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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
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Francophone Edukit

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An early sawmillAlthough it was David Thompson who first visited the region in the late 18th century, the beginnings of Lac La Biche can be traced back to Oblate Jean-Baptiste Thibeault in 1844, when he came to the lake to perform religious services for the Aboriginal population. The area was used for generations by Aboriginals to restock their winter supplies of fish, and Thibeault and Reverend Joseph Bourassa made regular visits until 1852, when Bishop Taché and Father Lacombe came to see if the conditions were favourable for a new mission.

In the spring of 1853, Father Rémas, who was en route to Lac-Sainte-Anne, was redirected to Lac La Biche. Progress was slow, but with Father Lacombe’s help and winter hospitality at Lac-Sainte-Anne, Rémas managed to build a home at Lac La Biche. The following year Bishop Taché made a tour of the Western sees and consecrated the Lac La Biche mission as "Notre Dames des Victoires" (Our Lady of Victories)."

A survey teamThe mission progressed much like other Franco-Albertan missions, labouring through hardship and led by the persistence of the religious orders. The first houses that were not built by the Oblates were put up in 1857. The Gray Nuns (Sisters of Charity of Montreal) joined the settlement in 1860. The first mill was built just over one kilometre from the mission on a stretch of water in 1863, and everything was overseen and encouraged by the many Oblates who had ministered in the region at one time or another.

As the population grew, Lac La Biche became of exceptional importance to the Oblates as a religious centre and a warehouse for the storage of supplies for all the Northern missions was constructed. In 1898, the Gray Nuns left Lac La Biche but were replaced in 1904 by the Daughters of Jesus, who opened a convent and school. The railroad arrived in 1910, and in response Reverend Émile J. Legal wrote "a new era of prosperity seems to be still in store for the county of Lac La Biche."

Today, Lac La Biche is a town of close to 3,000 people serving a regional population of 10,000. Popular for fishing, camping, and bird watching, the town supports healthy forestry, logging, oil, and tourism industries. The town’s culture is explored and celebrated through the local Portage College, the Lakeland Interpretive Center and Regional Leisure complex, as well as the annual Pow Wow Days festival, occurring in August.


  • Legal, Émile J. Short Sketches of the History of the Catholic Churches and Missions in Central Alberta. Winnipeg: West Canada Publishing Co. Ltd., 1914.

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