Lesser Slave Lake
Now a community northwest of Edmonton, the area surrounding Lesser
Slave Lake was developed throughout the fur trade. While Slave Lake
exists as a town today, it is a relatively recent development; during
fur trade days, there was not a particular site that served as a base
for the community. There is however, the lake, named Lesser Slave Lake
to differentiate it from Great Slave Lake in the North West Territories.
The history of the fur trade and the Métis people around the lake owe a
lot to the bush country, the taiga, in which the lake is set.
The earliest history of the fur trade in the Lesser Slave Lake
district combines excessive fur trade company rivalry (between the North
West Company, XY Company, and Hudson’s Bay Company); frequent movements
of the posts themselves, sometimes because of complete changes to the
routes into the area; and some of the earliest mentions of "freemen" in
Both the frequent relocations of the posts and the changes of fur
trade routes reflect the difficulties of life in the boreal forest.
Alexander McKenzie was the first white man known to gain knowledge of
the lake in 1792-93, while he wintered at the Fort at the Forks of Peace
River. McKenzie entered the area from the east, via Ile a la Crosse.
David Thompson, the first white man to reach the lake, made his journey
from Edmonton, via the Pembina and Athabasca rivers, in the spring of
1799. Their two journeys reflect both the possibilities and difficulties
of travel in a region with many rivers, lakes and streams. Though there
were many ways to gain access to the area, none of them were easy.
The First Nations in the area, the Beaver and the Cree, followed a
lifestyle that included cooperation with the fur trade. It has been
suggested that the Cree were only in the area at the prompting of the
fur traders of Fort George (The Cree who were trading in Lesser Slave
Lake had come in from Green Lake area in Saskatchewan) and while the
area was rich in furs, it had a lower carrying capacity, and resources
for sustaining human life became scarce. Both the unsettled life of the
First Nations, roving over a large area around the lake, and the
movements of the fur trade posts reflect the challenges of the time.
Community and Society
The Municipal District of Lesser Slave Lake
Fur Trade History and Competition