The Mission at Lac La Biche
In 1844, Joseph Cardinal, a retired North West Company voyageur,
invited Father J. B. Thibault, a secular priest, to visit Lac La Biche.
Father Thibault, who journeyed on foot to Lac La Biche from Cold Lake
with Cardinal, found some 15 families awaiting him.
In 1852, a large number of Métis and First Nations families awaited
the arrival of Father Albert Lacombe on the shores of Lac La Biche.
Alexis Cardinal, a retired Hudson’s Bay Company voyageur, agreed to act
as his guide and interpreter. Cardinal served Lacombe the rest of his
life. Father Lacombe bestowed name "Notre-Dame des Victoires" on the
proposed mission and Father Remas began work on it in 1853. He was later
assisted by Fathers A. Maisonneuve, and J. Tissot. By 1856, the small
mission community was in place.
Bishop A. Taché paid a visit and declared that the community would
become "The Warehouse of the North", that is, a very important part of
the territory. The mission continued to grow and established itself as
an essential part of the community. The missionaries assisted the Métis
in beginning to garden, with the first crops harvested in 1856, and to
farm, with the first wheat harvested in 1857.
In 1856, a road was cut to join Lac La Biche to the Carlton Trail, so
there was a direct trail to St. Boniface from the mission. This route
improved communications with the outside world significantly.
Work continued on the mission and by 1858, a wood and stone residence
for the sisters had been begun, as well as the Bishop’s palace, and a
rectory for the priests and brothers. Three Grey Nuns arrived in 1862,
and took charge of the chapel on the ground floor of their residence,
the sacristy, wardrobe, kitchen, and a school. The men of the mission no
doubt rejoiced at the help.
Meanwhile, the development of the farm continued. By 1863, commercial
quantities of grain were harvested at the mission and shipped to the
northern missions. The northern missions had previously received their
grain from St. Boniface by cart train, half a continent away.
The community and the mission became a key component in a new
transportation system, after one of the local Métis, Louison Fosseneuve,
demonstrated that the Athabasca River could be travelled by boat. Trails
were cut into Lac La Biche from Fort Edmonton and Red River carts moved
goods from St. Paul through Lac La Biche and eventually down the
Athabasca River by barge. The Methy portage route soon fell out of
favour. Goods were moved overland from St. Boniface to Lac La Biche, and
by water to Fort Good Hope on the Mackenzie River, near the Artic
By 1870, when Lieutenant Butler toured the West on behalf of the
Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, he reported that Lac La Biche was a
French half-breed, Roman Catholic mission. He noted a large farm
attached to the mission with a water grist mill and very good soil,
abundant timber, excellent fishing.1
In 1880, the 300 Métis who lived around Lac La Biche "were descended,
mainly through marriage between `relatives and in-laws,' from the
Cardinal and Desjarlais families.
Both the community of Lac La Biche and the mission continued to
The Mission at Lac La Biche
The Saskatchewan Riel Rebellion
impacts Lac La Biche