada continued to be administered by Francophone-ran trading companies, mostly as trading outposts (with an administration based in Montréal).
Others were converted to new regime military installations.
Yet others were abandoned.
Some have been restored and exist as museums today.
(ABOVE: Restored Ft. Rouge)
(ABOVE: Restored Fort Bas de la Rivière)
Some New France-era forts have since become major urban centres or modern-day communities. For example:
- Fort Rouge became Winnipeg,
- Fort Dauphin became Dauphin (MB),
- Fort la Reine became Portage La Prairie (MB).
Of those forts which were abandoned, their locations are generally known, and markers have been placed where they once stood (such as the case for Fort Bourbon II, Fort à La Corne, or Fort Maurepas II). Yet many (perhaps most) have not undergone archaeological excavation (a fact which completely baffles me – but which could mean that many new and exciting discoveries are yet to come).
Of all the New France-era forts, the location of Fort à La Corne (in Saskatchewan) is the westernmost confirmed location. It was also the first place grain was grown in Western Canada. Its exact location was on an unstable sandy spit of land on the banks of the confluence of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. The spit of land was presumably washed away generations ago, and the earthen cliffs above the land began to fall into the river in 2009. The road and the trails leading to the exact location have now been closed.
For all you Google Streetview enthusiasts, you can view the viewpoint above the site by clicking here: https://email@example.com,-105.086365,3a,66.8y,44.32h,86.78t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sIubHklZaehf7EkWsfM19wg!2e0?hl=en
Fort La Biche and Fort la Jonquière
Yet there were two forts further West of Fort à La Corne, and their locations remain mysteries. I find it surprising that the fate, location, and historic roles of these two westernmost forts do continue to remain a major mystery.
Fort La Biche on the “La Biche River” in Alberta (the “Red Deer River” in English) was established at an unknown location. Many speculate it was actually established on or near the actual site of Red Deer Alberta, but I have not seen any proof that Red Deer was the actual location. The internet is almost silent on the issue (offering no proof of location).
The location of Fort La Jonquière also remains a mystery, but one with a potentially more exciting story, and perhaps a much more significant role in history.
There are four suspected locations for Fort La Jonquière:
- Prince Albert, Saskatchewan,
- Edmonton, Alberta
- Calgary, Alberta (within view of the Rocky Mountains)
- There is a 4th possibility that it could have also been built in the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains, meaning that the men of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye would have been the first Europeans to have seen and possibly set foot in the Rocky Mountains.
With the exception of Fort La Biche (Alberta), Fort La Jonquière could have been the westernmost post of the French Empire.
Furthermore, if it was located at Edmonton or Calgary, it would have begun a trading tradition with the local aboriginals which possibly could have given rise to later decisions by British explorers and trading companies to establish more modern forts at the same locations (such as Fort Edmonton, which has since become the major Canadian city of Edmonton and the capital of Alberta).
In fact, some have speculated that Fort La Jonquière could have possibly been on or near the site of actual Fort Edmonton (now the site of the Alberta legislature – the seat of Alberta’s provincial government).
(ABOVE: A photo between 1905 and 1912 in Edmonton, with the Alberta provincial legislative (government) building in the background, and Fort Edmonton in the foreground — possibly the original site of Fort La Jonquière).
Considering the impact these Québec-administered forts have had in founding Western Canada, I find it amazing that the story, locations, and relevance of two of the most historically significant forts (Fort La Biche and Fort Jonquière) remain a mystery to this day – especially if they were instigating factors in spurring trade, which subsequently lead to later decisions to found Edmonton or Calgary.
Some info for additional reading: following the change of administration from New France to British North America, the Hudson’s Bay Company became the de facto government of what was Western and Northern Canada. It quickly established dozens and dozens of subsequent forts across the land. Yet many (perhaps most) continued to be Francophone-administered (despite being under British control).
This was a major reason why French continued to be Western Canada’s primary language until the last half of the 1800s (and even into the 20th century in many communities — a legacy of much of Western Canada’s current French regions).
Here is a link for the HBC forts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hudson%27s_Bay_Company_trading_posts
Here is the only open-source map I could find of the HBC forts (although it’s not very good):
If Fort La Jonquière does turn out to be the original foundations of Edmonton… why couldn’t they have found some place warmer, like Florida, or Singapore !?!?!
But at least there’s no or little humidity in the Western part of the Prairies. I’ve never found the winters there much colder than Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal or Québec City (where it is quite humid). -25 degrees Celsius with no humidity in the Prairies = -10 degrees in Toronto / Montréal with humidity.
Anyway, we can see the New France heritage to this day in the Prairies. For example, there are those in Edmonton who still keep those ‘ole Prairie Voyageur traditions alive and well (Alberta through-and-through)…
And also in Winnipeg…
You’ll even find French advertising in the Prairies if you look for it (here is an example)…
But fancy new trains don’t mean that it’s all urban-urban.
Here’s the part of the West’s traditions which I can identify with from my own youth — and it started in no small part with the legacy of our New France heritage back in the 1700s…
Even in the most conservative and Anglophone regions of Canada (such as inAlberta’s deep rural South, in the small town of Brooks), we continue to see the legacy of New France’s Prairie. Almost 300 years later, it continues to make in-roads at all levels of government.
These are points of pride for people on the Prairies (both Anglophones and Francophones) — otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing such gestures such as the one you’re about to see at City Hall in Brooks.
(U.S.A. readers of this blog: You may be very interested in this post, because Zachary Richard is one of your own).
I have wanted to write a blog post on Zachary Richard from day one… but I could never quite find the right context to do so – until now. Over the past few hundred posts, you’ve seen me write about
- subjects I believe are good for Anglophone Canadians to know about Québec,
- subjects I believe are good for Anglophone Canadians to know about Canada’s francophone culture (regardless of the province),
- the odd post in French on subjects, different viewpoints, or tid-bits of information which I think are good for Francophones to know about Anglophone Canada and / or nuances between various provinces
- certain subjects from a political angle (even if others may not agree with me, at least it’s always good to know how others view certain topics),
- language tid-bits (mostly about French, but sometimes about English),
- and many other topics.
I chose the subjects I write about because I like these topics (and, yes sometimes I even write about subjects which are even uncomfortable for me — just to push the envelope a little, because the issues are important).
But only a couple of times times have I written a blog post which had me truly excited. This post is one such post — I’m wearing a big grin right now as I write it 🙂
This picture should set the tone for the rest of this post (a picture of me and Zachary Richard yesterday evening in Toronto)…
Zachary Richard is one of the few singers I have consistently listened to and followed ever since I was a child. I have no idea how old I was when I could first sing his songs word-for-word, but I was young… perhaps under 10 (so that should tell you how long I have been listening to him. I think I even have one of his “cassette tapes” in a box somewhere in storage – Yikes 😉 Because I grew up in rural Alberta, like many of my classmates and friends, I grew up listening to country music (although my tastes in music are much wider now — to the point I would say I listen more pop than other genres).
“Country music” is a very large umbrella, and French country music has no shortage of genres. The topic of French country music was actually one of the first posts I wrote about. Have a look at that post for reference:
In terms of Franco-Albertains or Québécois, anybody who is anybody knows Zachary Richard’s music. In fact, Francophones anywhere in Canada/Québec, including many Francophones in Europe and Africa, also know who Zachary Richard is. In Canada, you would have to have been living under a rock to not know who he is. But if you are unilingual Anglophone, because of the cultural-reference gulf which constitutes the Two Solitudes, you perhaps do not know who he is.
Zachary Richard is the #1 Cajun music singer in the world. I group “modern” Cajun music under the overall umbrella of French country music (the above mentioned post). Therefore, Richard is probably the #1 French country music singer in the world (at least in my books).
And if there are any people who would disagree with me, they likely would agree that he would be #2, or at the extreme, the #3 French country music singer in the world. He was the main act yesterday at the Franco-Fête festival in Toronto (which is Toronto’s own two-week version of Montréal’s Les Francopholies). I wrote an earlier post on Franco-Fête: La Franco-Fête de Toronto – la version torontoise des Francopholies (#309)
For me, meeting Zachary Richard yesterday perhaps would be like an Anglophone Country music fan meeting Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks, George Straight or Tim McGraw – Serious!! (Hence the HUGE grin I am wearing as I type this post).
A photo I took of Zachary Richard’s outdoor concert in downtown Toronto last night (Dundas Square) in front of a crowd of thousands of fans.
Dundas square is Canada’s equivalent of Times Square in the U.S.A. (click to enlarge)
The crowd was mostly made up of Franco-Ontariens and Francophile Anglophones who wanted to see Zachary Richard. But I also chatted with a number of strangers, among whom were numerous Acadians, Québécois, a Franco-Manitobain, a Fransaskois, and yes… a Franco-Albertain! (all who were just as excited as me to be there !)
This was one of the side stages before the concert, where I had a chance to chat with other people from everywhere around the country.
More about Zachary Richard…
Zachary Richard is CAJUN-AMERICAN, from Southern Louisiana: the pride of Louisiana Cajuns! (And boy, do they have a lot to be proud of!!)
However, in Canada, we also consider him one of our own. In Québec, he is considered as one of their own. In Acadia, he is considered as one of their own. In Western Canada, Francophones consider him as one of their own. Really, Zachary Richard is one of the family.
His lyrics and music style strike a chord and are instantly recognizable. It all is from the same roots as our traditional French music North of the Border. What is more fascinating about his music is that he writes and sings MODERN Cajun music. This means that there is a large degree of overlap (if not a near 100% overlap) with modern Acadian music, modern Franco-Ontarian country music, modern French Prairie country music, and modern Québec country music.
Any time traditional North American celtic+folk French music undergoes modernization, it automatically melds under the same big umbrella as modern French country. If you were to hear his music, but did not know the songs were written by Zachary Richard, you could easily think they were written by Crystal Plamondon from Alberta, Renée Martel from Québec, or Cayouche from Acadia.
I’ll keep this puppy in a safe place
Zachary Richard actually lived in Montréal for about 10 years (from 1976 to 1986), during which time he must have been influenced by our style of music. But I am sure that his style of music has also influenced our style of French music in no small way over the years (hence why his music fits us like a glove). During the time he lived in Montréal, two of his albums went gold in Canada. But since then (brace yourself…)…
- he has won five Félix (ADISQ) awards for best artist (Québec’s version of the Grammy’s).
- he has been inducted as a member of the Order of Canada (one of Canada’s highest awards, which are rarely ever given to “foreigners”),
- he has been made an officer of the order of Arts and Letters of France (one of France’s most prestigious awards),
- he has been given honorary doctorates from Université de Moncton (New Brunswick), Université St-Anne (Nova Scotia), University of Lafayette (Louisiana).
(… and these are only just a few of his awards). The last several years, Zachary Richard has made a name for himself as being an engaged environmentalist (especially in light of the BP offshore oil disaster a few years ago in the Gulf of Mexico). Even last night’s concert in Toronto was filled by a few pauses to speak about environmental matters. But he is best known for his defense and support for the French language in North America.
He has North America’s combined culture at heart, and he ardently believes that French is an integral part of that culture – to be shared and embraced by everyone on the continent, by Francophones and Anglophones alike (Bang on! Where have you heard that one before?) 🙂
With 21 albums under his belt from 1976 to present (an album released every couple of years or so), he is a living legend. You can’t imagine how excited I was when I found out he was coming to Toronto — and judging from the crowd of thousands who came to see him last night in the streets of Toronto… I was far from being the only one!!.
It was funny, because after the concert, the subway was packed with francophones going home from the concert. If you didn’t know it, from listening to everyone on the subway, you would have thought you were in Montréal or Paris! – not Toronto.
When I met him yesterday, I told him that I grew up in Alberta, not far from the town where Crystal Plamondon lived (Alberta’s most famous French country music singer). I mentioned I met her a few times when I was younger. I was very surprised when he said he also met her personally (there you are… two degrees of separation – still within the mythical “six”).
He said he thought it was great that he was meeting a Franco-Albertain at his concert in Toronto of all places, to which I responded that it was great that there was an Albertan in a Toronto crowd who got to meet him. That made him laugh.
Here are some clips I filmed from last night’s concert (I went with friends and practically camped out to get a front-row spot).
I make a (terrible) appearance in this video at 45 seconds (head hanging in shame). I apologize in advance for the horrible singing (but hey, I was excited — and EVERYONE was singing too — so it’s not my fault). I recommend you tape up all the glass in the house and plug your ears in advance. Hahaha!!)
(I sent these videos to some friends in other provinces to say I actually went to his concert — made a few people jealous!).
Here is another one in which I made an unfortunate “appearance”
This clip proves that being the first to the front is the best of the best spots.
A whole lot of of people !!! (Remember the post “A very interesting French-language experience in Anglophone regions of Canada”? I told ya Toronto has a CRAP LOAD of Francophones and Francophiles !!).
Some samples of his better known songs:
Jean Batailleur (this song is legendary)
Lac Bijou (Zachary Richard singing it with one of France’s biggest names in music, Francis Cabrel).
Dans le nord canadien (Who doesn’t know this song!?!?)
Here are a couple of other interesting videos:
Owing to his superstar status in the French-speaking world, Zachary Richard rubs shoulders with the biggest of the big names… and in this case, in front of tens and tens of thousands of people.
A great interview on L’Invité in France (Note his Louisiana Cajun accent – very special!).
I hope you enjoyed reading this post on Zachary Richard as much as I enjoyed writing it.
As a side note… I’ve now been in Toronto for 20 months. Moving to Toronto was an interesting transition in the sense that Toronto’s culture is very different than in other cities. Canada had changed a LOT in the years I had been living abroad, and Toronto’s size made it difficult to get a social foot in the door if you did not live right downtown where you do not need to commute (even my subway ride to downtown is 40 minutes!). But the more I get out and find my niche, the more I’m enjoying Toronto.
It can be quite a bit of fun when you take advantage of what it has to offer (and it certainly has something for everyone – including those who are looking for a mix of French & English). You might have to go out of your way to find it in the beginning, but once you meet people and know the in’s and out’s – it certainly is there.
This specific post proves my point 🙂