Alberta's Provincial Historic Sites, Interpretive Centres and Museums
Father Lacombe Chapel

The Métis

The [Métis] are fearless and indefatigable "voyageurs." They also possess, to a great extent, the very precious sense of guiding themselves through forests and prairies without any other compass than their natural instincts… They are very intelligent and quick to learn… They are generous to the verge of prodigality, and they willingly deprive themselves of necessaries to help others… Their hospitality is everywhere proverbial.

Quote- Father Lacombe, commenting on the Métis

The history of early western Canada was decisively shaped by the Métis, a distinct cultural community arising from the union of Euro-Canadian fur traders and First Nations women. The Métis born of francophone fathers spoke French and often Cree, were staunchly Roman Catholic, and their semi-nomadic social and economic lifeways were forged through the demands of the fur trade. Not only did the Métis provide the manpower to obtain and trade furs; they were also the primary provisioners of the trade, producing the tonnes of pemmican – a mix of buffalo meat and berries – necessary to fuel the trade. The foundation of Métis society was the buffalo hunt, a rigidly organized campaign which not only provided vital resources for sustenance and trade, but also reinforced communal identity, forms of social governance, and an ethos of liberty, daring, and courage. Between the 1810s and the 1860s, some Métis left Red River and established settlements through the North-West, among them the community which gathered at the Lac Ste. Anne mission and the settlement which developed at Big Lake, just west of St. Albert.

The earliest settlers in St. Albert were largely comprised of Métis from Lac Ste. Anne who followed Father Lacombe to the new mission after its founding in 1861. The St. Albert Métis constructed the first buildings in St. Albert, and their work as hunters, freighters, guides, and general labourers were indispensable to the mission's early development. During the early history of St. Albert, the Métis continued to live a semi-nomadic lifestyle. They practiced agriculture, but continued to participate in buffalo hunts. The settlement would be largely deserted during the hunt, as Métis hunters and their families made their way out onto the plains, accompanied by at least one priest. As buffalo populations dwindled, the St. Albert Métis focused more and more on adopting an agricultural lifestyle. By 1871, St. Albert contained one of the largest Métis populations of any settlement in western Canada. As the offspring of Euro-Canadians and First Nations, agriculturalists and buffalo hunters, the Métis straddled the divide between cultures and bridged the historical divide between the fur trade and settlement periods in western Canada.

Last reviewed/revised: March 18, 2016
Red River Cart

Red River Cart.
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A1321

Oblate farm

Oblate farm, harvesting, before 1900.
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB34245

Olivier Bellerose

Olivier Bellerose, one of St. Albert's pioneering Métis settlers.
Photo: Musée Héritage Museum, St. Albert Historical Society Fonds, P975.39