Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 15, 2002
Mural honours Bishop Legal
Town displays its Francophone heritage
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The people of Legal are so proud of their French heritage that they display it on the town's walls.
In the past five years Legal, a bilingual community of 1,000 people 55 km north of Edmonton, has become a lot like an illustrated history book with many of its walls covered with larger-than-life murals conveying the town's history.
And since Catholic bishops, priests and nuns played a vital role in the development of the town and Western Canada, many of the murals are dedicated to them.
On April 6, the community unveiled an eight-by-20 foot mural honouring Archbishop Emile Legal, the town's namesake. The mural was unveiled at St. Emile's Church following a Mass in the bishop's memory. Some 150 people stayed for the unveiling.
This is the last of a total of 25 murals the Centralta French Association decided to put up to bring out the town's French heritage. The murals, five of them religious in nature, adorn the walls of schools, grocery and drug stores, restaurants and even the post office. The total cost of the project exceeds $130,000 and is being covered through local donations as well as government and private grants.
The mural on Bishop Legal was painted on plywood panels by local artist Karen Blanchet at a cost of $5,000. Funding was provided by the town's council of the Knight of Columbus, who had an honour guard at the Mass and the unveiling. The mural depicts four stages in Bishop Legal's life, all taken from actual photographs.
Scores of local and provincial dignitaries brought greetings to the ceremony, including town Mayor Robert Pelletier and Leo Klein, state deputy of the Alberta Knights of Columbus. St. Paul Bishop Luc Bouchard and Edmonton Archbishop Thomas Collins blessed the mural.
A biography of Legal distributed at the Mass described the prelate as a good friend of the French. "He promoted immigration of francophones, helped organize cultural and social institutions and secured the educational rights of the francophone and Catholic minorities in Alberta," it said.
"Having a universal vision, he was well aware that he was creating, in a new country, a society based on harmony among the people. He served as a model to all by his honesty and tolerance, he received the respect and esteem of all."
Born in 1849 near Nantes, France, Legal was ordained a priest in 1874. After five years as a professor, he immigrated to Canada, where he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Quebec.
The following year, he began 16 years of missionary work in what would become southern Alberta. He worked mostly with the Blood and Piegan Indian tribes.
In 1897 Legal was called by Bishop Vital Grandin to succeed him as bishop of St. Albert. On March 29, 1897 Grandin ordained him a bishop. In 1902, following Grandin's death, Legal became the second bishop of St. Albert. Ten years later, in 1912, he was named the first archbishop of Edmonton and served until his death in March 1920.
Legal's vision of the missionary and evangelical work among the Indians always centred on the cultural elements in their way of life. He was a skilled linguist able to address his audience in the local dialect. He wrote several books of prayers along with books describing the cultural activities of the tribes he served.
"To him, the language of a people was the vehicle through which the faith was safeguarded," said Legal's Grand Knight Martin Blanchet. "It validates what I believe - that spirituality is culturally based."
In the past few years Legal has also put up murals honouring the Grey Nuns and the Oblate Fathers as well as priests such as Father George Primeau, a community builder, and Father Jean-Baptiste Morin, a colonizer who brought thousands of settlers into the area.
In his closing remarks, Collins praised the community for honouring the pioneers of the faith in Western Canada and urged people to follow in their footsteps.
"And so every time people see this mural they'll be inspired by the memory of Bishop Legal and of all of those who have gone before us showing the way to be true disciples of Jesus Christ," he said.