Our Francophone History
The Mission district, bounded by 4th Street to the west, 17th Avenue to the north and the Elbow River to the southeast, dates to the establishment in 1875 of a Catholic religious settlement that was incorporated in 1899 as the village of Rouleauville. The village was annexed to the city in 1907, three years after the start of the Pre-War boom. By 1909 the Whiteline streetcar line ran along 4th Street, which developed into a commercial main street, and by the start of the war, Mission was already almost fully built developed.
The article below was first published in 2017 Councillor Evan Woolley’s Zine, and has been updated for republication on the CBMCA website. To learn more about Cliff Bungalow - Mission’s francophone history and heritage sites, check out the links to tourism sites and walking tour podcast at the bottom of the article.
The House at the Heart of Rouleauville
by Marilyn Williams, CBMCA Heritage Director
Historic Street Signs
If you stroll past the Rouleau House at 141 18th Avenue SW, the first thing that strikes you is not the building itself but the beautiful cultural landscape. The trees along the banks of the Elbow, the early Canadian Northern Railway bridge and station (a former Parish Hall) which frame the house, St. Mary’s Cathedral and Sacred Heart Convent across the street, and the period lamp posts which line the street are all reminders of an earlier time.
The relationship of the Rouleau House to these places is much more than visual. The church, convent and parish hall buildings lie at the heart of a Mission founded in the 19th century by a French Order of missionaries, the Oblate fathers, the first non-natives to settle in Calgary. Led by Father Albert Lacombe, it was their vision to create a permanent francophone and Catholic settlement in southern Alberta “surrounded by the homes of the French speaking faithful”. To that end in 1884 Lacombe obtained title to the land occupied by the Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of the Peace) Mission since 1875, and had it surveyed and registered as the Oblate Mission Townsite residential subdivision. Around 1887 Quebec-born Édouard-Hector Rouleau (1843-1912) moved to the brand new subdivision with his wife Catherine and their four children. He purchased their house, built two years earlier, from Edwin Rogers. Its 1885 date makes it one of the earliest homes in Calgary, and its Queen Anne Revival style - charming front entry, bay windows, gable decoration and gothic trim - speaks to an era when picturesque was in vogue.
Also in 1885, another French order, the Faithful Companions of Jesus (Fidèle Compagnons de Jésus) founded their Sacred Heart Convent (Couvent Sacré Cœur) and in the same year also established the first francophone and Catholic education system in southern Alberta. They received considerable support for creating a new Calgary Separate School Board from Édouard’s brother, Charles Rouleau, a politician, lawyer, writer, judge and Justice of the Supreme Court of the North West Territories (NWT). Édouard, a devout Roman Catholic, involved himself heavily in Catholic religious life and was an active member of the Knights of Columbus and Chancellor of the Catholic Mutual Benefit Association and served for 23 years on the separate school board. His daughter Albertine became an FCJ Sister, and his son Albert became the first native-born priest ordained in the Calgary diocese. Édouard was also a leader in the francophone community, the founding president of the St. Jean Baptiste Society in 1888 and fifteen years as the Belgian Consul for the NWT.
Dr Rouleau made significant contributions to Calgary’s health services. He was one of the town's first three physicians, specializing in obstetrics. When the Grey Nuns (les Sueurs Grises) founded Holy Cross Hospital (l'hôpital Sainte-Croix) at the Mission in 1892, he became medical chief of staff. By 1897 he was assistant surgeon to the local North-West Mounted Police detachment.
By 1899 the small French and Catholic community which developed near 17th (Notre Dame) and 18th (St. Joseph) avenues had about 500 residents and was incorporated as the Village of Rouleauville, in recognition of Édouard’s and Charles’ contributions. Its independence was short-lived, ending in 1907 upon annexation to the City of Calgary. The name changed to the Mission district; by this time, although the francophone population was still increasing, the proportion of francophone residents was declining relative to anglophones. Yet, over the following decades, many Cliff Bungalow-Mission residents would go on to found and foster a number of important francophone cultural and economic services that exist today.
Rouleau House, with its many significant associations, symbolizes the settlement of this francophone district, an important episode in Southern Alberta’s history, and Western Canadian history. In fact, the establishment of the Mission-Rouleauville Francophone settlement in southern Alberta was nominated as an event of national significance to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. With such a pedigree, Rouleau House is historic in its own right and listed on the City of Calgary Inventory of Historic Resources. In 2016, the home’s rehabilitation was approved for funding, and through 2017 plans were developed and a development permit approved. Works were completed in 2019 to the delight of the community, and it became a protected resource upon its designation in 2020. The City-owned site is occupied by Alberta Ballet, the long-time tenant for the adjacent Parish Hall/train station.
For more information follow this bilingual podcast guided tour offered at BaladoDécouverte which can be enjoyed equally from your armchair. Information about other historic and cultural sites with francophone roots in Alberta can be found here. Both sites were spearheaded by the Conseil de développement économique de l’Alberta (CDÉA).
As we know, Rouleauville and other cultural sites around Calgary are the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Blackfoot Confederacy, comprising the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai First Nations, the Tsuu T’ina First Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda including the Chiniki, Bearspaw and Wesley First Nations. We honour and acknowledge these people, and also members of the Métis community and specifically, the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.