Francophone Northwest History Conference

18-20 June 2020 at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington

What does it mean to be French in the West?  What traces remain? Two hundred years after French-Canadian fur traders made their way across the continent to the Oregon Territory, French names, language and life paths are still written in the family histories, landscape, and institutions of the West. Join us as we share and discover the history and heritage of francophone and métis peoples in northwestern North America.

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Walla Walla, Washington

What is French about Walla Walla?

The valley west of Walla Walla was home to Frenchtown, a mixed-marriage, multilingual community of French Canadian and Métis men and Indigenous women who lived here beginning in the 1820s. Originally known as the “village des Canadiens,” Frenchtown cabins were scattered along the Walla Walla river and its tributaries, interspersed among Cayuse camps and farms.  At its height in the 1870s, the community consisted of approximately fifty cabins. Beginning in 1887, the allotment of the nearby Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Umatilla, Oregon drew many métis families away from the valley to claim land on the reservation. Today, the Frenchtown Historic Site preserves a small piece of this history in the form of an early cabin and Catholic cemetery with trails and interpretive signage.

Francophone migrations to this region were not limited to the fur trade era. The French immigrant experience in the west has shaped and been shaped by every major stage of westward expansion of European and American national interest. French-speaking immigrants came from France, Switzerland, and Belgium, as well as from Quebec and other French Canadian settlements across the continent.  

The sense of a lost French­-Canadian heritage in the United States persists to this day in the West and Middle West. Few descendants of French-speaking migrants speak the language that their ancestors spoke, or feel a sense of belonging to a wider ethnic community. However, many are deeply interested in genealogical research as a way to access this complex heritage. Today, our region is home to multiple institutions and people with resources for the study of these migrations, including the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, the Frenchtown Historical Foundation, Fort Walla Walla Museum, and the Northwest Archives at Whitman College.


Tours and Events

Sunday 21 June

Optional Day Trip: Narrated driving tour of métis sites and trails followed by lunch and guided tour of the permanent exhibit.

Permanent Exhibit: We Were, We Are and We Will Be
Lunch at Kinship Café


Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day

Frenchtown Historical Foundation


How can I participate?

Let us know you're interested!  

You don't have to present to come to the conference, but we hope you'll consider it. History isn’t just in books and museums. It is around the family dinner table, in shoeboxes, on street signs, and in the ruts of the Oregon Trail coming down off the Blue Mountains. We propose a range of formats to include all kinds of historical inquiry and research. 

Download our Call for Papers.


Maxey Museum Upcoming Exhibit: "Frenchtown"

Poster Session

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Create a poster display. Posters will be on display throughout the conference, and we will have a session for authors to discuss their stories and/or research and answer questions.

Table Topics


Share your knowledge. Tables organized by topic allow multiple small group discussions. Each table will have several informal leaders, and attendees will circulate according to their  interests.

Formal Presentations


Speak for 15-20 minutes before a group audience, followed by questions. Formal presentations are often accompanied by slides or handouts.

Whitman College Campus



Conference Registration Fee : $125

We are doing everything in our power to make it possible for everyone who wishes to attend to join us. This includes applying for grant money to cover printing, publicity, and administration, as well as subsidizing meal costs. Whitman College has graciously offered the use of event spaces at no charge; on-campus housing is available at very reasonable rates. 

Because we are applying for grant money, it is especially important that we know whether you are interested in attending as soon as possible. 

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions or concerns–we will try to work with you. 




Stanton Hall

Using campus housing for our conference helps us to keep costs down for attendees. Completed in 2018, Whitman's newest residence hall features single and double-rooms around a shared lounge area and full kitchen, as well as a large central living room space for the whole hall.  We have reserved the ground floor rooms for accessibility.



Share food, build community

Formal sessions are useful for sharing information, but there's nothing like sharing food for building community. Conference meals will be an opportunity to get to know new people. We'll visit Cleveland Commons, Whitman's new dining hall, as well as the Kinship Café in Pendleton and a meal at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day event. Breakfast will be available at Cleveland Commons.



Getting here

Whitman College is located in downtown Walla Walla. The Walla Walla Regional Airport (ALW) is located just a few miles from campus. The slightly larger Pasco Airport (PSC) is about fifty miles west.  The Grape Line bus provides service. Seattle, Portland, and Boise are each between four and five hours away by car. We will set up a car-pool list closer to the event.

Contact Us

Please fill out this Google Form to express your interest and receive information and updates (note that this is the same link as the "Let us know you're interested" link above). Let us know as well if you might need financial assistance to attend. 

Francophone Northwest History Conference Participation Form


If you prefer to correspond by postal mail, we can be reached at: 

Francophone Northwest History Conference

℅ Sarah Hurlburt

Whitman College

345 Boyer Ave

Walla Walla, WA 99362

You can also leave a message at (509)-527-5202

Find us on Facebook:


Our Team

When you email you might hear from any one of our team working on the Francophone Northwest History Conference. We look forward to getting to know you!

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Sarah Hurlburt teaches French at Whitman College and serves as the secretary of the Frenchtown Historical Foundation. She is a member of the SSHRC Partnership project, Three Centuries of Francophone Migrations in North America (1640-1940)

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Jonathan Falk is a senior at Whitman College, majoring in French and History.

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Madeline Kemp is a junior majoring in Anthropology, with a focus on migration studies.



Project Supervisor