History

The French were one of the first groups of Europeans to live and explore western Canada. This was because of their interest in making money in the fur trade. Many of the French voyageurs, married First Nations women and their children were known as Métis.

An Illustrated world map highlights the countries of Canada and France.

French immigrants traveled from France to Canada.

A map illustration highlights the country of France and also shows the surrounding countries of Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

The country of France and the surrounding countries.

From the 1850s until the North-West Rebellion in 1885, many small Métis communities came into existence. Some of these communities were on the old river routes of the fur trade, but most were widely scattered across the southern Prairies. Another wave of French-speaking immigrants came from Quebec, Europe, and the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At one point, the French and Métis population far outnumbered the English. By the 1930s, numerous settlements, communities, and churches had been founded in which French was spoken.

A French couple and their three young daughters are dressed up and posing for a family photo

This French family immigrated to Canada.

This woman married a man who grew up in France and moved to Canada. This photo taken in 1949 shows her helping out on their family farm near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.
Men from Hudson Bay Company use a toboggan and snowshoes to travel in the winter.
Many of the first French immigrants were men that worked for the Hudson Bay Company as fur traders.

Settlement

The French settled all over the province, including the Qu’Appelle Valley, Meadow Lake, Cypress Hills, Spirit Wood, and Batoche. The early French and Métis were trappers and hunted bison. These populations started to turn to agriculture when there were fewer bison and the fur trade became less popular.

An Illustrated york boat travels on a river with four fur traders and some goods to trade to the First Nations people.

The first French immigrants explored Canada using boats to travel the rivers.

This French settler is proposing to a First Nations woman. Their children will be known as Metis.

This French settler is proposing to a First Nations woman. Their children will be known as Metis.

When the Canadian government began to divide up the land in Saskatchewan for settlement, the people in the village of Batoche had already settled the land, dividing it up into long, narrow strips that ran from the river. Because of this structure, all of the farmers had contact with the water and still had land beyond the riverbank for hay and grain. The government wanted to divide the land into square 160-acre sections which the Métis did not like. The Battle of Batoche was a fight for the rights of the Métis to live as they were and protect their traditions. They did not win, resulting in the surrender of Louis Riel and the end of the Provisional Government he had proposed.

Métis were living in Saskatchewan and when the government tried to divide their land, the Battle of Batoche broke out.

Métis were living in Saskatchewan and when the government tried to divide their land, the Battle of Batoche broke out.

A farmer stands on top of a cart, transferring stalks of grain with a pitchfork from the cart to the threshing machine. Four children are sitting in a wagon and on the threshing machine watching their Dad work in the field.

This French family is all helping out to harvest their crop on their farm in 1938.

The father from this family was born in France and when he was only 5 years old, they moved to Saskatchewan. He married his wife in 1912 in Bellevue, Saskatchewan and they had thirteen kids.

Culture

Some communities remained French and adapted to agriculture on the Prairies, but over time, the English language was used much more than French. Today, use of the French language is once again growing in some areas of Saskatchewan.

Two photos are shown; one of a young woman and the other of a young man.

This French couple was married in France in 1919. They sailed on a ship to the port of New York and came to Saskatchewan on a train.

The French played a huge role in the settlement of Western Canada. An entire cultural group, the Métis, with its own traditions, song and dance, food, language, and dress was created. We see evidence of the French culture all around us, in our schools, food labels, TV and radio stations, and festivals.

An illustrated Metis man is wearing a vest with flowers on it as he plays the fiddle.

The Métis have their own traditions including clothing, dancing, and fiddling.

Two white dishes with two crepes each sit on a wooden table. The crepes are lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

The French are known for their food including crepes.