"Such men as J. H. Picard have indeed been the makers of History in Alberta." That was the way his eulogy began in the Edmonton Journal at the time of his death in May, 1934.
Joseph Henri Picard was born in Saint-Jean de Matha, 50 miles north of Montreal, in 1857. He received his education in his parish and at an early age, apprenticed as a carpenter. Things were not moving fast enough in the East for this adventurous young man and, in 1884, he started for the West. His first stop was at Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan. For the next three years he was involved in several construction projects between Regina and Calgary.
It was in Calgary that he met the pioneer missionary, Father Lacombe, who encouraged him and supplied him with all the necessary information to make the trip to the village of Edmonton, which he finally reached on the 14th of July 1887.
Shortly after his arrival he went into partnership with Mr. S. Larue, opening a store on Jasper Avenue, just east of the MacDonald Hotel, and setting up a trading post at Grouard on the west shore of Lesser Slave Lake. This business lasted until 1907, when they made a switch to real estate.
Mr. Picard soon became active in his community. He was elected to the first village council, the first town council and the first city council of Edmonton. He served in this capacity, without interruption, from 1893 to 1907, and later again between 1914 and 1917.
At the same time he had taken a great interest in education, acting as chairman of the newly-formed St. Joachim Catholic School District in 1898. He served on this board until 1912, when the St. Joachim, the St. Anthony and the North Edmonton School districts all united to form the Edmonton Catholic School System. He was the first chairman of this amalgamated board, a position which he held for 9 of his 12 years with the board.
Mr. Picard had many other interests. He was for many years, a member of the executive committee of the Board of Trade, a member of the Catholic Mutual Benefit Association and the Edmonton Exhibition Board and a charter member of the Edmonton Club. He also took an active part in the operations of "La Société Saint Jean Baptiste", l'Alliance Française" and the "Société du Parler Français".
He was an unpretentious, self-motivated man with strong convictions and high principles - calm, ever courteous and honourable. These were some of the characteristics, which made J. H. Picard one of the most influential and best-esteemed men of the young province.
Through this influence and "behind the scenes" committee work, he was, in a way, instrumental in helping the Alberta government see the need of protecting minority groups in the province's original School Act. That is why today, we have the J. H. Picard School, the first bilingual school in Western Canada, built with public funds.