Frog Lake Historic Site
The Frog Lake Historic Site is situated amid the gently rolling hills of east-central Alberta, near the provincial border with Saskatchewan. It is a quiet, contemplative place now, but more than a century ago it was the scene of one of the most violent and tragic episodes in Alberta’s history.
In 1885, the First Nations and Métis peoples of the Canadian West were growing increasingly angry with the federal government. Years of failed pleas and petitions concerning land and treaty rights finally led to open confrontation. On March 26, 1885, a Métis force under Gabriel Dumont skirmished with a column of North-West Mounted Police and members of the Prince Albert Volunteers at Duck Lake in present-day Saskatchewan. Seventeen people died in the first confrontation of what became known as the North-West Rebellion or the North-West Resistance.
Members of Chief Big Bear’s Plains Cree band who were wintering at Frog Lake caught word of the Métis uprising days later. Big Bear’s people had suffered through a particularly harsh winter, food shortages, and severe treatment at the hands of the local Indian Agent. Upon hearing of the battle at Duck Lake, a group of Plains Cree warriors under Wandering Spirit resolved to seize Frog Lake Settlement, a small community comprising a Roman Catholic mission, trading posts, and several federal government agencies. On April 2, 1885, in a rapid and confusing series of events, Wandering Spirit and his warriors killed nine men, seized hostages, and burned the small community to the ground. It was the only significant outbreak of violence in present-day Alberta associated with the 1885 uprising.
The understanding of what happened at Frog Lake has changed dramatically since 1885. The outrage felt by many Canadians at the time of the killings was fed by a steady stream of often exaggerated reporting that characterized Chief Big Bear as devious and warlike and his followers as savage and treacherous. Recent scholarship and the insights derived from oral histories have challenged these traditional narratives by emphasizing the ways in which Canada’s First Nations policies contributed to the tragedy at Frog Lake and illuminating the complexity of Big Bear’s situation and his valiant efforts to maintain peace.
The Frog Lake Historic Site has been designated both a Provincial Historic Resource and a National Historic Site. It features a commemorative cairn, a small cemetery containing the remains of some of those killed at the site, and an interpretive trail with panels exploring the historic context of the uprising at Frog Lake. The site offers an excellent opportunity for visitors to enter into the complex and often tragic history which culminated in the events at Frog Lake and to consider the ways in which the violence at this site shaped the lives of First Nations’ peoples and their relationship to the federal government.
See all of the interpretive signs here.