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Missionaries in Alberta (continued)


John McDougallAs the fur trade had 50 years earlier, missionary activity spread north and westwards, and other Christian churches, particularly the Methodists (or Wesleyans), also joined the field. In 1840, Robert Rundle of the Methodist Church, established a mission at Fort Edmonton to serve as a base for his itinerant ministry. Although based in Fort Edmonton, Rundle ranged far and wide through much of what would become Alberta. Through his travels he also helped to establish a new mission at Pigeon Lake in 1848. Later Methodist missions would be established at Whitefish Lake, Victoria Settlement and other locations in 185os and 60s. In 1873 the prominent missionary family, the McDougalls, expanded Methodist missionary efforts to the south, when they began the Morley mission among the Stoneys.

In 1842, shortly after Rundle's arrival, Father Thibeault also began a mission at Fort Edmonton. He was encouraged by John Rowand, the officer in charge of the fort and himself a Catholic, who was looking for a Roman Catholic priest to minister to the Métis and other Catholic residents of the fort. Father Thibeault established the first real mission in what would become Alberta. He later started another mission at Lac Ste. Anne, which in turn led to the founding of the St. Albert mission in 1861 by Father Lacombe. The Roman Catholic Church also established Altar at Dunvegan important missions throughout the north, including Fort Chipewyan in 1847, Lac La Biche in 1853 and Dunvegan in 1867. Catholic priests also undertook missions among First nations and Métis in southern and central Alberta. For example, priests traveled with Métis buffalo hunters and conducted services at their wintering camps such as Buffalo Lake in the 1870s. More formal missions were established among First Nations, especially after the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877 and the creation of reserves.

The Anglicans were somewhat less active in Alberta than either the Methodists or the Roman Catholics, concentrating their main efforts in other areas, until the 1870s. For example, the first Anglican missionary in Edmonton, William Newton, did not arrive until 1875. Newton used Edmonton as a base for a ministry that stretched from Red Deer to Saddle Lake and which included many of the early settlements in thePeace River Edmonton area. Anglicans also established a number of missions in southern Alberta among the members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and in northern Alberta at several sites on the Peace River, such as Dunvegan, Peace River (the Shaftesbury Settlement) and Fort Vermilion. The Anglicans also had a mission at Fort Chipewyan.

Many mission sites across Alberta have been designated as national and provincial historic sites, reflecting a strong and continuing interest in this aspect of our history. Not everyone, however, sees missionary activity, particularly missionary work among First Nations people, as a completely benevolent process. Many Aboriginal people are now trying to reclaim and revitalize their cultures, including their traditional beliefs. For some, the actions of Christian churches in the 19th and early 20th centuries were an important part of the erosion of traditional cultures. What most can agree on is that the history of missionary activity in Western Canada is a complex - and often very personal - subject.

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