In 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
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
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
Enduring Interest: the
Settlement that Wouldn’t Die