Archaeological evidence found in Northshore Day Use area of Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, Wagner where the creek runs into the lake, Canyon Creek and Grouard all point to human habitation going back 5,000-12,000 years.
In those early days, the Beaver and possibly the Slavey lived in our region.They gathered along the lake in summer and built wooden houses further into the forest in winter. In the 1600s, the Woodland Cree moved west from around Hudson's Bay, driving the Beaver and Slavey away. Equipped with guns from the fur trade, the Cree came close to decimating the Beaver, who were known to be peaceful and honest as well as gallant and fierce fighters. Just as the Cree were about to deliver a final blow to the Beaver in 1780 the Beaver got guns and at the same time, a smallpox epidemic almost wiped out the Cree. Eventually they made peace at a place along the river that they called "Unchagah" or "Peace" River in honour of that agreement. Today, the Woodland Cree live along Lesser Slave Lake and the Beaver live mostly in the Peace River area.
White explorers and fur traders came this way establishing forts and trading posts. By 1802, there were two forts, one on either side of the Lesser Slave River where it flows out of the lake-one owned by the Hudson's Bay Company and one owned by the North West Company. There were similar forts at Buffalo Bay, Shaw's Point and Mirror Landing near modern-day Smith, where the Lesser Slave River flows into the Athabasca.
|Hudson's Bay Fort at Lesser Slave Lake, circa 1905|
South Peace Archives
At first it was a good relationship. As things became more established, the trading companies supplied food and medicine to the trappers and their families when times were tough. Then the BNA Act established the Dominion of Canada. The trading companies lost their exclusive rights to trade. They stopped helping the people in times of trouble.
The government knew it needed to sign nation to nation agreements with the First Nations people of western Canada as they had done in the east, going back to the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Or at least they should have known. The Cree wrote letters asking for Treaty. The factor of the Hudson's Bay company asked for Treaty. Missionaries asked for Treaty. The government had no interest in signing. They apparently believed no one would ever want to move to the north despite the fact that more and more settlers were moving north. Treaty 6 and 7 were signed in central and southern Alberta in 1876 and 1877. But nothing for the north.
|York Boats sail Lesser Slave Lake|
On January 1 of 1890, the chiefs of the area met. Chief Kinoosayo of Lesser Slave Lake reported that only a very few were against the treaty and a very large majority were in favour of it.
The government sent geological surveys north. The surveyors reported that there was excellent farmland in the north. Oil was discovered. Minerals were found. Then, there was the Klondike Gold Rush. The government pushed for a Canadian route and an overland route was created from Edmonton to Athabasca, then via the Athabasca River to the Lesser Slave River to Lesser Slave Lake, then across the lake under sail, then overland along the old warparty trail to Peace River and then by river north to the Klondike. At least 800 people traversed this trail including many Americans. Some of these people stayed behind to make their fortune off the prospectors.
|Cree and Metis trackers pulling a York boat up the Athabasca River.|
Peel's Prairie Provinces Postcard Collection.
Treaty Eight, a nation to nation legal agreement between her majesty Queen Victoria and representatives of First Nations would cover a vast area of Canada including most of northern Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. That agreement gave the Dominion of Canada the legal right to sell land to European immigrants and established Treaty rights for the indigenous peoples of our area.
The story of the treaty signing will be the subject of my next post. Followed by some opinions of which I have no shortage.