The first French Canadians to settle in the area were mainly retired voyageurs and Métis families of both Québécois and French descent. In the mid-1800s, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, French Roman Catholic missionaries, came to the area. In 1853, they founded a mission on the south shore, Notre Dame des Victoires. The Sisters of Charity, or Grey Nuns, arrived in 1862 and provided schooling in French and Cree.
The second wave of French Canadian immigration to our region began in the early 1900s with the arrival of Joseph and Matilda Plamondon’s family from Michigan, U.S.A. They were concerned that their culture and language would not be preserved in the United States. The eldest Plamondon son, Isadore, moved to Lacombe from Michigan. He wrote to his father about the large parcels of land available and the demand for Francophone Catholics to settle the west. As a result, Joseph Plamondon moved the entire family to Alberta, joined by the Duperron, St. John, Belanger, Harpe, and Gauthier families. They arrived where the hamlet of Plamondon, formerly Plamondonville, now rests on July 28, 1908. Many Métis and Cree residents, such as Madeline Taylor, recalled the sudden appearance of the pioneers’ white tents for decades. The Métis helped the new settlers get used to the region, showing them the ways of the land. There were many similarities between their cultures, such as a love of dancing and music.
The new French pioneer children completed their studies at the mission, Notre Dame des Victoires, with the Métis students. Dellamen Plamondon, daughter of Joseph Plamondon, became a schoolteacher at age 12 in a small log house closer to Plamondonville. She had 27 students at the time.
“My grandfather […] came up because they were giving land grants and he wanted the free land […]. We can’t figure out why in God’s name he ever came out here, but he did and he brought my grandmother out and I thought it was on the train—it was in a covered wagon!”
From that point, Plamondon expanded quickly. In 1911, the first church was built near the spruce trees where the pioneers first lived. In 1913, the village welcomed more Francophone immigrants from Quebec, the United States, and France. Albert Chevigny opened a general store and organized the first school district in 1913. In 1915, the parish of St. Isadore was established, named in honour of Isadore Plamondon. This church would become a cornerstone of the community.
French Canadian culture treasures language, family, and tradition. The community celebrates together on occasions such as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, commemorating the patron saint of French Canadians. Festivities include competitions of hammering nails, sawing logs, and spinning wool. Music is a fundamental pillar of culture for French Canadians, uniting family and friends on joyous occasions. The sounds of violins, guitars, accordions, and singing can often be heard during special events.
The French Canadian community prides itself on being able to give each generation a valuable heirloom: the gift of language. The French language is retained not only by families speaking French at home, but also at school. Parents can enroll their children in the francophone schools École Beausejour in Plamondon or École Sainte-Catherine in Lac La Biche. Other schools in the area provide French language courses or French immersion.
“My grandparents came in the area from Quebec in 1913. […] My father was a farmer and a trapper. My mother was forever cooking […]. I went to an English school where we had one French class each day. And I wouldn’t have kept my French if my father wouldn’t have insisted that we speak French when we were having meals.”
French Canadian food is always a treat, from tradition French dishes like beef bourguignon and crêpes, to Québécois dishes like ragoût de boulettes and sucre à la crème. One resident of Plamondon, Emilie Chevigny, recalled that her great grandmother would make mochas by rolling frozen cakes covered with sucre à la crème in crushed nuts. Celebrations at the church for midnight mass around Christmas often included a réveillon (long dinner after midnight) complete with spiced meat pies, or tortière.