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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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Missions

The establishment of missions by the Catholic, Methodist and Anglican churches was significant in the formation of Métis communities in Alberta. These communities facilitated the transition of the Métis people from the buffalo economy to one that incorporated more agrarian activities.

The first missions in Canada were established to introduce Christianity to the Aboriginal peoples. As early as 1634, the Jesuits established missions among the peoples of the Lake Huron region. Failing to convert the Iroquois, the missionaries persisted west, and in 1665, Father Allouez reached Lake Superior, and landed at the great village of the Chippewas. Upon learning from the Aboriginal peoples of the existence of a great river to the West, two missionaries, Marquette and Joliet, set out on a discovery mission from Green Bay. The two reached the river on 17 June 1673, and travelled the waterway as far as the mouth at Arkansas.

St. Boniface CathedralOn 1 November 1818, Father Joseph-Norbert Provencher built a small log chapel on the east bank of the Red River opposite the Forks, and dedicated it to Saint Boniface. St. Boniface became the first permanent mission west of the Great Lakes and served the growing population of the Red River Settlement. The mission at St. Boniface was the first mission established for the Métis people.

In 1840, Robert Rundle was appointed by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) to be the company chaplain at Fort Edmonton. During his first years at the fort, Rundle performed the majority of his duties inside the post; he offered worship services, baptisms and marriages for the fort inhabitants and some of the visiting Aboriginal people. To accommodate his work, a chapel that could hold up to 100 people was constructed in 1843. By that time, however, Rundle had shifted his focus and efforts to the Plains Cree people. He began a mission for the Cree at Pigeon Lake in an effort to assist their transition to an agrarian lifestyle. He retired in 1848.

Father Jean Baptiste Thibeault, who arrived in the West in 1842, was happily received by the Catholic fur traders and French Catholic fur trade servants. He began the mission at La Ste Anne in 1843. By the time the next Methodist missionary, Thomas Woolsey, arrived in 1855, he found little room for a Methodist ministry in Fort Edmonton. Consequently, Woolsey reopened the mission post established by Rundle years earlier at Pigeon Lake. In 1852, Father Lacombe came to serve Aboriginal peoples in the Fort Edmonton area. In due course, he either founded or ministered at the Alberta missions of Lac Ste Anne, St Albert (1861) and St-Paul-des-Cris (Brosseau) 1865. St-Paul-de-Cris was designed to be a model farm community to train the Cree in the agricultural life. The 1870s were difficult years in the region. After a series of crop failures and a devastating smallpox epidemic Lacombe recognized that the target group had not developed a sufficient interest in agriculture and closed the mission in 1874.

The mission at Lac La Biche was officially established in 1853. The Oblate Missionaries, the Grey Nuns, and the Daughters of Jesus built this mission to be the centre of colonization for the populations of Northern Alberta, and ultimately, Western Canada. Missionaries were also involved in the development of Lesser Slave Lake, Fort Chipewyan, Dunvegan, and other northern communities. In January 1896, following the recommendation of Father Lacombe and an earlier request for a land grant presented to Ottawa, Bishop Grandin appointed Father Adeodat Thèrien 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. Father Lacombe and Father Thèrien attracted the Métis to the settlement with the promise of land and Catholic schooling for their children.

The Victoria Methodist Mission was begun in 1862 on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River (15 kilometres south of present-day Smoky Lake, Alberta) where a small population of Aboriginal people lived. The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) joined the community in 1864 and people venturing west from Red River found a place to homestead. By the turn of the 20th century, the site was a thriving community of Aboriginal people and immigrants.

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Original Métis Communities

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