The New “Victoria” Mission
During the summer of 1862 George and John McDougall visited Reverend Woolsey’s struggling outpost at Smoking Lake and convinced him to relocate 30 miles south to the North Saskatchewan River.
The new mission was named “Victoria” in honour of the British monarch. The following summer, the McDougall family, including George’s wife Elizabeth (Chantler) and six children, travelled by a Hudson’s Bay Company York boat to their new home. They lived in a “buffalo-skin lodge” until a simple one-room log cabin was built followed by stables, outbuildings, a garden plot, a small church, and a new house. The original log cabin became a school house. By 1864 the mission was surrounded by a palisade and featured an eight-room house. The following year a combined school house and church was completed and the mission attracted a permanent settlement of 150 Red River Mixed-bloods, who combined agriculture with the traditional buffalo hunt.
Victoria Settlement was devastated by a smallpox epidemic in 1870. Three of the McDougall’s children, Flora, Georgiana and adopted daughter Anna, perished along with 50 indigenous people and Mixed-blood settlers. John’s wife, Abigail (Steinhauer), died the following year. George and his wife left Victoria in 1871 for Edmonton, the capital of the Methodist missionary district and a growing trading centre. John relocated further south to Morley where he devoted himself to the Stoneys. After the departure of the McDougalls, Victoria mission was served by numerous Methodist Missionaries on an increasingly part-time basis.
In spite of economic uncertainties, the education of the children of Victoria settlement was not neglected. In 1864, the McDougalls established the first Protestant school in what would become Alberta with James Conner of Red River appointed as teacher. His nine pupils included the McDougall children, the Steinhauer children from White Fish Lake and some orphaned indigenous children. The arrival of the Mixed-bloods from Red River reinforced schooling at Victoria, although classes were irregular. Attendance was affected by the buffalo hunt and the schedule of farm chores with which children were expected to help. Only a quarter of school age children were enrolled. In 1872 the school had 60 students on its rolls, 40 of them Mixed-bloods and 20 indigenous.
“We are now passing through deep waters, all prostrate with the fearful disease… Yesterday I felt it was high time to set my house in order. For two nights my mind has been wandering, and what course the disease may take I cannot tell; but I bless God, come what will, I feel all is right. I feel I am an unworthy sinner, but a sinner saved by grace. I had a long conversation with my much-be-loved daughter, Georgiana, and gave her directions as regards the future. Little did I think, as she stood beside me the picture of health and youthful energy, that before I fully recovered myself, I should lay her in the grave.”
Rev. George McDougall, cited in Rev. John McDougall’s George Millward McDougall, The Pioneer, Patriot and Missionary
The location of the mission was a traditional crossing on the North Saskatchewan River. A number of trails converged here, connecting southern tribes with the fisheries at Saddle Lake, Whitefish Lake and Lac La Biche to the north, and giving the northern Cree access to the grasslands and the herds of bison to the south in the territories of the Blackfoot, Peigan, Kainai, Tsuu T’ina, Stoney and Dakota. The lush valley north of the crossing was called the “Hairy Bag” because it was a favourite feeding ground for the bison. This area became an important indigenous hunting and camping site. Archaeological excavations have uncovered a prehistoric campsite approximately 6,000 years old. Indigenous people camped near the edge of the river, leaving behind animal bones and stone chips produced while making their stone tools. At the time the Victoria mission was established, the “Hairy Bag” was in the heart of the territory of the Cree chief Maskepetoon and his band.
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Last reviewed/revised: March 18, 2016
Artist’s conception of the McDougall Methodist Mission
Photo: Alberta Culture, Historic Sites and Museums
Graves of Flora, Georgina and Abigail (Steinhauer) McDougall at Victoria Settlement.
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta, G.1868
Children at Victoria School, 1903.
Photo: Warspite Victoria Trail Historical Society
Photo: Alberta Culture , Historic Sites and Museums
Cree Chief Maskepetoon
Photo: Glenbow Archives, NA-4169-1