Stories from the Archives

Glenbow's Archives hold thousands of stories of western Canadian lives and events. In November 2013, with the generous assistance of The Calgary Foundation, we invited retired Calgarians to explore some of our little-used research files and to prepare articles about what they discovered. This was a pilot project aimed at involving more people in the community telling community stories using Glenbow's resources.


View of Trochu Valley and the St. Ann Ranch and Trading Company headquarters, Trochu, Alberta, ca. 1907. L-R houses: Leon Charles Eckenfelder's house; Joseph Devilder's house; Armand Trochu's house. (Glenbow Archives NA-397-6)

Insights into a Settler's Experience and Character: Armand Trochu

by Henriette Smith

Armand Trochu, the founder of the Town of Trochu in Alberta, came to western Canada in 1902 from France where he was married, had a family, and worked as stock broker in Vannes [1]. What made a well-educated forty-four-year-old Frenchman immigrate to an isolated coulee in central Alberta at the beginning of the 1900's? He must have been doing more than just acting out a fantasy. What state of mind pushed him far away from his family in Brittany and made him stay here in Alberta? [2]

The clues to the answers lie in the letters of Armand Trochu and of his daughter Marguerite [3] along with the story The Plains "Noblemen" from Grant MacEwan's series French in the West (1984), all found in the Glenbow Archives.

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Armand Trochu's original house, Trochu, Alberta, ca. 1903-1904. Leon Charles Eckenfelder is standing in the foreground. The house was enlarged in the fall of 1904. (Glenbow Archives NA-397-13)

There were several reasons why Trochu and other well-born Frenchmen came to Canada in the early 20th century. In the case of Armand Trochu, some of these reasons have a contemporary resonance; namely the relevance of the monarchy and the separation between religion and state. Trochu was the nephew of General Louis-Jules Trochu, former governor of Paris and President of France's Provisional government in 1871. The President had to resign after a humiliating defeat in the battle of Buzenval against the Prussian Army. The new Republican government soon conflicted with what the Trochu family stood for: conservative France, the monarchy, the church, and the army. New laws ended any hope of a return to the monarchy. Religious orders were forbidden to teach in schools or to work in hospitals. Devoted Catholic army officers were not promoted and were asked to assist in the expulsion of religious orders and the confiscation of Church property. These anticlerical policies were contrary to the values of traditional and noble families [4]. Armand, who had been educated by the Jesuits and who was a former cavalry officer, must have felt a strong repugnance for the country's social changes, which limited his own values and aspirations.

During the same period, the Canadian government, under Wilfrid Laurier, was circulating attractive propagandist literature in Europe promoting the strong advantages of settling in western Canada. Although Republican France preferred sending its nationals to its colonies or protectorates, Armand Trochu chose Canada, perhaps because of his dislike of the French government, while at the same time succumbing to the lure of adventure. The promise of a free homestead may have also been an incentive - Armand was not a wealthy man. He arrived in Calgary in the spring of 1902.

"We were horseback riding just about all week, sometimes quite far from Calgary, eating with the cowboys, beans, lard and potatoes. All week the weather was appalling with rain and wind storms so violent that most of the bridges were swept away." [5]
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Armand Trochu's house and garden, Trochu, Alberta, ca. 1908. (Glenbow Archives NA-397-12)

This is how Trochu introduced his relatives oversea to the realities of life in western Canada in a letter dated 24 May 1902. He had arrived in Calgary at round-up time and was immediately enlisted into corralling horses. Fortunately, having been a cavalry man in France, he was skilled in horsemanship and was even able to impress the hardy cowboys of the area. He wrote: "The drive of horses without losing any is not easy, as all the while one tries to escape and bound for freedom and you have to go faster than he goes to cut off his path and bring him back to the others, who are also trying to flee." [6]

From the beginning of the Canadian adventure, his letters reveal Trochu as a capable man of high standards of behaviour and religious ethics, riding 10 km to attend mass regularly and having no liquor in his cabin. He was interested in the country and wanted to establish himself here. He gives interesting details on the conditions he encountered. He was impressed by the skill of the horses and by their ability at avoiding gopher holes, sometimes at full gallop. He finds the cowboys' attire colourful with the large hats held on the back of the head by a cord, colourful red shirts, floating scarves and large Mexican- style pants. He respects their abilities of "staying glued to their saddles and being afraid of nothing". He finds odd "the necessity of importing women through the service of an agency detailing age of possible candidates, height and weight, hair colour, but no picture!" [7]

Trochu is impressed by the grandiose majesty of the landscape and can't find the words to convey the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. He wants to settle here and is looking to have a ranch of his own. In 1903, with Louis de Chauny as a companion, he travelled north along the foothills as far as Rocky Mountain House but he found no suitable land.

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Group of French pioneers, Trochu, Alberta, 1907. L-R back row: Mr. Tymmis; Xavier de Beaudrap; John Crepin; Pete de Beaudrap; Guy de Vautibeaut. L-R front row: Martin Zede; Doctor Louis Sculier, L.C. Eckenfelder; Armand Trochu; Paul de Beaudrap; Jean Butruille; Francois de Torquat. (Glenbow Archives NA-332-9)

On a second trip, traveling northeast from Calgary toward Didsbury and Three Hills, Trochu found a small valley in the vicinity of Three Hills Creek and Ghost Pine Creek with "splendid hay, half as nice as nowhere else, an indefinite space for the animals, no fences..." [8] The valley seemed ideal for farming and raising cattle and thoroughbred horses. After making sure enough water was available, Trochu bought the land from the Hudson's Bay Company and while securing a homestead, he set about building a house, a stable, a corral and kilometres of fences. Throughout his early years, he had to deal with extreme cold weather, poor diet, isolation, and prairie fires. A consolation was his love of horses. He imported a purebred Percheron stallion from Denver, Colorado [9], and a Belgian-Ardennes stallion from France. [10] He was distraught at losing more than a hundred mares in the great prairie fire of 1906.

Trochu maintained an enthusiastic correspondence with his family and friends in France. As a result, his ranch became known as a place where young Frenchmen could come as helpers to learn and experience ranching. He was happy to have these young men helping him run the place, but unfortunately, he had limited funds. In a letter of March 1904, he listed all the expenses he had had to incur. In that same year and although he would rather have worked alone, he entered in association with Joseph Devilder and Leon Eckenfelder to form the St. Ann Ranch Trading Company. [11]

From then on, the St.Ann Ranch continued to receive young Frenchmen to work on the ranch, and it also became a centre around which other settlers in the area revolved and where they received help, advice, and a warm welcome. As early as 1906, Trochu was worried that if a war was ever declared because of the growing Morocco crisis with France, all his personnel would be obliged to leave and joined their regiments. That would put him in a serious predicament. Fortunately, war was averted for the time.

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Group in St. Ann Ranch house, Trochu, Alberta, 1904. L-R back row: Armand Trochu; Doctor Louis Sculier; Joseph Devilder. L-R front row: L.C. Eckenfelder; M. de Seilhac; M. de Preault. (Glenbow Archives NA-332-10)

In the following years, Trochu and the St. Ann Ranch Trading Company made significant progress adding new buildings and becoming a stopping place, accommodating travelers and newcomers. At the same time, Armand Trochu was beginning to be known not only in southern Alberta but also in Ottawa where he stopped on his way back from Europe at the beginning of 1906. He was invited to dinner with two Cabinet ministers with whom he discussed his business affairs and from whom he "obtained small favours such as the construction of roads and bridges and the opening of a Post Office to be named Trochu Valley." [12] He even had a meeting of a few hours with Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier who was hoping to have him as a candidate in the next federal election.

Armand Trochu lived in Alberta for fifteen years and revealed himself as a man of honour with a heightened sense of duty and service to his country and religious practices. New settlers respected him. In 1906 he "received a deputation asking him to accept the position of mayor". [13] He was the town's postmaster. Later, he became a Justice of the Peace and often assisted in reconciling peoples of different nationalities. Catholic mass was celebrated at the ranch until a Catholic church was built in 1907. Father Pierre Bazin became Trochu's first parish priest. In 1909, Trochu was in Calgary with Father Leduc to welcome eight sisters of the Order of Charity of Notre-Dame d'Evron. The sisters were to take charge of the school and to look after the sick at a hospital in Trochu Valley.

The settlement of Trochu was growing well until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. As Armand Trochu had known all along, the French army officers, still loyal to the motherland, left to rejoin their regiments. Most of them were killed in the war. Trochu himself, too old for active duty, stayed at Trochu during the war years. In 1917, poor health forced him to return to France.

What could his state of mind have been upon leaving a town that he had founded? His letters and other documents suggest that he took a certain amount of pride in what he had accomplished despite the vagaries of war and fortune. He had founded a new town and made a lasting contribution to the new province of Alberta. He had participated in the breeding of vigorous draft horses and taken part in amazing ventures to further the development of agriculture in the Trochu area. The St. Ann Ranch was still active, and today, it is a Provincial Historic Site. In his own way, Armand Trochu had defied the colonist and anti-clerical stand of Republican France by coming to western Canada rather than to France's colonies . He had served his Church by contributing to the establishment of a Catholic parish and of a Catholic order of sisters in his settlement. One can recognize in Trochu an admirable code of behaviour linked to a high standard of values, honour and service.


Footnotes

[1]
Trochu's grand-nephew, Jacques Bence, placed him as a stockbroker in Vannes in his speech, "Armand Trochu and the Ninetieth Anniversary of the Founding of Trochu: A Speech." 1995. CARMN. http://www.unlockthepast.ca/Founding-of-Trochu. Sheilagh Jameson, in her 1961 article The Story of Trochu (http://www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingaids/archhtm/jameson.cfm#series5) says that Trochu was a stockbroker in Nantes before coming to Canada. Nantes is a French city on the Loire River. Vannes is a city on the Gulf of Morbihan, in the region of Brittany where Trochu originated and where he was educated at the St. Francis Xavier College. An interpretive panel at the St. Ann Ranch shows that he was a stockbroker in Paris.
[2]
Glenbow Museum. Armand & Marguerite Trochu's lettres. 1901 1916. St. Ann Ranch Trading Company Fonds: www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingAids/archhtm/St_Ann.cfm
[3]
Several letters were addressed to La Venauderie, St. Clementin, the family home of Armand Trochu in Brittany, France, according to Jacques Bence, Trochu's grand-nephew. Armand Trochu and the Ninetieth Anniversary of the Founding of Trochu: A Speech. 1995.CARMN. www.unlockthepast.ca/Founding-of-Trochu
[4]
De Dromantin, Patrick Clarke. Identit-é nobiliaire dans la France du XXI iè me siè cle. Association d'entraide de la noblesse française. 2010. http://www.anf.asso.fr/Identite-nobiliaire-dans-la-France
[5]
Lettre à son frère Georges datée le 24 mai 1902. Scans of Armand and Marguerite Trochu's letters in the original French with English translations may be viewed by following this link to the St. Ann Ranch Trading Company fonds at the Glenbow Archives: http://www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingAids/archhtm/st_ann.cfm#series1
[6]
Ibid.
[7]
Ibid.
[8]
Lettre à sa soeur datée le 15 juin 1903.
[9]
Lettre à sa soeur datée le 1er septembre 1903.
[10]
Lettre à sa soeur datée le 14 juin 1906.
[11]
Lettre à son frère datée le 21 septembre 1904.
[12]
Lettre à son frère datée le 24 février 1906
[13]
Lettre à son frère datée le 14 juin 1906.

Bibliography

Primary Sources:
Glenbow Museum. Glenbow Archives, Calgary. Armand & Marguerite Trochu's lettres. 1901 1916. St. Ann Ranch Trading Company Fonds: www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingAids/archhtm/St_Ann.cfm

Secondary Sources:
Bence, Jacques. Armand Trochu and the Ninetieth Anniversary of the Founding of Trochu: Speech. 1995. CARMN. www.unlockthepast.ca/Founding-of-Trochu
De Dromantin, Patrick Clarke. Identité nobiliaire dans la France du XXI ième siècle. Association d'entraide de la noblesse française. 2010.
Études de cas. L'émigration française: études de cas: Algérie et Canada - 1902.
Documents AD du Bas-Rhin - Série M. Publications de la Sorbonne 1965. P. 85-98.
Jameson, Sheilagh S. The Story of Trochu. Alberta Historical Society. 1961.
MacEwan, Grant. A Century of Grant MacEwan - Selected writings. Brindle & Glass Publishing. Calgary, Alberta 2002.
Musée de Trochu. Soeurs de la Charité de Notre-Dame d'Evron. n.d. http://musee.trochu.perso.neuf.fr/evron.htm
Persee Scientific Journals. Un siècle d'immigration française au Canada (1881-1980) by Bernard Penisson, 1986. Vol. 2. Issue 2.2. P. 11-125. www.persee.fr/


About the Author

Henriette Smith was born in Quebec, but has lived in Alberta for the last few decades. She worked for several years as a teacher and an administrator in the Separate School system of Calgary. More recently, she has been an instructor and a Field Advisor in the Bachelor of Education Program at the University of Calgary. Henriette is interested in spirituality, philosophy, genealogy, and history. She likes doing research into the past and investigating factors that have influenced our common heritage. Her knowledge of the French language was what attracted her to read the French material regarding Armand Trochu.

Henriette, along with her husband Grant, has lived in many regions of Canada including Labrador, Quebec, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Alberta. She has a special attraction for the pristine environments of the country's remote regions.

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