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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
The Mission at Lac La Biche

Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault 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 Circle.

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 thrive.

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Liens Rapides

The Mission at Lac La Biche

The Saskatchewan Riel Rebellion impacts Lac La Biche


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