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

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Victoria Settlement

Reverend George McDougallIn 1855, Reverends Henry Steinhauer, and Thomas Woolsey, both newly ordained, set about establishing their own missions. Reverend Steinhauer was an Ojibwa from Lake Simcoe, and after a few rather unsuccessful years at Lac La Biche, choose a site at Whitefish Lake where he started his mission in 1857. Reverend Woolsey first worked out of Fort Edmonton, and then attempted to revive the Woodville Mission, at Pidgeon Lake. Eventually, in 1860, he established a mission just north of Smoking Lake, on what came to be known as Mission Hill, a location he soon found unsuccessful.

In 1862, Reverend George McDougall convinced Woolsey to move the mission south to the river and named the site Victoria Settlement. McDougall left his 19 year old son John at the mission with Woolsey and continued on a tour of Methodist missions. John McDougall and Woolsey were expected to begin work on building the mission. George returned east, and the next year returned to the mission site with his wife and five of his children to find that the house had not yet been completed. After spending a winter in a buffalo-skin tent, the family built a small cabin followed by a large eight-room house. The cabin was subsequently converted into a schoolhouse. The nine students who attended the school included the McDougall and Steinhauer children. By 1862, the two families had twelve offspring.

Fort Victoria, the fur trade post, was established by W. J. Christie, Chief Factor at Fort Edmonton in the summer of 1864. When he reported to the Officer in Charge at Fort Garry, he said that opposition from free traders had prompted his decision and he had already secured a large quantity of furs from the natives. The Mission and Fort became the nucleus for a Métis community whose river lots extended six miles along the bank of the North Saskatchewan River.

The officers in the HBC post, and their families, played an essential role in the community. George Flett was the clerk in charge for the first two years. He and his family contributed to the area’s first Christmas celebration held by the McDougall family. After Flett’s term, Philip Tait took over and his daughter travelled with the McDougalls when they took their daughters back to the East for school. Tait was in charge of the post from 1866 until 1872.

It was while Tait was in charge that the settlement endured the terrible smallpox epidemic of 1870. Three of the McDougall daughters died, as well as John McDougall’s first wife, and the eldest daughter of the Steinhauer family. In total, 55 members of the community perished in the epidemic.

Other clerks who worked at Fort Victoria included John Bunn, Charles Adams, Joseph Favell, William Brereton, John Sinclair, Francis D. Wilson, Charles Garson, and George Kennedy. Many of these clerks were third and fourth generation HBC people and Métis.

The children of Victoria settlement became part of the Aboriginal population of northeast Alberta. The mission and the fort became a nucleus for a community whose 27 river lots extended several kilometres along the bank of the river. Although Aboriginal peoples came to the area to trade pelts, hides, and buffalo meat for axes and staple goods, many chose not stay and settle.

In 1918, the railway bypassed Victoria Settlement and came through Smoky Lake, a town just north of the settlement. Over the next few years the settlement disappeared and people moved north to be part of Smoky Lake.

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Liens Rapides

Enduring Interest: the Settlement that Wouldn’t Die

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