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2017 03 17

[Lesser Slave Lake map] [Historical background] [The earliest time] [Lesser Slave Lake] [People of the woods] [A fight for trade]
[A fight for souls] [Treaty 8] [Booms and busts] [Land and claims] [homecoming] [reminiscences of Billy Rumley]
[photos Cliff Osborne collection] [western Canada relief map] [finding the new land]

Faust main street about 1930

An Oral History
             Marie Courtoreille (nee Wichihiwesis, or Walker) lost her life in a fire at her home in Faust in 1982. She was 101. At over a century in age she had no trouble threading a needle, still had her own teeth, and needed no glasses. Marie Witchihiwesis was born on the shore of Lesser Slave Lake just west of the mouth of Old Man Creek on a day in May, 1881. Her father Henry Witchihiwesis and mother Nancy Giroux had her baptised in 1883 at the parish mission of St. Bernard at Lesser Slave Lake settlement. At 18 she married Alexander Courtoreille, stayed along the lakeshore, and in her own words, "lived on fish and meat." It is from her family that the earliest oral history of the community dates.
             Local tradition has it that the Native people used the location at Giroux Bay as a fishing camp where the year's supply of fish was strung on poles in the sun for drying. The place may well have been called (as tradition has it): Ako chi gunna ("that which is hung") Tekaya toh ("where it takes place"): The Place Where They Hang The Fish.

             After the immigrant settlers arrived, many of the Native people continued traditional modes of livelihood such as trapping, hunting, and fishing, while also working for homestead farmers, loggers, in sawmills, and for mink and fox ranchers.
             Dolphus Walker was born in 1903. His life's experience may be typical. Walker went to a mission school for eight years and at age seventeen trapped rats, squirrels, and weasels at Driftpi1e. "Years ago, only oldtimers trapped. Young fellows, they don't care for trapping. No white people trapped, just the Indians. But now there is a lot of trappers. There used to be everything years ago: lots of foxes, coyotes, lynx, lots of marten, minks, everything, years ago." His trapline was about fifteen kilometers long and five kilometers wide. Walker made a good living trapping: "Before, you used to make a lot of money, but not now." He sold his trapline and moved to Faust where he also worked in the fisheries, logging, and "tried a little bit of farming."
             Merton Carl died in 1984 in his house at Faust, aged 87. His was among the first families of immigrant settlers on a homestead taken by his stepfather in 1913. "We came in 1914," he told. The railroad took then seventeen-year old Merton to Mitsue, then by boat to Sawridge, and by wagon to Old Man Creek. "An old man lived there and died," he said. There was just one other family in 1914, Carl said: "Whitford ~ a family of breeds, the mother knew the old man [the creek was named after]." (Napisis, a Whitford descendant living in northern BC maintained a family website for some time.)
             A walk to Kinuso was needed to find two stores and a post office. From Kinuso, there was a road to Strawberry Creek; from there, a wagon-trail along the lakeshore wound its way to Faust, Driftpile, and on to Grouard. In 1914, an engineer working on the railroad track that came through somehow left his name here, and within a few decades Faust became a hub for the activities along the south shore of Lesser Slave Lake. In 1928, a public school opened. Numerous fox and mink ranches gave the community a peculiar odor at pelting time; the pelts made the area among the foremost in the world in producing high quality furs. Mink ranchers took their annual produce to the auction markets of eastern Canada and Europe to return with large amounts of cash. To feed the fur-bearing animals, they fished the lake for "herring" (tullibee). Commercial fisheries also were a major economic activity. During Faust's years of greatest achievement in terms of economic importance, there were four fish-packing plants located in the community: Menzies, UFF (United Fishermen of Faust), Gateway, and Inland. At the same time, the harvest of timber made the forest a busy place with logging camps and portable mills, while in the community there were located two sawmills, a planer mill, and a pole-yard that produced treated railroad ties and utility poles. During its height, Faust may have had a population of well over 1,000. It was such a busy place that the local general store was open seven days each week and twenty-four hours per day. Three hotels were located here, and at least four stores.


In The Wake Of History At The Lake Of Slaves

From The History Of The Canadian West, (copyright Sunfire Publications and Albert Burger 1984)
Since editor Garnet Basque died suddenly in 1994, Heritage House distributes all Sunfire books

             When Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who supervised the Athabasca fur district for the North West Company at that time, first heard of Lesser Slave Lake from Cree hunters in 1792, he was told that in their language it was called "slave lake" ~ after the original inhabitants. Some have assumed that the Slavey people once occupied its shores, but it was likely a derogatory name given by the Crees to the people they drove from their native ground when, sometime earlier, they had pushed west with their newly acquired trading company rifles. Anthropologists think these "slaves" were Beaver tribes now living far to the west. But the name stuck and because there was already another, larger Slave Lake, Lesser Slave Lake soon became its official name.
             The Cree are of Algonkian linguistic stock. According to Hugh A. Dempsey in Indian Tribes of Alberta, in their own language they were called Nahiawuk ~ sometimes translated as "exact people", while early explorers referred to them as Kristineau which is based upon an Ojibway term. All of the tribes were woodland peoples who lived in a great half-moon around Hudson's Bay in the 1600s when they were first met by early Jesuit missionaries and British traders. They soon extended their hunting grounds as far west as the present Alberta-Saskatchewan border, and when La Verendrye travelled to Manitoba in 1730, he met "Cree of the Mountains, Prairies and Rivers."
             They were a major force in the shaping of modern Canadian history. Among the two most populous nations (the other was the Ojibway), inside of two-hundred years the Cree moved halfway across the continent ~ cutting a path from the great bay to the Rocky Mountains.

The earliest time
             Scholars believe that America was perhaps the last untrodden land until the end of the last glaciation, when people first crossed the land bridge from Siberia to Alaska. Current geological theory places the latest Ice Age (the Fourth) about 50,000 to 25,000 BC, and authorities have variously estimated the first human steps onto the continent from ten to fifty-thousand and even more years ago. As the giant ice-fields shrank toward the north, the untamed landscape changed, and into this wild complex, ruled only by the blind forces of nature, an ancient race intruded.
             During warmer eras several centuries long, when the two great glaciers covering North America melted and diminished, the sterile, desolate, kilometers­thick ice-fields were broken by open land corridors which stretched south from the Mackenzie Valley to the hills of Colorado and New Mexico. Through these, hunters came south in their relentless pursuit of game. Dressed in hides and carrying spears and throwing sticks, children and some meager belongings, they slowly expanded their hunting grounds ~ over the next watershed and into the valleys, in an ever spreading movement.
             The climate of Alaska during those times was milder than today, permitting lush growths of vegetation which supported a large and varied number of animals. Fred Bruemmer wrote in The Arctic: "It was an age of giants, a last spectacular proliferation of mighty mammals in the north, often in great herds. The imperial mammoth of the American plain stood fourteen foot high at the withers, and carried tusks of up to sixteen feet in length. The woolly mammoth of the far north was only nine to ten feet high but it was so numerous, half of the world's ivory comes from its fossil tusks. . . . Casteroides, the Pleistocene beaver, was the size of a small bear . . . , [and] muskoxen roamed the tundras . . . Bison were bigger than now; one species, . . . carried a six-foot sweep of horns. Saiga antelope, puffy-nosed cold-steppe animals, . . . were at home in . . . northern Alaska. Camelops, an immense, knob-kneed camel paced over the Alaskan plains, while in the valleys nearby the dimwitted twelve-foot-high ground sloth Megalonyx munched placidly the leaves of dwarf willow and birch. These mighty herbivorous mammals were prey to an equally impressive array of Pleistocene predators. Lions roamed over Alaska and Siberia, and the sabre-toothed tiger, larger than any tiger today, . . . probably stabbed his prey to death with dagger-like six-inch fangs."
             The tribes of hunters slowly penetrated deeper into the continent, coming down the valleys of the Yukon and Mackenzie into Alberta and the United States. They knew nothing of what lay ahead of them and probably travelled no farther each day than their hunting and gathering activities took them ~ yet this could be a considerable distance. "In the far north the ice age persists and the people share an ice-age culture with a heritage that by-passes the entire recorded history of modern man," Bruemmer noted.
             In this land ninety-five percent covered by ice, Kutsikitsoq [Bruemmers seventy-year old Polar Eskimo neighbor on the south shore of Inglefield Bay in northwestern Greenland] and his people, for uncounted generations. had survived by ceaselessly pursuing the region's game animals, moving with them as the seasons changed, knowing their habits as intimately as they knew their own. Kutsikitsoq, in his prime as a hunter, had travelled at least 2,000 miles each year. The people's spirited pursuit of game, coupled with the changing climate, led to the extennination of a number of species. On the prairies, the retreating mountains of ice exposed the land to searing Arctic winds. Plant life followed the ice fairly quickly, establishing itself in the glacier's rubble of boulders, gravel beds, and moraines. George Vancouver saw in 1794 on the coast of Alaska at Glacier Bay "an immense body of compact, perpendicular ice, extending from shore to shore, and connected with a range of lofty mountains on each side." Less than two-hundred years later, giant hemlock forests cover much of that land, and the bay is free of ice for more than eighty kilometers.

photographs by Kirsten Burger
Lesser Slave Lake
             West of the Canadian Shield and extending to the Rocky Mountains lie the interior plains. In a great triangle, with its uppernost tip near the mouth of the Mackenzie River at the Arctic Ocean and its great base on the Canada-US border, the Canadian plains are an extension of the central plains of the continent. Glacial lakes deposited clays there to form fertile farm lands; golden wheat-fields and cattle ranches carpet the prairies which cover much of these plains.
             Northwest of these, at the center of the province of Alberta, lies Lesser Slave Lake ~ its watershed deep into the Peace River area: The Swan, Driftpile, the East and West Prairie, and Heart rivers flow into it. It is a large lake, almost twenty kilometers at its widest point and about one-hundred kilometers long. In many places it is quite shallow, not over one or two meters, while in other places it has been reported over thirty meters in depth. There have been wide historical variations in the level of the lake. Oral reports have it that at one time "there was hardly any water at the narrows." Government depth soundings in 1973 found nothing deeper than twenty meters.
             In 1910, journalist L.V. Kelly wrote that the water was ". . . varicolored, filled by millions of green particles torn from the mossy banks and pulverized by the action of the storm. Some places the water is as brown as a cow's eyes, sometimes it is a deep blue, shading to light green, and then the color of restaurant coffee. Sometimes it is the color of patent medicine."
             At the east end a meandering Lesser Slave River, "sealbrown ribbon of glazed and rippled silk," slowly descends over silt and fine sand, first through wide swamps and great expanses of hay meadows, then between low banks that are at some points densely wooded, to finally join the mighty Athabasca River which from its far away glacial source journeys north through the Mackenzie system.
             The area around the lake often experiences extreme temperatures. It is well known for its bitterly cold, snowy blizzards in winter, for its contrasting Chinook winds which bring temperature rises of 30 or 40 degrees within a few hours, and for its clear, cool, summer weather. The region has greatly varied vegetation. The typical growths of the foothills follow the Swan Hills north almost to the shores of the lake itself, and in the northeast the hills of Marten and Pelican do likewise in a more self-contained manner. At the west end of the lake poplar groves, usually more typical of the parkland in the prairies, have their own characteristic peculiarities. The dark grey soil provides some limited amount of farm lands, while the whole is set in the rich green of the boreal forest which today has an abundance of deciduous trees such as the poplar and birch, along with the original conifers ~ tamarack, spruce, and pine.
             The surroundings of Lesser Slave Lake, although often inhospitable to people, offer a refuge to much wildlife: Geese, ducks, some pelicans and swans, frequent the waters; cranes, eagles and hawks, its skies; there are moose, deer, bear, and the wily lynx; while the rivers, streams, and lakes abound in several kinds of northern fish.
             The region is somewhat unusual in the great variety of plants which may be found there ~ it has changed relatively little since Kelly's first impression: "The remarkable bright colors of the wild flowers were one of the surprising sights of the first day. Wild roses of an exceptional size and color, the bluest of bluebells, scores of Indian pinks, great blotches of 'fireweed', dandelions, goldenrod, tiger lilies, all filled the gradually rising banks of the valley where the growth of timber and the plow of the agriculturists permitted. In the brush the blueberries and raspberries were ripening, while the saskatoon bushes bent with their loads of wild produce."

People of the woods
             The Woodland Cree were one of the most extensive and widespread tribes of Canada, their hunting grounds in the nineteenth century ranging from Hudson's Bay to the Rocky Mountains and from the plains to the sub-Arctic. Often sharing their areas with the Ojibway and the Assiniboine, they were hunters and trappers who were the mainstay of the fur trade.
             The Crees soon profited from the knives, guns, and utensils which were available from the traders in exchange for furs, but within a few years their hunting area was being heavily trapped, so the tribes began to push south and west. Andrew Graham, a furtrader writing in the 1760s, observed: "Either to avoid Europeans, or in order to search for furs to barter, or because food grew scarce by the large numbers of animals destroyed for their furs and skins, one or more of these reasons has caused them gradually to retire farther inland. . . . "
             The western penetration was rapid and dramatic. Not only were the Crees anxious to obtain furs, but they became traders themselves, acting as middlemen for the tribes farther west. They were now well armed with guns, knives, and hatchets, and had little difficulty in occupying the lands of poorly armed enemies.
             On the southern front of their westward move, noted Dempsey, ". . . the Crees drove a wedge up the North Saskatchewan River to the Rocky Mountains, sending tribes retreating to the north and south. The small Sarcee tribe was forced onto the plains, separating from its parent group, the Beavers, who moved north-west to the Peace River area. Similarly, the Blackfoot tribes were pushed back from the North Saskatchewan, and the Gros Ventres withdrew into the present state of Montana. [In the north] within a short time, the Woodland Cree had pushed the Beaver Indians back to the upper waters of the Peace River and occupied much of the central and northern portion of Alberta".
             Explorer Alexander Mackenzie in 1801 said that the Cree "had driven away the natives of the Saskatchiwine and Missinipy Rivers . . . , from there they proceeded West by Slave Lake . . . on their war excursions, which they often repeated, even till the Beaver Indians had procured arms, which was in the year 1782." (That same year, a smallpox epidemic may have taken half the population.)
             In any case, when a European first gazed across the shimmering expanse of the lake in 1798 or 1799, its shores were peopled by the Crees whose "hard life in the forest meant that they rarely came together in crowds; rather they lived together in groups of a few families, which did not wander outside their recognized region. Their use of the canoe as a means of transportation . . . made the lot of their women much lighter than that of the northern Indians, for mostly the family moved from place to place by water. Though capable of deeds of violence they were an affable and hospitable people, and scrupulously honest."

Beyond the River and the Bay:
some observations on the state of the Canadian Northwest in 1811 . . .
by Eric Ross, 1970

             ["Women," said a chieftain of the Chippewas, "are created for work. One of them can draw or carry as much as two men. They also pitch our tents, make our clothes, mend them, and keep us warm at night. . . . We absolutely cannot get along without them on a journey. They do everything and cost only a little; for since they must be forever cooking, they can be satisfied in lean times by licking their fingers."]
             They lived primarily off the moose, deer, elk, smaller animals, and fish. The last were caught in spruce-root nets, speared, gathered in traps, or caught with hooks made of eagle-claws. Smaller animals and birds were snared with sinew; ducks and geese were lured with decoys and shot; young birds were caught in snares hidden in shallow water. Large game was shot with bows and arrows or rifles, often being killed from canoes while they were swimming across rivers or lakes. In trapping, they used snares, deadfalls, and wooden traps. Beaver and muskrat were often dug out of their lodges.

A fight for trade
             At the turn of the century the fur-traders came. In 1799, XYCompany traders operated in the lake area. David Thompson, a wintering partner of the North West Company, recorded sighting Dog Island at the east end of the lake on the morning of April 28, 1799. Thompson ordered NWC clerk Francois Decoigne to build a post at the mouth of the "Slave Indian River" (at Mirror Landing on the north bank of the Athabasca River). It became almost immediately a Hudson's Bay Company post. By 1800, HBC trader Peter Fiddler sketched probably the earliest map of the lake in existence. Fiddler noted, "Plenty of Trout and Tickameg (whitefish) is to be caught." In the two years following, posts were established at both ends of the lake: At the west, Blondin's fort sat on the east shore of Buffalo Bay; at the east was Sawridge post. In 1802, travelling traders noted an abandoned XY Company encampment at the Swan River delta.
             When Thompson came back that year, he worked to unite the two companies and in 1804 the NWC and XYC amalgamated. For a decade the company appeared to have had a free hand to trade, but by 1815 the Hudson's Bay Company returned to the lake when Decoigne built Fort Waterloo for the company on the lakeshore north of the Lesser Slave River. Fierce competition between the two rival trading companies flared into violence on December 2, 1816. North West Company men attacked Fort Waterloo, arrested Decoigne, seized the trade goods, and fired the building. The area was a rich trading prize, however, and HBC ("the venerable company") was not to be deterred. In 1817, another HBC post was built at Mirror Landing ~ this time on the south bank of the Athabasca River, and the following year Fort Waterloo was rebuilt ~ not at Sawridge but on the shore of Buffalo Bay just north of the NWC post. This audacious act resulted in mutual seizing of goods, shootings, and murder. The conflict had escalated so by 1819 that a number of NWC wintering partners were arrested at Lake Winnipeg and taken to Montreal.
             Between 1820 and 1821 terms were negotiated between HBC and NWC that resulted in a 21-year agreement to share the fur trade under the Hudson's Bay Company name. Fort Waterloo was abandoned, and the HBC flag flew over ­the NWC post at Buffalo Bay. "During their period of recorded history, the fate of the Woodland Cree was closely intertwined with the furtraders. Their annual wanderings centred upon the forts and by the early 1800s many had abandoned important aspects of their own culture and dress in favor of European ways. Many fur traders married Woodland Cree women and a group known as Metis or half-breed came into being. Some Metis were hunters and trappers like their mother's people, but others received a good education and entered the service of the Hudson's Bay or North West Company as clerks or traders. Such surnames as Cardinal, Pelletier, Cunningham, McGillis, Martel and Sutherland became common among the native population.
             By its monopoly, the Hudson's Bay Company exercised economic control over the necessities of life. Against his future catch, a trapper and hunter might stake himself and his family with twelve lead bullets, flint and powder, a sack of flour, some tea, sugar, and a yard or so of rope tobacco. Near the trading posts, large gardens were kept and the chief crops ~ potatoes and turnips, some winters were all that stood between starvation. Later, cattle and horses were kept and hay harvested for winter feed.
             In 1819-20, a measles outbreak resulted in the death of from thirty percent to half the population. An 1823 record taken at Lesser Slave Lake settlement at the west end of the lake counted "164 Cree Indians ~ including 34 hunters," and "184 Freemen ~ including 58 hunters."

Beyond the River and the Bay:
some observations on the state of the Canadian Northwest in 1811 . . .
by Eric Ross, 1970

A fight for souls
             Soon the trading companies considered the expense incurred in keeping Native women and children at trading posts by the establishment of missions and industrial schools for orphans. Two decades went by before they called on Christian missionaries to take over the task. In 1842, HBC was instrumental in bringing Weslyan minister James Evans into the area. Evans developed a Cree syllabic with nine basic signs which he recorded with fish-oil ink in a sixteen-page birch-bark booklet. Between 1842 and 1846, the reverend Robert Rundle also made several visits to Lesser Slave Lake from Edmonton. By 1845, "Popish priest" Oblate Joseph Bourassa opened a mission near the trading post.
             In later years, Roman Catholic priest Emile Grouard, of the order of Mary immaculate (Oblates), travelled the area extensively. In 1863 ~ at age 23, he was reported at Fort Chipewayan. By 1867, Anglican William Bompas had also arrived. A missionary competition resulted in a Christian rivalry for adherents using food, clothing, and shelter as inducements. In 1872, St. Bernard's Roman Catholic mission was established on the east shore of Buffalo Bay, and in 1877, St. Peter's Anglican (Church of England) mission on the west shore.
             The missionizing technique was to draw the Native people from their life in the bush to dependence on the agriculture-based life around the missions. By the 1890s, residential boarding schools went the final step by removing youngsters from their parents and the Native life and environment.
             Those were the days when hardy men brought, from the Hudson's Bay and the lakes of Manitoba, the annual provisions for an entire population. The priests would stand on the hill and look down on the shore of Buffalo Bay where dozens of families waited by their tents for the boats to return their men. Among them was the medicine-man by his magic circle-built of eighteen poplar poles, one birch, and one tamarack, stuck into the ground and held together by willow-bands. A new hide was stretched across the top, a rattle hanging from it. The medicine-man was bound hand and foot. A drummer beat on each of his sides. Then, the bindings lay on the ground, the rattle shook ~ the very circle of poles swayed as forest spirits spoke with the medicine-man's voice that came from within, telling the people who died on the journey, who would safely return.
             Once, the people say, a boat sailed out of the bay to scan the lake. As it rounded the point-its sails billowed by a wind blowing behind, four York-boats sailed in the opposite direction; the wind harkening the power, the medicine, of the Grandfathers.
             The church generally took a dim view of such Indian practices, forbade the speaking of the Cree language by Native children in the residential schools, and had legislation passed that made the aboriginal religion unlawful. Yet, a few years ago, 90-year old Samuel Beaver described "when he was about twelve, his father was giving the dance of the ancestors (Wihkohtuwin) Bishop Grouard took part. The Elders and the Bishop burned offerings and danced around the sacred fire."

Treaty number 8
[A Narrative of the Treaty Expedition of 1899]
by Charles Mair ~ secretary to the Half-breed Scrip Commission that travelled with the Treaty Commission party






             Following the aborted uprising led by Louis Riel in Manitoba, between 1885 and 1890, Metis from the Red River colony fled west. Some Metis sought and found in the Lesser Slave Lake area new land and freedom. During the goldrush of 1898, the Klondike Trail led through the area ~ though few who chose this route were able to reach the gold-stakes in time. The journey was arduous and until very recently remnants of unsuccessful expeditions could be found in the bush south of the lake. Many were attracted to the territory and remained to trap, trade, or farm. This influx of people caused great uneasiness among Woodland Cree leaders who feared that their lands would be taken away from them by the new settlers.
             Beginning in 1899, Treaty 8 was made and concluded at several dates over two years, "between Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, . . . and the Cree, Beaver, Chipewayan, and other Indians, inhabitants of the territory. . . . The queen desired "to open for settlement, immigration, trade, travel, mining, lumbering, and such other purposes as to Her Majesty may seem meet, . . . and to obtain the consent thereto of Her Indian subjects."
             To this purpose she sent a party of treaty commissioners to negotiate so that the Indians would "cede, release, surrender and yield up . . . for ever all their rights, titles and priveleges whatsoever, to the lands included. . . ." That is to say, the northern two-thirds of the present province of Alberta, a vast tract in British Columbia, and large areas of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.
             Commissioners David Laird (chairman), J .A.J. McKenna, J .H. Ross, and their party determined that the shores of Lesser Slave Lake would be where the negotiations would commence. They met with some difficulty in reaching the still isolated lake: "The date fixed for meeting the Indians at Lesser Slave Lake was the 8th of June, 1899. Owing, however, to unfavourable weather and lack of boatmen, we did not reach the point until the 19th. . . .
             Although the usual assurances were made "that the treaty would not lead to any forced interference with their mode of life . . . the Crees who met them were unconvinced and suspicious. "With the view to show the satisfaction of Her Majesty with the behaviour and good conduct of Her Indians," stated the treaty articles "and in extinguishment of all their past claims, She hereby . . . agrees to make each Chief a present of thirty-two dollars in cash, to each Headman twenty-two dollars, and to every other Indian of whatever age . . . twelve dollars; . . . and annulaly afterwards for ever, . . . to each Chief twenty-five dollars, each Headman . . . fifteen dollars, and to every other Indian . . . five dollars. Further, . . . each Chief . . . shall receive a silver medal and a suitable flag, and next year, and every third year thereafter, each Chief and Headman shall receive a suitable suit of clothing. Further, Her Majesty agrees to pay the salaries of such teachers to instruct the children of said Indians." The treaty articles also agreed "that they shall have right to pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing throughout the tract surrendered . . . , and Her Majesty the Queen hereby agrees and undertakes to lay aside reserves for such bands as desire reserves."
             Said Chief Kee noo shay oo, who spoke for all the bands in the region: "Do you not allow the Indians to make their own conditions, so that they may benefit as much as possible? Why I say this is that we today make arrangements that are to last as long as the sun shines and the water runs."
             The Cree reluctantly agreed to the terms, and Kee noo shay oo and Headman Moostoos were among the first to put their marks on the document on June 21. Other headmen who affixed their marks for the Lesser Slave Lake bands were Felix Giroux, Wee chee way sis, Charles Nee sue ta sis, and Captain ~ Headman from Sturgeon Lake.
             Indian reserves were surveyed in 1902 for the Driftpile Band, 1920 for Swan River, and in 1912 for the Sawridge Band.

Booms and busts
             With the twentieth century came innovations of an unprecedented nature. In 1903, the Oblates put a ten-meter screw-propelled steamboat on the lake. Ventures in motorized water transport soon blossomed, and by 1907 the 30-meter stern-wheeler Northern Light plied the lake on a regular scheduled service.
             The transportation routes were still almost exclusively by water. From what is now the Town of Athabasca ~ a hundred kilometers upriver, to Mirror Landing, and via a forty-kilometer portage to the Lesser Slave River. Then by ten-meter long York boats propelled by largely Native crews with oars and poles (sail if the wind was right) the length of the lake. Travel was generally thought of as naturally proceeding by water even when long stretches had to be covered on land. A Cree war road from Lesser Slave Lake north to Peace River, dating from the eighteenth century, though 160 kilometers in length, was termed a portage! Travel by land could be taxing: It took about a week to come from Edmonton to Athabasca; in 1900, owing to a wet summer, from Athabasca to Lesser Slave Lake via the portage from Mirror Landing took a month. The Chalmers Trail over Swan Hills was said to be even more difficult. Four years of dredging and damming failed to make the Lesser Slave River navigable, and the project was abandoned in 1911. A channel dredged from the lake into Buffalo Bay helped large boats to service Lesser Slave Lake settlement. In 1914, the gas motor boat Lily of the Valley completed a trip from there to Sawridge in five hours. Still, travel by land was to become more frequent. By 1911, a trail from Lesser Slave Lake took settlers' wagons to Grande Prairie, and at Christmas of the following year an automibile reached the settlement at the west end of the lake over the ice. A 1914 "auto stage" set a record time of nine hours from Athabasca.
             These improved modes of transportation brought people from everywhere to settle and to harvest the rich resources of the area. In 1903, Swedes and Norwegians settled near Prairie River. In 1908, white Americans came to homestead in the Swan River delta. By 1910 there was a steady stream of new settlers.
             A flourishing volunteer industry to produce local "pioneer" histories has left the settling process well-documented. Typical is an account by Jean Chancelet ~ still living in Joussard [in 1984]: "I came to Canada in 1910 because the Canada Immigration covered France with paper that anybody could make $10,000 in five years, just work hard to make a farm. So I come to Edmonton, $400 and I could have bought a whole block of Jasper Avenue but those papers say farm and I bought three oxen with $400 and started walking North on the Grouard Trail. There was land by the Section there they said, and lots of French. And lots of Priests too, they didn't say. Started June 6, 1910, and got to Grouard on Lesser Slave Lake Sept. 13, 1910, walk every Step and one ox sank in a swamp trying to get away from mosquitoes, the second ran home ~ only time he ever move that fast, I have to walk to Edmonton three years later to get him, all summer trip, and the only one ox left so thin he was not even edible. I farmed at Grouard, McLennan, High Prairie, Girouxville, all over 45 years."
             Already in 1904, the Dominion Fish Company was active on the lake, and by 1915 commercial fisheries were firmly established with the Alberta Fisheries Company shipping whitefish from Wagner to Chicago. A fish curing plant operated on Dog Island in 1913.
             Lime kilns operated at Sawridge in 1908. In 1911, a sawmill was put at Lesser Slave Lake settlement, in 1913 another at Sawridge, and two years later there were seven sawmills operating in the area. Fox farming, begun in 1914, was carried out all along the south shore. In 1915, a grain elevator was built in High Prairie.
             The growing community at the west end of the lake had become known as Lesser Slave Lake settlement, but in 1909 it was rechristened as Grouard ~ after the Roman Catholic bishop. It soon became a boomtown. In 1913, it became the only incorporated place in the Peace River country. Peter Tomkins who had fled with the Metis from the Red River colony, was Grouard' s first land agent. In 1913, Tomkins was president of the local board of trade which reported: "Grouard has two chartered banks, three churches, three schools, two missions, one convent, hospital, Dominion Land Office, six general stores, two gents furnishing stores, two drug stores, five hotels, four livery barns, four sawmills, three barbershops, three poolrooms, one bowling alley, four restaurants, two bakeries, one bottling works, one grist mill, RNWM Police, three doctors, two lawyers, two veterinarians, moving picture theater, newspaper, and all without railways. What will it do with the railways running!"
             Except for Peace River, Grouard was the only major trading center and everything on its way to or from Peace River had to go through. In winter, horse-sleighs came up the Athabasca River and across the ice of the lake to bring people and supplies. At one time there were as many as 30 freight sleighs hauling the necessities into the area. During the summer, Grouard was serviced by three paddle-wheeled steamships. The promise of a railroad (three railroads!) was the bait that the Grouard board of trade used to entice people to "the best place in the north". At its peak. the town had already been subdivided into lots, boasted three kilometers of sidewalk, and a twenty-piece brass band. But in 1915 the railroad by-passed Grouard. High Prairie took over as the major center for the area. The freight-haulers were no longer needed, and the steamboats went up to the Peace River.
             In 1911, Grouard's population was 450. It had grown to 800 by the following year, and to 1,500 people in 1914. In 1915 there were no more steamboats on the lake, and the 1916 census gave Grouard a population of only 268. The southshore population grew slowly: from 250 in 1911, to 840 in 1921, and 1,680 in 1931. A flu epidemic in 1918 claimed many lives ~ particularly among Native families. Schools were built to accommodate the young: public schools for settlers' children ~ 1908 at Prairie River and High Prairie, at Grouard in 1913; mission schools, such as st. Bruno's in 1913 at Joussard, for Native children.
             These were turbulent decades for Native and immigrant populations alike. Between 1910 and 1918, one-third of homesteads were cancelled. During the thirties ~ though there were 24,000 homesteads let to settlers, there were 26,600 cancellations.

Land and claims
             To the Woodland Cree, land issues are still a major concern: Many bands have on-going land-claims negOtiations, while "non-status" Natives in scattered settlements also seek the security of a common land base.
             In 1899, if people considered themselves Indian they could accept treaty from the commissioners and retain that status. On the other hand, if they wished to be known as Metis or half-breed, they could be registered by the Scrip commissions, and received a paper which also entitled them to land. By the 1938 provincial Metis Betterment Act, colonies were established that attracted Metis settlers to homesteaders' lives.
             Speaking of his band's signing of the treaty, Sammy Young, past Chief (1964-76) of the Bigstone Cree Band, explained: "Some Indians were left out ~ missed the commission, had to take scrip and did not take treaty. Today we call this Metis."
             Treaty 8 chiefs recognize the aboriginal rights of Metis. Said Indian Association of Alberta vice-president for Treaty 8 Clifford Freeman: "When signings happened, they happened with people of mixed blood already. Some took scrip, some treaty; some families were split in half. Some people were not even notified."
             It was only relatively recent that the influx of homesteaders, and with them various European cultures, began to intrude on the character of the area which had remained relatively unchanged over many centuries. In 1910, according to the Dominion Land Agency in Grouard which administered over eighteen-million hectares, there were "100,000 acres taken up, and there are perhaps 500 settlers in the district, including breeds." The harsh daily life of the Native people, in a strict, almost puritanical society, to which the new settlers had to adapt or perish was dominated ~ especially in winter, by back-breaking labor.
             Though Lesser Slave Lake still enslaves the inhabitants of its shores by a harsh and unbending environment, yet will people love its rippling waters "as long as the sun shines and the water runs."


             "Hi Albert", Cliff Osborne emailed from Calgary, "my Grandmother ~ Elizabeth McNainey/Lepard, had a hotel in Faust when I was a boy of about 10 years old. That was about 65 years ago. My Uncle Cliff McNainey worked as a fisherman on Lesser Slave Lake, and raised mink at his home in Faust. My Mother, Rose Ina Osborne/McNainey, worked at the hotel and for the Menzies family that operated a fishing business there. My Uncle Cliff has written his life story, which includes some adventures in Faust and surrounding area.
             "I would like to get more stories, historical information, and pictures of Faust, if possible. Can you help me in this quest."
photos Cliff Osborne collection

WW II American Army convoy coming through from Alaska in the 1940s
X at right marks the spot of grandma McNainey's hotel

below 1930s

Canadian Children's Magazine, 1976

Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada ~ near center of map


A thesis presented to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, McGill University
in partial fulfullment for the degree of Master of Arts
1951, by Gordon Clark Merrill (d 2004)

Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway (ED&BC) construction started in 1912 heading toward Westlock, Alberta, reaching High Prairie in 1914, and Spirit River in 1915. In 1928 the provincial government grouped the ED&BC, and other small railways (CCR, AG&W, and PVR) under the collective name Northern Alberta Railways (NAR).

              Faust dates from the arrival of the railway in 1914. The first settler was a man named Adams, who very early in the life of Faust attempted to establish a box factory there. The business failed, Adams moved away, but other people came into the community, and it began to develop. In 1916 a fish plant was established in Faust, and it is still operating today, a well established and successful industry. Lumbering also had an early start in Faust, with a lumber mill being established there in the early twenties. The road in 1926 brought further development, particularly in the field of services to be offered to a travelling public. This small community now has a modern first class hotel, built to meet the demand for accommodation made by the many travelers using this route

              . . . a small scale commercial fishing industry in the Lesser Slave Lake area prior to the coming of the railway in 1914. At that time the catch was frozen and hauled on sleighs to Edmonton. The transport facilities limited this activity to the winter season. Thus, as is true of the other industries of this area, development of fisheries on a large scale could not take place until railway transportation became available.
              In 1916 William Menzies built a fish plant in Canyon Creek. Several years later he moved to Faust, and established there the Menzies Fisheries, a company which is still in operation, and which today plays a major role in the commercial fishing industry of this lake. The move from Canyon Creek to Faust was probably in response to the better fishing opportunities in the western portion of the lake. In addition, Giroux Bay offers a sheltered harbor to the fishing craft.

              . . . agricultural settlement in the valley land of the Swan River was started by a group of families from North Dakota. Mr. F. Hill, who is a successful farmer in the Swan River valley today, was a member of the original party which left North Dakota in 1907, bound for the Peace River country, which, according to Mr. Hill, was being promoted at that time as a 'Garden of Eden' by the Canadian Government. These people came in wagons drawn by horses and oxen. They took the north shore of the lake on their planned journey to the Peace, and eventually they reached Grouard. There they were told by the Indians about a very fine valley to the south of the lake. The party had travelled a long distance, the women and children had found the trip difficult, and the members of the group decided to remain in the Swan River valley for at least the coming winter, and possibly to move on to the Peace River district in the spring of the following year. In the valley they found hay meadows, thick grass vegetation, and a soil both fertile and easily worked. They decided to stay, and more people from North Dakota joined them in the following years. American settlers formed thus the core about which grew the successful agricultural settlement of the Swan Valley.

see also the section on Faust in [writings] where much more can befound on the community and its oldtimers


the Calverley Collection preserves the work of Dorothea Horton Calverley who read widely,
interviewed old-timers, gathered newspaper clippings, visited museums and archives
and kept up a correspondence with university and government officials
in search of answers to questions about the Peace country