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International Conference “The Francophone European Presence (Belgians, French, and Swiss) in Western Canada: Past Experience and Present Situation”

Published on October 4, 2016

University of Alberta Edmonton 

27-28 October 2017 

Call for papers 

The celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Confederation provides a unique opportunity to rediscover the distinctive contributions of French-Speaking Europeans (Belgians, French, and Swiss) to the history of Canada. Well documented in the East, this contribution has received less attention in Western Canada. Significant works on the subject include studies by Robert Painchaud (1987), Bernard Penisson (1986; 1981) and Audrey Pyée (2005) on the French community; Serge Jaumain (1999) and Cornelius J. Jaenen (2011) on the Belgian community; and Ilona Shulman Spaar (2013) on the Swiss community. Notable for its diversity, this migration was comprised of various social classes and has left an indelible mark on the material, intellectual, and spiritual heritage of Western Canada. 

The purpose of this conference is to acknowledge the heritage of French-speaking Europeans and to illustrate how it remains relevant today. Too often viewed as a thing of the past, this heritage has nonetheless continued to survive through language, literature, architecture, and toponymy. The Francophone European presence has profoundly shaped the face of Francophonies across Western Canada. The destiny of Francophone newspapers would not have been the same without the significant contributions of Henri d’Hellencourt, Pierre and Marie Féguenne, Donatien Frémont, and Charles Alexandre Michelet. Not to mention André Borel, Georges Bugnet, Maurice Constantin-Weyer, Monique Genuist and Magali Michelet, who have, each in their own way, helped fashion the literary representations of Western Canada. No doubt the recent, widely publicized exploitation of the oil sands and the tragedy in Fort McMurray have also renewed popular representations of the West. 

A much-needed addition to the history of major migration movements and archival research, the study of pioneer correspondence conducted in recent years by researchers like Yves Frenette in Canada, offers a different and more intimate perspective on the experience of Francophone pioneers from Europe. This perspective contrasts with the well-known migratory “experiments” in Sylvan Lake (Coates) and Trochu (McKenzie) as well as the more or less romanticized accounts by pioneers like Gaston Giscard and Pierre Maturié. While nowadays overshadowed by the sizeable Francophone immigration originating from French-speaking African countries, the Francophone European presence is not yet to be relegated to the past. 

Western Canada continues to attract significant contingents of Belgians, French and Swiss, whether they be students, workers of all stripes affected by the economic crisis, or simply nature lovers. They sometimes gather in associations (veterans’ associations, Belgian Club, professional associations, UFE, SFE) and get involved in their local Francophone community without always knowing that their ancestors helped establish it a century or so ago. A component among many others of the multicultural Francophone societies in Western Canada, the Belgians, French, and Swiss have been living in an environment ruled by not-so-familiar values and norms – beginning with the linguistic norm. These differences, as well as the representations that the expatriates produce and convey of their home country, deserve close critical attention. 

We invite submissions addressing one or several of (but not limited) to the themes listed below: 

- Comparison between Belgium, French and/or Swiss immigration in Western Canada from various perspectives (historical, socioeconomic, etc.). 

- Past and present (socioeconomic, political, etc.) relationships between Western Canada and Belgium, France and/or Switzerland 

- Material and non-material traces of the presence of Belgians, Swiss and/or French in Western Canada in architecture, language, folklore, toponymy, etc. 

- Case-studies of narratives and correspondences authored by Belgian, French and and/or Swiss pioneers in Western Canada. 

- Travel literature about Western Canada written by the Belgians, French and/or the Swiss. 

- Belgian, French and/or Swiss personalities/figures who have left their mark on the history of Western Canada. 

- Relationships between the first and the second or third generations of Belgian, French and/or Swiss immigrants in Western Canada. 

- Past and present groups, organizations, and associations of Belgians, French and/or Swiss in Western Canada. 

- Similarities and differences between Belgian, French and/or Swiss immigration in Western Canada. 

- Literary, artistic, cinematographic and media representations of Western Canada by Belgian, French and/or Swiss authors and artists. 

- Literary, artistic, cinematographic and media representations of Belgium, France and/or Switzerland by Western Canadian authors and artists. 

- Figures and representations of hybridity and cultural blending between Belgium, France and/or Switzerland, and Western Canada. 

- Interactions and coexistence between Belgian, French and/or Swiss immigrants, and the Francophone minority as well as the Anglophone majority. 

- Competition between French linguistic norms and teaching methods/cultures in Francophone schools, French “lycées”, and French immersion schools. 

- Assessment and benefits of exchange programs between Belgium, France and/or Switzerland, and Western Canada. 


Organizing committee 

Antoine Eche (Mount Royal University and University of Calgary)
Eva Lemaire (Campus saint-Jean, University of Alberta)
Sathya Rao (University of Alberta)
Chris Reyns-Chikuma (University of Alberta) 

Submissions in English or French (in word format) must include: 1) a short bio-bibliography (100-150 words); 2) a complete institutional affiliation; 3) a long abstract (300-500 words); a short abstract (100-150 words) to be used for grant application purposes. The document should be sent as an email attachment to the following email address:, with the title “European Francophone Conference”. The final date for submissions is December 30, 2016. We plan to publish the conference proceedings. 

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