This Week in History


Franco-Saskatchewanian Cultural Centre in Gravelbourg

This story was initially published in 2004

On August 8, 1868, Louis-Pierre Gravel was born in Arthabaska, Quebec. He later became Father Gravel, the missionary and colonizer who contributed to the development and growth of Francophone communities in southern Saskatchewan.

Louis-Pierre Gravel
© Saskatchewan Archives Board / R-A19813

From the fur trade period onward, Francophones settled in the Prairies and, by the beginning of the 20th century, they were scattered across this vast area. At the same time, thousands of French Canadians left Quebec each year to settle in New England. Father Gravel was one of the first to worry about the wave of emigration. He launched a movement in Quebec to divert the French Canadians towards western Canada. He even toured New England to convince French Canadians exiled there to return to Canada and settle in the West.

To protect the Franco-Catholic culture, the archbishop of St. Boniface, Manitoba, Mgr. Langevin longed to found a number of parishes between Weyburn and the Rockies, in the south part of what became, in 1905, Saskatchewan. To achieve this, Mgr. Langevin called on Father Gravel, who had been running a Franco-American parish since 1892. In 1906, a few settlers started moving into the area surrounding La Vieille River and, in 1907, the St. Philomena parish of Gravelbourg was founded.

Very early, numerous institutions were established in Gravelbourg that aimed to develop a local elite, and Father Gravel played a key role in their founding. He brought in a number of religious communities around which Franco-Saskatchewanian culture revolved. In August 1915, five Sisters of Jesus and Mary founded a primary school in the tiny village, which lead to the eventual construction of a monumental convent between 1917-1927. With Jardin Notre Dame and Collège Mathieu, which opened its doors in 1917 and still exists today in a new building, Gravelbourg youth had schools where they could continue to study in French. Moreover, in 1918-1919, a bishop’s residence and the Our Lady of the Assumption Church, known as the “wheat cathedral,” were built beside each other. Later, other institutions were established with the help of Father Gravel, who continued his pioneering work until his death in 1926.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame de l'Assomption and the Manse
© Saskatchewan Archives Board / R-A19780

In 1956, Louis-Pierre Gravel was designated a person of national historic significance for the role he played in establishing these institutions. Because of him, Gravelbourg is known as the “Mecca for Franco-Saskatchewanians.” Furthermore, the convent, the bishop’s residence and the cathedral were designated national historic sites by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1995.

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