611 23 Avenue SW

Photo courtesy of City of Calgary.

Mission-Cliff Bungalow Francophone Century Homes

The area currently known as Mission, was first settled by the Oblate missionaries who were also the first non-natives to live permanently in Calgary. It was the vision of Father Lacombe to create a permanent French-Canadian settlement, complete with church, school, convent, community hall and hospital “surrounded by the homes of the French speaking faithful” (his description of the residential subdivision). Some families moved from Québec, and “Cheminots”, railway labourers from Québec, came west in 1883-84 to work on the westward construction of the C.P.R. line. Most of the French-speaking immigrants settled here, in what was later to become Rouleauville, and is now known as Mission.

Many of the residents who settled in the community founded, fostered or lobbied for francophone cultural and economic services for the citizens of Southern Alberta. In 1884, almost immediately after Father Lacombe obtained their land grant, the Oblate fathers had their land surveyed into residential streets and lots, and sold the lots for $60, $100 for corner lots. They began recruiting colonists in 1887, often from Quebec. The street names depicted the French and Catholic origins of the area (Notre Dame, Doucet, Rouleau, St. Joseph, etc.). A small residential community developed along Seventeenth and Eighteenth Avenues by the 1890s and a few blocks of land which were acquired by speculators.

Despins House                  611 – 23 Ave SW   1913

Despite the desire of the Oblate priests and francophone community leaders to preserve the French language and culture, the reality of the immigration patterns in this was that settlers came predominantly from anglophone countries and, although the population of french speakers continued to grow in absolute numbers, it became a minority. In 1907 Rouleauville was annexed by Calgary and, in the process, all the French streets names were replaced with a numbering system. It became the community of Mission. However, a number of prominent residents of Mission and the adjacent neighbourhood to the west, Cliff Bungalow, continued to promote the francophone cultural organizations which existed, and to establish new cultural and economic services.

The Despins brothers Victor, Adrien (aka André) and Jules moved from Ste. Anne de la Perade, Quebec to settle in Calgary (Victor in 1909, Jules 1911, André 1919). They established a highly successful construction business and built many homes in Calgary, including several in Mission, and in 1917 opened the Despins Hardware Store in Mission adjoining the landmark Blue Rock Hotel. The back of the store became an unofficial meeting place for French Canadians. Jules, who ran the store after 1924, lived in various locations in the neighbourhood. He lived in this house at 611 23rd Avenue SW for almost three decades from 1927. The Despin brothers and Dr. Beauchemin were the principal advocates for a French language parish, and Victor Despins and Dr. Beauchemin lobbied the Catholic School Board to increase French instruction in their schools. In 1935 Jules also was a founding member of the Caisse Populaire Sainte-Famille, an early credit union which helped financially support Alberta’s francophone population. Despins family descendants have continued to take on leadership roles in the organizations fostered by their ancestors.