Buffalo Lake and Tail Creek
Tail Creek Town was the centre of the largest Métis settlement in the
North West Territories. People gathered from as far away as Winnipeg for
the sole purpose of the buffalo hunt. There were approximately 400
houses and 2,000 people in the settlement at its peak. Unfortunately,
when the buffalo disappeared, so did the settlement, leaving only a few
Métis families and the cemetery on the banks of the Tail Creek. The
Métis in the West had begun by congregating around the fur trading
posts, but soon after, the missionaries helped set up settlements away
from the trade. Though the missionaries envisioned these settlements as
permanent homes for the "wandering" Métis, the Métis wished to follow
their traditional life, moving from place to place in response to the
life cycles of the various foods they harvested. Part of this
complicated yearly cycle was going out in the summer and in the winter
to hunt the buffalo.
The Métis began to gather in the Buffalo Lake area when they found
they had to travel far away from home to find buffalo. The area
functioned as a place where hunters could process meat before it began
to decay, or rest and re-group before the trip back to the settlement.
The Tail Creek area was used to provide food; hides for harnesses and
saddles; tents; clothing and moccasins for the hunters and their
families; and fresh and frozen meat and hides for the Hudson’s Bay
Company (HBC) post at Fort Edmonton.
There is evidence that hunters from the east began to stay inland in
the 1860s. Norbert Welsh talked of staying at Round Plain, east of the
mouth of the Red Deer River, beginning in 1865. He received a warning
from a chief in 1870, saying that he expected to be paid a bounty on
each buffalo they killed.
In the same time period, Peter Erasmus, living in Whitefish Lake,
told of group buffalo hunts, where hunters from Whitefish, Victoria, St.
Albert and Lac Ste Anne gathered to hunt together south of Fort Edmonton
towards the Battle River country. During a particular hunt in the autumn
of 1867, only small herds of buffalo were encountered. As a result,
people started to have to move longer distances to look for buffalo in
the 1860s. The Aboriginal peoples began to encounter food shortages.
It was during this period that hunters began to use the Buffalo Lake
area as a refuge when they were caught too far away from home. The
Aboriginal peoples certainly knew the area as one where buffalo could be
found when they were not on the open plains as there are shallow lakes
on the west side of the lake. In summer, there would have been green
grass when the prairies were bone dry, and the same tall grasses and
reeds would have provided rich winter graze as well. There were legends
that the vanished buffalo had gone into the Lake.
Winter settlement became a regular event from 1870 on. The hunters
and their families would pack up and leave their settlements in late
fall and travel down into the prairies, likely looking for buffalo as
they travelled. When they reached Buffalo Lake, families would repair
the previous year’s dwelling, or build a new one if necessary.
The dwellings were exceptionally tight one-room log buildings, with
dove-tailed corners, plastered and whitewashed inside. Evidence from
Jasper and Fort Vermilion Heritage Site clearly show this type of
construction, while HBC buildings show the Red River post and beam stack
The People of Tail Creek
Victoria Callihoo (1861-1966)
Other Sites around Buffalo Lake