Thompson, who was working for the North West Company, established the
first fur trade post at Lac La Biche in 1798. A rival
Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) post was built
in 1799. Until 1823 a number of posts were built and abandoned at Lac La Biche. While the location never became a great fur trading centre, it
suited a number of Métis, who formed a permanent settlement. The Catholic
missionary Jean-Baptiste Thibault was invited to visit the community and
in 1844 found around 40 resident families.
This community of free traders had also attracted the attention of the
HBC who erected a new fur trade post in 1853, to curb the free trade.
Sinclair, the Aboriginal lay missionary from the mission at Pigeon
Lake, established a Methodist mission at Lac La Biche in 1851. He was
joined in 1855 by Henry Bird
Steinhauer. Together they established a regular school program and
planted a garden. However, most Métis people were part of the Roman
Catholic tradition. They invited the Roman Catholic Church to establish a
mission. Father Rémas was sent to fulfill that task and the mission,
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, was built the same year. In time the mission was
moved to a more accessible location and rebuilt by Fathers Tissot and
The Oblate mission tried hard to be self-sufficient. A number of
mission farms were maintained. Which supplied food to the mission and
encouraged agricultural development on the part of the Métis and First
Nation groups in the area. By the early 1860s the mission produced a
surplus that could be donated as the missionaries saw fit.
As early as 1856 Tissot and Maissoneuve started a residential school.
This effort failed but construction of a convent was begun not long after.
By 1862 the convent was occupied by three Grey Nuns. By 1864 the Sisters
had 53 pupils although attendance fluctuated rapidly and would diminish.
They also established an orphanage at the Mission.
The mission was in a prime location
to take advantage of transportation
opportunities that were arising. The Lac La Biche Mission was to become
the supply house for all the Artic missions. Developments continued at the
Mission itself, a residence for the Bishop was built by 1875, a new frame
church by 1879, and a printing press was also operating by the late 1870s.
All these developments were dependent on Lac La Biche remaining the depot
for the northern missions.
New transportation innovations such as the steamboats and the arrival
of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883 cut into the volume of traffic at
Lac La Biche. The last barges from the Mission headed north in 1889. At
the same time the community was being depopulated. The reserve system
being enforced by the Canadian government removed many of the students
from the mission's schools. The loss of employment caused many families to
relocate to Athabasca Landing.
With the demise of the transportation system the mission turned its
focus to education. In 1893 a First Nation Industrial school was built.
This school was moved to the saddle Lake Reserve in 1898. The convent and
residential school were reopened in 1905, becoming increasingly important
as the years progressed. As late as 1960 the school had 22 residential
charges aside from day students. The school was closed in 1963 because of
the unsafe state of the building.