St. Paul-des-Cris and St. Paul-des-Métis
St. Paul owes its existence in many ways to the work of Oblate missionaries and the adventurous homesteaders who first settled the Western frontier. The colony was established for desitute Métis and they were the first who called St-Paul-des-Métis home. By the 1890s, Father Albert Lacombe had not forgotten his dream of teaching agricultural techniques to the Aboriginal People, as he had wished to do at the St-Paul-des-Cris mission, founded in 1865 on the North Saskatchewan River where Brosseau is today. The local Cree populations had not adopted the agricultural lifestyle promoted by the clergy and, with the consistent failure of crops, there was an apparent lack of enthusiasm for farming on the part of the community. After a devastating smallpox epidemic that decimated the colony's Cree population, it was decided to close the mission in 1874.
The name St. Paul was transferred to a new mission. In January 1896, following the recommendation of Father Lacombe and an earlier request for a land grant presented to Ottawa in 1895, Bishop Grandin appointed Father Adéodat Thérien as the spiritual caretaker of a colony for the Métis population. The Church was granted a 21-year lease by the Federal cabinet, and the colony was known as St-Paul-des-Métis until 1913. Fathers Lacombe and Thérien attracted the Métis to the settlement with the promise of land (lots of 80 acres) and Catholic schooling for their children.
In the early days of the colony’s existence, some building materials were supplied by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Father Thérien engaged in activities, such as breaking land, that were meant to prepare the mission’s Métis residents for an agrarian existence. By 1897, a school had been erected, and the town’s sawmill provided employment for many of the town’s Métis residents. Thirty-two families called St-Paul-des-Métis home by 1898, and that number would grow to over eighty by 1904. Still, the colony was not as successful as the ambitious Oblates had hoped. There was a general lack of funds, and most importantly, no access to a market, so many of the first Métis to arrive later abandoned St. Paul to return to a more semi-nomadic existence.
The low number of Métis families who had taken up residence in St-Paul-des-Métis was worrying to its parish priest and manager, Adéodat Thérien. In 1908, Thérien aggressively pushed the government to allow settlement by French-Canadians on the reserve, and a new era in the town’s history began when it was officially opened to outside immigrants in 1909. Potential homesteaders lined up at the Dominion Government Land Office to stake their claim on surrounding land. The Métis who chose to remain received title to the original 80-acre lots they had taken up upon arrival and could have an additional 80 acres bringing their property to par with that of the homesteaders. In 1936, the town’s name was shortened to St. Paul, and residents saw the continued addition of modern amenities, such as banks and schools as well as services such as power and natural gas. In just three decades, St. Paul had blossomed from a small utopian colony into an officially recognized town.
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