On February 17, Société Historique et Généalogique de Smoky River (SHGSR), in Donnelly had a full house and an extremely busy day when sixty-six French immersion students from École Montrose in Grande Prairie spent time at the society to engage in some family research.
The French Immersion students visited the Smoky River region to experience firsthand the French Canadian language and culture here in Alberta.
Nine parent volunteers, 3 teachers and 8 volunteer SHGSR volunteers assisted the Grade 6 students in their research.
The kids traveled in two groups of 33 and visited a number of sites, rotating the venues with one group visiting the Girouxville Museum while the other visited the Maisonneuve farm and then the Genealogical Society in Donnelly.
With the odd exception all conversations were conducted in French.
The students spent Friday night in Falher, the girls staying at Ecole Heritage, the boys at Ecole Routhier and attended the St. Isidore Carnaval Saturday, February 18.
This was the second year the students made the field trip to the SHGSR and the region and those who had visited last year were enthusiastic about coming back.
The Ecole Mountrose field trip is made possible through a partnership between Grande Prairie Public School District (GPSD) and the Conseil de Développement Économique (CDÉ) in Falher.
The GPSD’s French coordinator Ginette Pelé, and Diane Chiasson, of the CDÉ created the itinerary for an École Montrose field trip last year with the objective of expanding the program and making the trip an annual event.
Regarding the kids researching their family line, their teacher Chantal Gallant says it is remarkable how interested they become when introduced to the concept.
“It is an aspect of their lives that they don’t focus on a lot but it’s amazing how it peaks their curiosity,” says Gallant. “They are all engaged right now, they are all searching even those whose roots are not in Canada. Being here triggers that curiosity.”
For one student the SHGSR provided a special eureka moment. While researching her family line with a volunteer the girl said, she had relatives name Joubert. The volunteer asked society member Lucille Bussiere to talk to the girl knowing Bussiere also has relatives named Joubert.
“It turned out that her great-grandmother is my first cousin,” says Bussiere. “I showed her a picture of my aunt who is her great-great-grandmother and asked her if she knew that her great-grandmother arrived in Falher in 1914. She then asked her teacher to come take a photograph of her with her cousin. She was amazed; she kept looking at me.”
Following this family relevation the student’s teacher came to Bussiere and said she was glad it happened to that girl because she was the least enthusiastic about coming, that she wasn’t that interested and now she will remember that day for a long time.
“That is the type of story we want,” says SHGSR President, Carmen Ewing. “If it happens once with every class we get, it is worth it. If our local schools would come we would have so many stories.”
The SHGSR is a research centre that has an extensive collection of genealogy and also has historical data on parishes, organizations and other institutions. Among other resources, the society has an extensive collection of family histories, possibly the largest resource of its kind in western Canada.
Being neither a library nor a museum the Society falls outside most conventional categories that would qualify for annual grants with matching grants being the only outside funding for which it qualifies.
Evidently, fundraising accounts for a substantial part of the SHGSR’s finances and to this end, the society has a “Donation Tree” and a “Tree of Life” permanent display where donors names are exhibited on different coloured leaves depending on the size of donation.
People can donate at anytime to this ongoing, fundraiser and the Donation Tree and Tree of Life exhibit will be expanded if necessary to display additional donors.