Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
April 2, 2001
Town shows its pride in francophone roots
Murals honour several Catholics who rooted Legal in the faith
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
LEGAL — The town of Legal is proud of its French heritage and it shows. In the past three years the small bilingual community 55 km north of Edmonton has begun to look like an open history book, many of its walls covered with larger-than-life murals showing the town's roots.
And since Catholic priests and nuns played a vital role in the development of the town and Western Canada, several murals are dedicated to them.
"That says to me that the people of Legal are not scared to express their Christian roots," says Ernest Chauvet, president of the Centralta French Association, the organization behind the murals.
The town of 1,000 people, 85 per cent of whom are Catholic, features murals on Bishop Emile Legal, first bishop of Edmonton after whom the town was named, Father George Primeau, a community builder, Father Jean-Baptiste Morin, a colonizer who brought thousands of settlers to the area, and the Grey Nuns, who brought education and health care to Legal and Western Canada.
A mural on the Oblate Fathers, who helped establish the town and spread the faith through Western Canada, will go up this week and will be officially unveiled June 8. Edmonton artists Lucie Tettamente and Remi Genest painted the eight-by-24-foot mural on a special type of plywood.
So far 18 murals are up, out of a total of 27 planned, which may earn Legal the title of Canadian capital of French murals.
The murals, five of them religious in nature, adorn the walls of schools, grocery and drug stores and even the town's post office.
The murals are part of a 1997 Centralta French Association project to bring out the town's French heritage.
As the association started to dig through the town's history it realized "we could not overlook the religious communities," said Chauvet, the association's president.
"They had a big impact on the community of Legal. When we talk about the Oblates, we find they are the major order of priests to contribute to French language and culture."
The community of Legal began in 1894 with the arrival of Theodore Gelot and Eugene Menard, who came from the United States after reading a pamphlet written by Abb‚ Morin recruiting French settlers for the area.
Morin ended up bringing almost 8,000 people to Legal, Morinville, St. Albert and Beaumont.
But the Legal community really began to take shape in 1899 when Bishop Legal approved the site for the future church. As the church was being built, the community slowly expanded around it. Fifteen years later, in 1914, Legal officially became a village.
Six years later, the Grey Nuns arrived in the village and built a convent that soon became Legal's educational centre. Parents brought their children to the convent so the sisters could teach them French and catechism.
The Grey Nuns mural reflects the contribution of the sisters to the development of Legal and Western Canada. Their mural was one of three unveiled a few months ago by Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson. The mural on Bishop Legal will be unveiled April 6 and the mural on Father Morin will be unveiled May 11.
The majority of the murals have been painted in acrylic using photographs from the Alberta Archives. While some of the murals were painted directly on walls, others were painted on plywood panels and then erected. In some cases a wall was built for the sole purpose of painting a mural.
An explanation on each mural can be found on a booklet called Le Corridor historique francophone published by the French Association.
The project's cost is $132,000 to date, about $5,000 per mural, most of it covered through local donations as well as government and private grants.
One effect of the mural project is an increase in tourism, said Chauvet. The French Association has already lined up eight bus tours starting in April. About 5,000 tourists are expected to visit the town this year.
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