South Branch Communities
It is believed by some that the largest settlement of the Métis, in
terms of density in an area where the people had established a permanent
organized settlement, was on the south branch of the Saskatchewan River
in northern Saskatchewan, south of Prince Albert.
One version of the story of these communities is that everyone who
lived there, moved from Red River after 1870, to take up land away from
the harassment of the Ontario Orangemen in Manitoba. They may also have
been influenced by the increasing scarcity of buffalo in the Red River
vicinity. However, their primary goal was to establish a settled
community where they could follow the lifestyle they had developed.
Métis fleeing Manitoba after the 1869-70 Resistance largely settled
in Batoche, St. Louis, St. Laurent, and Duck Lake. Batoche, Saskatchewan
is named after Métis trader and businessman François Xavior Letendré dit
Batoche. It is located where the Red River Cart trail to Fort Carlton
and Edmonton crosses the South Saskatchewan River. Batoche operated a
river ferry, a store and a forge beside his house, as shown in this map
of the area.
In the same way that the service career of Father Lacombe mirrors the
development of the Métis communities around Edmonton, so, in
Saskatchewan, the career of Father Alexis André coincided with the
growth of the South Branch communities. After serving for a short time
in St. Boniface, St. Joseph at Pembina, St. Charles, Manitoba, he was
given charge of St. Albert north of Edmonton with a responsibility for
St-Paul-de-Cris across the river from Brosseau, Alberta. The mission of
St. Joseph at Carlton House (near Batoche) was attached to
St-Paul-des-Cris in 1868. André frequently visited Carlton House where
he aroused a more Christian spirit among the Métis. In 1871, he decided
to found a separate mission among a group of Métis who wished to settle
near the trading-post.
The people established themselves in long river lots, as they had in
Manitoba and before that, in Quebec. They established businesses and
welcomed Father André’s assistance in creating parishes. They were
seeking to establish a region of communities, in the old way.
The following year Father André established a residence at nearby St.
Laurent (St-Laurent-Grandin). His project met with the approval of
Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, who visited the site in the spring of 1873.
In 1876, André celebrated the first mass in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
That year, he began construction of a chapel at Duck Lake, after which
he went on to Battleford. At Sandy Lake, which had a substantial Cree
population, he established the mission of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
In 1879, he founded the mission of St. George in Prince Albert.
André thus spent most of his sacerdotal career ministering to the
scattered Métis populations of the West, and he occasionally acted as
their spokesman to government authorities. Under his guidance, the Métis
of St. Laurent formed a provisional government for themselves on 10
December 1873. Their intention was to establish laws and regulations
governing the hunt, the protection of property and individuals, the
observance of the Sabbath, and other matters. A president, Gabriel
Dumont, and eight councillors were elected for a one-year term.
Father André frequently followed the First Nations and Métis on their
bison hunts, including one of the last, in 1878. Three years earlier he
and North West Mounted Police commissioner George Arthur French had
urged the federal government to exercise tighter control over these
hunts so as to prevent the extinction of the bison.
While Father André was building up the missions, the Métis of South
Branch were building their communities. Father André may have believed
he was leading, but the Métis chose their own government, and maintained
it from year to year. However, Father André’s was called to assist in
drafting petitions to the Canadian government.
In June 1881, André presented a petition to Lieutenant Governor David
Laird and the Council of the North West Territories, setting forth
problems connected with the registration of Métis land claims. Two years
later, he presented another petition decrying the two different methods
of survey used in the northwest: Prince Albert had been laid out
according to the Métis tradition in long strips with a narrow river
frontage and St. Laurent was parcelled into square townships that the
Métis refused to recognize.
The federal government chose not to respond to the petitions. The
whole North West Territories was in turmoil, but it was the people of
the South Branch who mounted an armed insurrection.
Fort Chipewyan and Fort
Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus
Fort George and Buckingham House
Lesser Slave Lake
Buffalo Lake and Tail Creek
Red Deer Forks
South Branch Communities
St. Paul de Métis
Lac La Biche
Lac Ste. Anne