Saint-Paul des Métis
Toward the end of the 19th century, it became obvious that there were a great deal of displaced Métis who had nowhere to go once their ancient way of earning a living had disappeared. Many lived in poverty, and Father Albert Lacombe and several other Oblate missionaries, wishing to help, proposed a colony where the Métis would have a chance to learn to farm, thus providing them with a solid means of subsistence.1 At first, it was thought that the best place for such a colony would be the former wintering area of Lac La Vache, now known as Buffalo Lake, but the area had been surveyed and was already open for settlement. A suitable area of four townships was found to the north of the North Saskatchewan River, where the town of St. Paul is located today. Father Lacombe managed to convince the Prime Minister of Canada of the worthiness of his plan and the four townships were set aside. The lands did not belong to the settlers, but they were granted the use of them. The Canadian Government offered very little financial help, and the colony was forced to rely on donations from wealthy patrons of Father Lacombe.
Father Lacombe published advertisements for the colony in English, French and Cree, and these were circulated throughout the West and in Montana. In 1896, about 100 families arrived, but the financial help was far too little. The directors of the colony, who had thought that the isolation of the colony would be beneficial to the Métis, found that it made everything more difficult and increased costs. The closest railhead was 80 kilometres away and the closest bridge on the North Saskatchewan River was in Edmonton. A large boarding school was built, but was set on fire by some malcontent children in 1905. The colony never recovered from the blow and everyone involved agreed to dissolve it.
In 1909, the area was opened to settlers, most of them French Canadians, along with a few French and Belgians, who had kept the opening date a secret. The Métis had a right to an additional 80 acres to make the land equal to the homesteads which were available to settlers. Some took advantage of the offer, and many others left.
(1) Émile Legal, History of the Catholic Church in Central Alberta, Edmonton, circa 1914, 71-75; Émeric Drouin, Joyau dans la Plaine, de l’auteur, 1968; Juliette Champagne, De la Bretagne aux plaines de l’Ouest canadien, letters d’un défricheur franco-albertain, Alexandre Mahé (1880-1968), CELAT, Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 2003, 67-71 ; 84-85.
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