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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
Buffalo Lake and Tail Creek

Buffalo LakeTail 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.

Metis House, Henri JulienIt 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.

Metis House, Henri JulienWinter 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 wall method.

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Liens Rapides

The People of Tail Creek

Victoria Callihoo (1861-1966)

Historic Sites

Other Sites around Buffalo Lake

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