Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site

About Victoria Settlement

George McDougall Victoria Settlement brings to life three major themes in Alberta's history: missionary activity, the fur trade, and settlement.

The lives of many different people were woven together in the story of this place. Their stories of facing challenges and change were common for many across Alberta in our province's beginning. When George McDougall first came to the banks of the North Saskatchewan almost a century and a half ago, little more than temporary camps stood here.

With the establishment of Victoria Mission in 1862 and the Hudson's Bay Company's post, Fort Victoria two years later, a small community was begun. Later known as Pakan, the community grew to over one hundred inhabitants by the 1900's. However, the coming of the railway to Smoky Lake, approximately 10 km north of Pakan, spelled the end of Pakan's prosperity. Today only scattered reminders of the past are left to tell the story of this settlement.

Learn about the history of Victoria Settlement through the historical panels below. They were originally created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Victoria Settlement back in 2012.

John McDougall's Writings

As the missions on the Saskatchewan were under father's Chairmanship, he concluded to visit them during the summer of 1862, and to take me along. He arranged for me to go as far as Fort Carlton on the Saskatchewan by boat, and he, at the invitation of the Hudson's Bay office went with them to Red River and then rode on horseback across the plains to the same point.

George McDougall and his son John, author of these passages, set out from Rossville Mission at Norway House on the north shore of Lake Winnipeg, for a journey that would take them over 1600 kilometers by boat and horseback. John was 19 years old at the time of this expedition.

We bore away north and west for Smoking Lake Mr. Woolsey, his interpreter and two hired men comprised this settlement at the time. One small house and a roofless stable were the only improvements. Mr. Woolsey had begun here within the year and his difficulties had been neither few nor small.

Smoking Lake refers to the present day Smoky Lake near the town of the same name. Thomas Woolsey, an English born missionary, had established the mission in 1860.

We reached the north bank of the river Friday afternoon. The appearance of the country at this point and in its vicinity pleased father so much that he suggested to Mr. Woolsey the desirability of moving to this place and founding a mission and settlement right here on the banks of the river, all of which Mr. Woolsey readily acquiesced in.

The two missionaries, moreover, decided that the name of the new mission should be Victoria.

The location of the new mission on the North Saskatchewan River proved to be a good choice.

All this time we were living in skin lodges. Mr. Woolsey aimed at putting up a large house, in the old-fashioned Hudson's Bay style -frame of timber with grooved posts in which tenoned logs were fitted into 10 foot spans and as all the work of sawing and planning had to be done by hand, the progress was slow. My idea was to face long timber and put up a solid blockhouse, which could be done so much more easily and quickly… but I was over-ruled…

John McDougall had remained with Woolsey to begin work on the new mission while the elder McDougall returned to Norway House.

Our principal food that summer was pemmican, or dried meat. We had neither flour nor vegetables, but sometimes, for a change, lived on ducks, and again varied our diet with duck eggs.

Pemmican, made from dried buffalo meat and fat, was the staple food in the west.

Along about the latter part of July, the "Summer Brigade" made up of several inland boats left at Edmonton… returned, passing us on its way to Fort Carlton to meet the regular brigades from Norway House and York Factory …

Mr. Hardisty was with the boats, and he invited me to join him until he should meet the brigade in which my father and mother had taken passage from Norway House… Early in the middle of the second afternoon we sighted 2 boats tracking up the southerly bank of the river… I was delighted to find my people with them. Mother was looking forward eagerly to the end of the journey … Forty days and more from Norway House, by lake and river, in open boat -long hot days, long dark, rainy days, with forty very short nights, and yet many of these far too long, because of the never ceasing mosquito, which troublesome enough by day, seemed at night to bring forth endless resources of torture…

At this period most river travel was by York boat, to take furs east and bring provisions and mail west. Richard Hardisty, factor at Fort Edmonton later married one of the MacDougall daughters.

…As father saw at once that the house we were building would take a long time to finish, and as we had some timber in the round on hand, he proposed to at once put up a temporary dwelling house and a store -house … Then father sent me up river with some men to take out timber and to manufacture some lumber for a small church. While we were away on this business, father and Larsen, the carpenter, were engaged in putting in windows and doors to the log house, and otherwise getting it ready for occupancy. Despatch was needed, for while a skin lodge may be passable enough for summer, it is a wretched cold in winter…

Early in April…. father startled me by saying that he wanted me to go to Fort Garry to bring out the supplies for the two missions, Whitefish Lake and Victoria. He said that the Hudson's Bay Company had notified all missionaries that their transport was needed for their own business, and suggested that the missionaries make their own arrangements for obtaining supplies.

In 1864, a change in Hudson's Bay Company policy was instituted. Previously missionaries had been allowed to transport their supplies on company boats. Now a 4-1/2 month round trip to Fort Garry would have to be made each year.

The Indians had now begun to come in large bands and very soon our valley was full of life. Men, both wild and partially civilized, surrounded the place … Father and Peter would now be on a continuous strain of work for the next six weeks, planting, hoeing, teaching, preaching, healing, counseling, civilizing and Christianizing. Night and day constant watchfulness and care would be required. A very little thing might make a very big row.

Most of the natives visiting the area of the mission were Plains Cree. Peter Erasmus was a Metis guide and interpreter who assisted the McDougalls for several years.

Before noon we were at the mission… I noted the new house was finished and that mother was comfortably settled once more in a substantial home. True it was without any furniture or stoves… I saw also that the stockade around the mission house was finished, that another field had been fenced, broken and planted; that the prospect of a garden crop was good and that our chance of barley for soup next winter was largely within the possibilities. I saw too, a number of garden patches that the Indians had fenced in, hoed and planted with the small share of seeds the mission could give them

When John McDougall returned from Fort Garry in August 1864, he found that remarkable progress had been made at the mission while he was gone.

Fifty-six traveling days from Fort Garry--stock all right, carts sound, goods dry and twenty-five pounds of flour still left in the bag, we began on when we left the Red River settlements… I took the flour in to mother, and she and the children and Larsen luxuriated in hot rolls for supper. The cows I had brought were also a great source of comfort to our party. These assured us of milk and butter, and if other resources failed, of beef also.

The provisions John McDougall brought back allowed the residents at the mission a little more variety in their food. Especially important was flour for bread, though white flour still had to be carefully rationed.

The Indians, both Wood and Plain, pagan and Christian, were now flocking into Victoria in such numbers that the Hudson's Bay Company saw the necessity of establishing a trading post there. I was offered the charge of this, but father did not seem to relish the idea, so it dropped, and a Mr. Flett was sent to put up buildings and open trade with the Indians. Mr. Flett was a native of the Red River settlement, and thoroughly understood the Indians and their language. He was a warm friend of our mission, later on himself becoming an honored missionary of the Presbyterian Church to the Indians in another part of the country.

Victoria had now (in 1864) the beginning of a Christian mission and the starting of a Hudson's Bay post. Already this new place had become the nucleus of a Christian civilization.

The Clerk's quarters, the first building constructed at Fort Victoria, was completed in the fall of 1865. Restored between 1977 and 1981, it is the oldest remaining building on the site and the oldest building in Alberta in its original location.

As the cold weather set in, it became necessary to organize for the "fresh meat hunt"… On the third evening, after we got fairly among the buffalo, our carts were loaded and we felt that we had been successful indeed. No lives lost no limbs broken, no horses stolen.

John McDougall describes a number of buffalo hunts in his books. Buffalo were the main source of food, and several major hunts had to be organized each year.

Christmas found us all well and our service, and the dinner and the games and drives which followed, through unique were full of pleasant excitement …We had no church, but the log shanty was as the vestibule of heaven… We had no roast beef nor pumpkin pie, nor plates of tempting fruit, but we had buffalo boss and tongue, and beaver tail, and moose nose and wild cat, and prairie chicken, and rabbits and backfats and pemmican. ...We had fast and strong dog teams, and we improvised carioles and had some wild driving over hill and dale.. We ran foot races and snowshoe and dog-train races. We made this part of the Saskatchewan Valley ring with our shouting and fun.

For the first time in 5 years the entire McDougall clan was able to spend the Christmas of 1865 together. Ingenuity was required to provide enjoyable, though unusual, food and fun.

…Early in April there came the dire news of the killing of Maskepetoon and his sons by the Blackfeet. This was a sad blow to our mission, as the grand old man had always been favorable to Christianity and was a staunch friend of the white man. Already while the spring was yet young, Maskepetoon's murder was being avenged and many scalps taken. We had need to be watchful and careful with an exceedingly excitable people all around us...

George McDougall had encountered the old Cree warrior Maskepetoon on his first missionary journey. Maskepetoon became one of the most famous native Methodist converts, a constant advocate of peace and Christianity. His murder in 1869 led to bloodshed between Blackfoot and Cree.

…It became known that Riel and the French half breeds had taken Fort Garry. The native tribes were called upon to join them or suffer in their turn, and I was sent out from camp to camp to counteract as much as possible this influence …As the spring of 1870 opened there were some anxious souls in the West. To add to this there came rumors of some fell disease to the south of us. It was said that the Indians beyond the border were dying by the hundreds. Smallpox was mentioned, and we shuddered at the sound, for we were a thousand miles from a medical man and without medicine.

The advice of George McDougall, among others, kept native bands in Alberta from joining the Riel Rebellion in 1870 However, the arrival of smallpox proved a much more serious threat to the small community at Victoria.

We scattered the half breeds, we closed our church services and took every pre- caution but soon in came the large camp and already the disease was well spread. We continued to urge isolation, and as many as listened almost to a man escaped. But in a few days we were surrounded by disease… It was reasonable to estimate that fully half of the native tribes perished during the season of 1870 through the ravages of smallpox.

Acting on his father's advice, John McDougall closed the mission, the disease struck nevertheless, but killed fewer than at many other missions in the Northwest.

…We heard the sad news that smallpox was in the mission house, and that two of our sisters were dead and buried and others of the mission supposed to be dying… that father had quarantined himself and family from the inside of the stockade and forbade any one to approach the place.

Both John and George McDougall recovered from bouts of smallpox, but two McDougall girls and an adopted Indian daughter died. .

During the spring of 1871 it was determined to establish a mission at Edmonton… Father went to begin the work and I was left in charge at Victoria… At Victoria we had good congregations, with country work up and down the settlement and out north some ten miles, as also visiting wandering Indian camps within reasonable distance.

As Fort Edmonton was the most important centre in the northwest, the decision was made to transfer George McDougall there in 1871. The mission church he built there still stands, today in Fort Edmonton Park.

The Saskatchewan District Meeting, which took place during the winter, determined some changes. Peter Campbell was to come to Victoria, and John McDougall to go to Pigeon Lake.

Reverend Peter Campbell served at Victoria Mission until 1874. He witnessed the rapid decline in numbers of buffalo and subsequent shift in the focus of the mission from native to white and Métis settlers.

Bibliography

  • McDougall, John C. In the Days of the Red River Rebellion. Toronto: William Briggs, 1903.
  • Path finding on Plain and Prairie. Toronto: William Briggs, 1898.
  • Saddle Sled and Snowshoe: Pioneering on the Saskatchewan in the Sixties. Toronto: William Briggs 1898.
  • Forest, Lake and Prairie. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, n.d.

 

Last reviewed/revised: March 18, 2016