History

The French presence on the territory of modern-day Saskatchewan goes back to the time when France exerted an influence on almost all of North America. Between 1752 and 1755, Louis de la Corne and his cohorts explored the Carrot Valley region, in what is now the Centre-East region of Saskatchewan. They built the Fort de la Corne on the eastern side of the fork where the North Saskatchewan River meets the South Saskatchewan River. In some periods, this site, which was also named Fort Saint-Louis and Nippeween, marked the western extremity of a line of French fortifications in the Northwest. Garrisons at the Fort de la Corne in the middle of the 18th century started growing wheat, a harvest which Saskatchewan became renowned for in the 20th century.

The arrival in 1818 of the first representatives of the Catholic Church in the Northwest heralded the beginning of a new chapter for French. 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 to the foot of the Rockies.

Starting in 1870, new 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 created with the arrival of Métis families seeking to preserve a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Their dream of creating a society was lost following their armed resistance against the Government of Canada in Batoche itself in 1885.

A migratory shift toward the Canadian Prairies began at the end of the 19th century and peaked around the 1920s. During this period, Francophones of various origins settled in the newly-created province of Saskatchewan. French Canadians from the St. Lawrence River valley, a good number of which 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 (French, Belgian and Swiss) immigrated to Saskatchewan, joining the French Canadians or establishing their own villages.

The opening of the territory with the construction of the railway brought an influx of immigrants of mostly non-Francophone settlers to Saskatchewan, which the weak influx of French-language settlers was unable to counter. The act creating Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905 retained the earlier constitutional provisions regarding the use of French in public education, public administration and justice. However, these provisions were disregarded by the authorities. 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. They created associations to support their struggle for survival as a community: Le Patriote de l'Ouest, a French-language newspaper, was established in 1910, followed by the Association catholique franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan in 1912. The Association des commissaires d'écoles franco-canadiens was created in 1918, at the moment when the threat to French-language education was at its highest. A French-language collège classique, the Collège Mathieu, was established in Gravelbourg the same year.

In 1952, two French-language radio stations were created to serve Francophones in Gravelbourg and Saskatoon. It was only in the 1960s that the necessary amendments to the Saskatchewan school act were made in order to allow French-language education. During the 1970s, the Fransaskois community established a series of cultural centres under the Conseil culturel fransaskois, which was created in 1974. It was about at this time that Francophones in Saskatchewan began to refer to themselves as « Fransaskois ». A new 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. Fransaskois parents began a long process to obtain governance of their own 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 French-language community in Saskatchewan.