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Two “mystery forts” tied to Québec’s role in founding Alberta and Western Canada (#330)

(Click any image below to enlarge)

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.

Nouvellefrance-V2

Prairies 6

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)

ft.esp1

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.

ft.rg.1

(ABOVE:  Restored Ft. Rouge)

fbdlr1

(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.

falc1

For all you Google Streetview enthusiasts, you can view the viewpoint above the site by clicking here:  https://www.google.ca/maps/@53.233378,-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:

  1. Prince Albert, Saskatchewan,
  2. Edmonton, Alberta
  3. Calgary, Alberta (within view of the Rocky Mountains)
  4. 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).

LegislatureFortEd

(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.

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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):

HBC forts

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P.S…

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.

The Duo “Coderre – Lebeaume” (#175)

A new travelling road-show has taken to the stage over the past couple of months, and the fans are loving it.  However, they have not yet hired a band or back-up singers.

During the winter, we have been witness to the rise of a different type of media sensation in Québec, quite different from anything we’ve seen in Québec or Canada – at least during my time.   The mayors of two major cities, Montréal and Québec City have entered into what can only be described as a political marriage (for lack of a better term) – and they’ve taken it on the road.  But what is more significant, this hand-in-hand “best friend” relationship has turned them into celebrities of a completely different type; almost with rock-star status.

Denis Coderre (Montréal’s mayor) and Régis Lebeaume are together so often in the news, at events, and as a part of each other’s city’s respective initiatives that I’m left wondering if they’re spending more time travelling between each other’s cities than they are in their own cities (Québec City and Montréal are a three hour drive apart, after all).

We have three levels of government (Federal, Provincial and Municipal), but in Québec, this duo has seemingly forged a relationship which appears to be operating as a fourth level or province unto itself (take your pick), that of the “Montréal-Québec City” government (singular).   The two mayors are speaking as one voice, even on issues that don’t concern each other’s cities, to maximize attention to issues and to get what they want from the federal and the provincial governments.   As a duo, they have become a sort of “Captain Municipality”, standing up for issues important to smaller communities which do not necessarily have the populations behind them to bring their issues to the forefront.

It’s almost as if Coderre and Lebaume are now operating as their own city council, giving each other the nod before either embarks on any individual project, and this new approach to municipal politics is making waves.  The public cannot get enough of it and both Coderre and Lebeaume have been appearing on television and radio talk shows together, non-stop, for weeks on end.

Any time politicians gang up together to get what they want from another level of government, you would expect there to be verbal clashes and fighting.   But what I find fascinating is that they’re not confrontational towards either the Federal government (Ottawa) nor towards the provincial government (Québec), and the higher level of governments are not being confrontational towards this duo neither.  Instead, all levels are meeting together, almost as chummy friends, to talk about issues.  What’s more, they’re all meeting as if they were “equal-level” partners – and we’re not hearing many of the condescending tones towards the city level which we often hear from the provincial governments (or federal government).

There are probably a few reasons why this Coderre-Lebeaume approach has not degenerated into conflict.

  • One is that the mayors bring “population numbers” with them to the tables. It is in the interest of higher level governments to meet on friendly ground with the mayors (it would be political suicide, especially in a federal election year, to peeve off such large base populations).
  • The second reason likely stems from both Coderre’s and Lebeaume’s personal backgrounds. Coderre is a career politician (30+ years in the Federal government), and Lebeaume was a successful businessman.  Both have the experience and knowledge to know that things do not change overnight.  In this sense, they are patient and seemingly quite understanding of financial constraints and political nuances when talking to their provincial and federal counterparts.  They’re making demands, but they’re also giving higher levels of government a lot of slack in light of current economics.  Likewise, their federal and provincial counterparts are affording this mayoral duo due respect and consideration in return (these “new” dynamics are truly fascinating to watch – and not just from my point of view, but from that of Québec at large – the media coverage of it speaks for itself).
  • Another reason likely has something to do with this duo’s personalities. I get the impression both mayors want to approach matters with a win-win approach (regardless if you agree or not with their stances on issues).  Both are very personable people, with populist personalities, and they are very media savvy.  They love to laugh and make jokes on camera, and common people can’t get enough of them.
  • Perhaps the feature of this duo which the public finds the most attractive is that they seem to be above petty ideological politics – something which the public in Québec is not used to seeing in many other politicians. In the case of the Coderre-Lebeaume couple, it’s almost a case of “opposites attract”.  Denis Coderre is very federalist (as I stated above, he was a federal Liberal MP and minister in Ottawa for decades, fighting hard for Canada, including during the 1995 referendum).   Régis Lebeaume has traditionally supported sovereignty.  But in their roles as mayors, they’ve been able to do something very few other politicians in Québec have ever been able to do… they put these ideological differences behind them, rolling up their sleeves, calling others players to the tables, working with them, and addressing matters head-on.
  • Montréal went through a rough patch of mayoral scandals and controversies the past few years (a water-metre scandal, one mayor resigned because of corruption in city bureaucracy, and another mayor was arrested for corruption).  Québec City’s population was also polarized by a prior divisive mayor.   The rise of Denis Coderre and Régis Lebeaume came as a breath of fresh air to many – even for those who may not agree with their policies.

This duo’s ratings continue to be sky-high.  Even those who perhaps are not so hot on their individual policies find this duo has a certain star appeal.

If I can draw a parallel, Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, recently won the “world’s best mayor” award.  Upon receiving the award, he was asked if it posed problems that he is a progressive mayor in a conservative city (Nenshi could very easily be a Liberal, and perhaps even NDP whereas his city’s electorate is quite conservative.  Yet Calgary loves him).  Nenshi responded I reject these terms – ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’. I think they are meaningless to the vast majority of people, who just want good government at a decent price.  As the former Governor of Washington and Senator, Dan Evans, wrote in 2002, “There are no Republican schools or Democrat highways, no liberal salmon or conservative parks.” I really believe that this kind of categorization alienates people and keeps them from participating in the political process.” 

In the case of the Coderre-Lebeaume duo, their relationship seems to be based on the same principles.  In their roles as Québec politicians, this duo is a rare breed which seems to have rejected the terms ‘federalist’ and ‘sovereignist’.  Rather, they are taking on the issues, one-by-one, with the attitude that city issues are neither federalist, nor sovereignist, neither Liberal, Conservative, nor Péquiste.  In return, higher governments have repaid them in kind for their “depolitization” of municipal politics (which works well for both the provincial Liberals, and federal Conservatives).  Higher levels of governments have repaid by not “playing politics” with city governments.

One could ask themselves how much of the media hype around this duo is owing to their electric and populist personalities.   It is obvious that they are a good match on that front (these two probably wouldn’t be dancing if their personalities didn’t matcH).  I get the impression the public can’t get enough of this duo owing to the fact that it is simply rare to see politicians working so well together on so many levels, and even more rare to see politicians laughing and joking as a duo as they go about their jobs (hand-in-hand).

Something unexpected just happened in the last couple of days… the Coderre-Lebeaume duo may be opening up their relationship.  When they were in Toronto for the annual Canadian mayor’s conference this last week, Coderre had one-on-one indepth discussions with Toronto’s mayor, John Tory (one of their meetings lasted two hours).  Tory’s personality is not far off from either Coderre’s or Lebeaume’s and Toronto and Montréal pledged they are going to start to work together.  Is the Québec duo positioning itself for a menage-à-trois?.

A few days ago, Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, travelled to Québec City and had meetings with Régis Lebeaume. Perhaps the relationship has the potential to become even kinkier than a ménage-à-trois (politically speaking, of course).  After all, Toronto’s John Tory, and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi also both speak French (and French is the language of love, n’est ce pas?  Oh la la!).  Regardless, this kinkier political twist and turn is just pure speculation on my part (only a political infidelity divorce filing or love child time will tell)… But in the meantime, we’re going to see more and more of this political couple – and it is rapidly changing the face of Québec politics.

Perhaps they’ll soon hire that band I mentioned, along with back-up singers for their travelling road show to go with all the rest 😉 .