Historically there have been many communities of mixed Native and white people in North America. Places like Sault Ste Marie, Milwaukee and Chicago were originally informal biracial communities. "It was in Manitoba that the Metis became conspicuous in Canadian history" (Brown, Can. Encyc.). Perhaps for this reason it is often assumed Metis in Alberta are descended from those who moved west from Manitoba.
In 1981 there were an estimated 27,100 Metis in Alberta (Palmer, p.366). Many are descended from the Red River Metis who came west to make a living in south-central Alberta. However, the sizeable Metis population of southern Alberta in the 1880s "has virtually disappeared through migration and loss of ethnic identity as a result of intermarriage with Euro-Canadian immigrants" (Nicks and Morgan, p. 175).
The Metis Association of Alberta estimates the Metis population here was 75.000 in 1981 but that only ten of eighty-four local Metis organizations are to be found south of Edmonton. In fact, Nicks and Morgan contend that Metis migrations from Red River do not account for the many Metis who evolved here, especially in northern Alberta.
"The Red River immigrants recognized in recent northern Alberta Metis populations represent later nineteenth-century migrations as new missions were established and independent trading companies moved in to compete with the Hudson's Bay Company. These immigrants were an overlay to the Metis populations which had been established in the early part of the century" (Nicks and Morgan, p. 174-75).
For example, Grande Cache area Metis came into existence at an earlier time. "As an extant Alberta Metis population which developed independently of Red River, Grande Cache may prove to be a typical rather than an exceptional case . . . it appears that other Metis communities across northern Alberta have had origins equally separate from Red River" (Nicks and Morgan, p. 173).
The number of Metis in northern Alberta communities is reflected in the fact that "by 1900 the Metis population of the Upper Peace River was almost equal to the Indian population, primarily because the Metis population was less susceptible to disease" (Francis and Payne, p. 124).