There’s a small locality in northern Alberta named “Grouard”. It was formerly known as “Petit Lac des Esclaves” (Lesser Slave Lake). The French Canadians, who were the majority in this area, wanted to change a name that did very little to enhance their pride.
Around 1909, Father Constant Falher, O.M.I. suggested the name Grouard, in honor of Bishop Emile Grouard, who was Apostolic Vicar of Athabaska. The French Canadians were highly in favor of this choice. The Metis, on the other hand, in spite of their strong affection for their “Great Man of Prayer” were not enthusiastic about this proposal. The name was difficult for them to pronounce. As for the English Protestants who lived there, they would have preferred a name that sounded more like English, but hoping to win the Crees to their side, suggested a much softer name: “Mionouk” which means beautiful site.
A vote that earned notoriety
One resident, Armand Gariépy, who later became a Jesuit, wrote of the tumultuous meeting held on this subject. When the vote was first announced, the continuous campaigning quickly brought the issue to the peak of interest. Some Metis even had the impression that Bishop Grouard was presenting himself for election as delegate against Mionouk…
“The evening for the voting arrived. We see a young Metis arise: ‘Bishop Grouard taught me catechism and prayers, and taught me to read. It is now fifty years that he has been among us and has been working to instruct us. What has Mionouk done for us?’ Another added: “If I learned anything from books, it is thanks to Bishop Grouard. Therefore I vote for him.’ The name Grouard seemed to have preference. But the president of the assembly, who was a good citizen and an excellent orator in English and in Cree, favored Mionouk. Tension rose. Tempers flared. Sensing that they were losing, opponents attempted to prevent the vote by asking that the former name of Lesser Slave Lake be kept. The discussion went on till two in the morning.
“At last, the time for voting arrived. All the Catholics, except one, voted for Grouard. ‘We still have some French blood in our veins’ so they promoted a French Canadian. Another, shedding tears of rage, responded: “I do not want to live in a place that bears the name of a Catholic bishop.’ The Grouard blacksmith could not hold back his enthusiasm: ‘Even if it were only for tonight’s assembly, I’m glad that I came to the North’.”
For his part, Bishop Grouard had to accept the accomplished fact. “It was done without my knowledge”, he wrote in his memoirs, “I am absolutely innocent of all pretentions in this matter.” As a matter of fact, after celebrating his golden jubilee, he had gone to visit Sturgeon Lake. When he returned, one week later, the ploy had succeeded: his episcopal town had had changed its name. It was called Grouard.
André DORVAL, OMI