Although 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)."
The 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.