Sisters of the Assumption of Holy Mary
The Sisters of the Assumption of Holy Mary came to the Canadian West at the request of Bishop Vital Grandin of the diocese of St. Albert to take charge of the Aboriginal mission of Onion Lake, Saskatchewan.1 This religious congregation was no stranger to the Western Canadian missions since their founder, the abbé Jean Harper had accompanied Bishop Provencher on his missions in the Red River colony from 1822 to 1831.
The congregation of the Sisters of the Assumption was established in 1853, and had expanded into several dioceses in Quebec when the Sisters accepted to send some of its members to the West. After several years at Onion Lake, the nearby community of Battleford asked for some teaching sisters, and in 1899, at Father Albert Lacombe’s request, the Sisters came to Saint-Paul-des-Métis to teach to the children of the community and run the boarding school which was in the process of being built.
As there was no railroad link to the colony, the Sisters were obliged to float downstream on the North Saskatchewan River with their baggage and supplies. It was a two-day trip, after which they descended at Saddle Lake and were driven to the colony on the terrible roads of the time. The school building was not yet completed when the Sisters arrived, but they were met with 90 students. It was 1903 before the school could be occupied. Unfortunately, on 10 January 1905, an act of arson by some children set fire to the boarding school and it burned to the ground; the nine nuns escaped with the children, except for one girl who dashed back to retrieve her shawl and died in the fire.
The community of Saint-Paul-des-Métis was struggling before the fire, and was totally discouraged afterward. Both the clergy and the Métis accepted the disbandment of the colony. As French-Canadian settlers moved into the former colony, taking quarter sections from the four townships which were then available, the Sisters decided to remain, becoming teachers to the children of the new settlers in the community of St. Paul.
(1) Alice Mignault, Cent ans d’Espérance, les Soeurs de l’Assomption de la Sainte Vierge dans l’Ouest canadien, 1891-1991, Éditions S.A.S.V., Nicolet, 1991.
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