The area that would be Beaumont would be home to many Indigenous groups through the centuries. Long before Europeans arrived, the area was mostly the home of the Blackfoot, Cree, Sioux and the Metis people.
An Indigenous presence within the Beaumont and Edmonton area goes back long before the pyramids or any other European structures were built. Arrowheads have been found that date back as much as 11,000 to 13,000 years ago. In this time, the Indigenous were hunting mammoths, bison, caribou and muskox through the regions.
As with many areas in the Canadian Prairies, the bison were a vital part of the way of life for the Indigenous, with huge bison hunts being held as far north as places like Beaumont before they were sadly nearly wiped out due to overhunting by Canadians and Americans during the last half of the 19th century.
By the 1880s, an Indigenous group called the Paspascchase were living in the area, numbering roughly 200 people. Most of these people would migrate elsewhere amid the signing of the Numbered Treaties and by 1887, most had left the area.
The land that the Indigenous had lived on was then sold to others in the area with the money going to the neighboring Indigenous, whose families were beginning to integrate into the growing rural community.
Today, Beaumont celebrates its Indigenous heritage through National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations. In 2020, with Covid-19, celebrations were still held and Beaumont held several virtual events to help residents take part in events.
Founding Of The Community
The start of Beaumont dates back to the 1890s, when the area was still barely developed. It was in the early 1890s that a French Colony was created on 10 acres of land purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company, with a founding resident also donating another 20 acres. These 30 acres would become the basis of the small hamlet of Beaumont. This colony consisted of about 20 French-Canadian families who decided to settle close to each other. Along with those French-Canadian families, there were several new English families who had also settled in the area.
In 1894, the first school would be established in what would one day be Beaumont. One year later, the decision was made to have Father Morin travel to Ottawa to petition for a post office. Several names were given as a possibility including Bellevue and Beaumont. In the end, Beaumont was chosen, which means beautiful hills.
By 1898, the small hamlet was home to 75 families, 45 of which were Francophone. By 1921, 125 families, 110 of the them Francophone, were living in Beaumont.
For the early settlers of Beaumont, life revolved around the church, a structure I will be getting to in the next section. When raffles and donation drives were held, it was to bring in new decorations and improvements to the church, including chandeliers in 1928.
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In 1960, the community continued to grow with 400 families, over half of which were Francophone.
For much of its history over the course of the next several decades, Beaumont remained part of the local improvement district, then the Municipal District of Blackmud in 1943 and eventually, the community moved from being a hamlet to a village in 1973 when Ken Nichol became the first mayor of the village. Four years later, the community grew once again and became a town, with Robert Willis as the new mayor.
Today, Beaumont is home to 18,320 people, 2,000 of which are bilingual and five per cent of which speak French as a first language, giving the community a unique flair in the middle of the Alberta prairie. Today, many of its streets are named after the founders of the community.
The community has worked to preserve its heritage, including recently when the decision was made to require all new buildings downtown to have steep gable roofs that align to the original French-style architecture. Beaumont was a founding community in the Association of Alberta Francophone Municipalities as well.
St. Vital Roman Catholic Church
One of the defining buildings in the Beaumont area, and an important part of the community throughout its history, is the St. Vital Roman Catholic Church. While the church has changed and a new one has been built, its role in Beaumont’s history cannot be understated.
The first church was built in 1895 and had a log-hewn rectory that was only 20-feet square, which was built in 1896. The land had been chosen by Father Albert Lacombe himself in 1894 and the small church would hold its first mass on June 30, 1895 with Father L. Poitras presiding. The cost of the land from the Hudson’s Bay Company was only $50. A bell was purchased, weighing 800 pounds, for $100. By 1897, work was continuing on the roof of the church and by Christmas 1898 the interior was completed but not yet painted.
Up until 1907, the large bell was on a turret between the church and rectory but that year a steeple was built. A new rectory was then built in 1917.
The community would suffer a terrible loss on Feb. 10, 1918 when the church burned down, but a new one was built in 1919 at a cost of $30,000, or $409,000 today. Work was done mostly by volunteer labour among the parishioners, with Reverend J.A. Normandeau serving as the supervisor of the project. No machinery was available, so the basement was built by digging out the ground with horses pulling scrapers.
How the fire started is not known but it was noticed at 6 a.m. and an alarm was sounded in the village. Nothing could be saved but it is believed the fire started at the altar around 4 a.m., and before long it had spread across the church. The bell was eventually found, nothing more than a lump of metal.
The construction of the church was no small process. A total of 500 loads of sand were brought in, along with 300 loads of gravel and six hundred loads of rocks. As well, 1,500 bags of cement were used and everything but the cement was transported by the parishioners free of charge. The lumber and bricks were bought from Leduc, huge tree trunks served as the foundation of the building, and on July 4, 1920, the new church would finally hold its first mass. In November of 1921, parishioners added a 2,000 pound bell to the bell tower. The church was blessed and named Marie Vitaline in recognition of the patron saint of the church. Without the volunteer labour of parishioners, it is likely the construction of the church would have cost much more.
In 1934, the Cross of Jacques Cartier was erected under the patronage of the French Canadian Association of Alberta, and a statue of the Virgin Mary was built in 1935.
St. Jacques Heritage House
Joseph St. Jacques was born in Quebec on Dec. 2, 1883 and would move west with his brothers in 1905. While they settled in Saskatchewan, he settled in Alberta. In 1910, he was married to his wife Nellie and two years later they built a home where they raised their four children, one of which died in infancy. Joseph and Nellie both worked hard to help the church including cleaning it and decorating it when big events were planned. Joseph would eventually pass away in 1969, 17 years after Nellie, but their house remains.
Their son Raymond would live in the house after his parents, while also farming on the family land.
The house has since been moved into the Beacon Park in Beaumont thanks to the Beaumont and District Heritage Society. It serves as a reminder of the people who came to the community alone, found someone to spend their lives with and whose descendants helped make Beaumont prosper.
Gobeil Heritage Barn
Ernest Gobeil was born in 1875 who came to Beaumont with his family in 1912 with his wife Eugenie and their four children. Two more children were born in Beaumont. They joined Ernest’s brother and his family when they came out, settling near the church. The two brothers would work the land together until 1919 when Ernest bought land nearby, a half mile away from Beaumont. Two of his sons chose to stay on the land of their uncle to work.
Eugenie would pass away in 1926, while Ernest would die in 1952 at the age of 72. Before he died, he built a barn in the early 1940s and by that point had bought several farms in the area, which he gave to his sons on a rental basis. The barn itself would remain with the Gobeil family for decades before the decision was made to move the barn, weighing 80,000 pounds, to a new destination. Along the move, four generations of the family were there to see it move.
On April 26, 2016, the barn was moved to a new home on the Agricultural Society Fairgrounds and Beaumont and District Heritage Society and the Beaumont and District Agricultural Society made a decision to preserve the barn as a relic of the past.
Hay Lakes Telegraph Station
About 30 kilometres, you will find a marker just outside Hay Lakes, advertising the Hay Lakes Telegraph Station Historic Site. The original station was constructed in 1876 as the western part of the telegraph line was being constructed through the area. On Nov. 20, 1877, the station was officially functioning with Major Jarvis out of Fort Saskatchewan sending the first message over this section line to Battleford. The first repairman in this building and for the local telegraph line was James McKerman. He would maintain the western lines for until 1879 when he was replaced by Alex Taylor. That year, an office was established in Edmonton and the use of this facility slowly declined until it was only used as a repairman’s hut.
Today, a cairn sits where the original building was once found and it serves as a reminder of the early communication history of Alberta. On June 15, 1976, the location became a Provincial Historic Resource.
The Alfred Dubord Home
In 1893, Alfred and Marie-Louis Dubord came to the Beaumont area in 1893 with their children to begin working on a farm nearby.
It was in 1919 when Alfred Dubord moved from his farm near Beaumont to a home within the community one block from the church. He would live in the house for the next decade or so until Leopold Magnan bought the house, which would remain in the family from that time onwards.
On Oct. 29, 2020, the house was moved and in the spring of 2021, a new foundation will be constructed for the house. The house will sit next to the Gobeil Heritage Barn that is also on the site.