A big thanks to all our recent fundraising donations!
We acknowledge that the land on which this Pavilion stands, traditionally known as asiniskaw sipisis ᐊᓯᓂᐢᑲᐤ ᓰᐲᓯᐢ (Stoney Creek), is Treaty 6 territory and a traditional meeting ground for many Indigenous peoples. The land on which this Stoney Creek Park is located provided a travelling route and home to the Maskwacis Nêhiyawak, Niitsitapi, Nakoda, and Tsuut'ina Nations, the Métis, and other Indigenous peoples. Their spiritual and practical relationships to the land create a rich heritage for our community.
We recognize that we are all Treaty people and have a responsibility to become aware of our shared history, understand the Spirit and Intent of the Treaties and by doing so that we can honour the past, be aware of the present, and create a just and caring future built upon Peace, Friendship, and Understanding.
If the stones of the Stoney Creek could speak, we would know much more about the peoples that traversed this tributary of the Battle River Valley. For it is oral history, passed through the generations, along with the written notes of early explorers, fur traders and settlers that paints the picture of early indigenous life in this Stoney Creek and Battle River country.
These stones would speak of the stewards of the land and water, the First Nations people who developed a deep understanding and appreciation for the interconnections of earth and life.
It was here that the Cree and Blackfoot tribes often battled for hunting grounds and territory – a picture of everyday risks in their nomadic existence. All this was to change with colonization and the signing of Treaty 6 in 1876.
This was a land and valley of rich soil, clean water and bountiful harvests. The migrating buffalo grazed on the lush grasses, fish filled the river and the lakes, fur bearing animals roamed the forests or swam the waters. Berry patches and gardens grew abundantly. Rich sources of food attracted the people.
For centuries the people of these plains and valleys walked this land and canoed the rivers. Then, in the 1730s, the horse arrived on these northern plains to revolutionize aboriginal cultures, boundaries, relations with neighbours and newcomers and hunting of the buffalo. Quickly adjusting to the newfound ways of travel and hunting, the Woods and Plains Cree became the most numerous and dominant force north of the Battle River Valley.
The more southerly Blackfoot way of life also centred on the buffalo. As trade and the area’s population increased, the strain depleted fur bearing animal populations. By 1879 there were no more buffalo to roam this Stony Creek Valley nor the prairies.
Blackfoot camp - Camrose Museum collection
The major trading posts of this area were established by the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company along the North Saskatchewan River, (one being Fort Edmonton established in 1795) and more central to Stoney Creek, Laboucane (also known as Duhamel) on the Battle River. The Battle River post was operated by Métis people that arrived from Manitoba around 1880. Fur trading became a major business for the Indigenous and Métis people and was a major source of their livelihood.
As the Blackfoot developed more need to trade, they had to venture close to the trading posts on the North Saskatchewan River such as Fort Edmonton. However, the Blackfoot had to cross the territory between the Battle and North Saskatchewan River which the Cree’s also claimed - a claim backed up by fairly concentrated nomadic occupancy. As soon as the Blackfoot stepped across the line of the Battle River into that notorious no-man's-land they ran great risks, and even those powerful prairie warriors took what steps they could to keep out of trouble.
The Métis people of the Duhamel settlement became heavily involved in the fur trade as trappers and freighters with their Red River carts and horses (or oxen) delivering furs to Winnipeg and later, Edmonton.
1905 Map of the Stoney Creek area from the book Golden Trail 1955
The Nehiyaw-Pwat (Iron Confederacy) was a political and military alliance of Plains Indians, including the Cree, that moved onto the Great Plains around 1740. The southern half of this movement eventually became the "Plains Cree" and the northern half the "Woods Cree”, the Saulteaux (Plains Ojibwa), the Nakodlion or Stoney people also called Pwat or Assiniboine, and the Métis and Haudenosaunee (who had come west with the fur trade).
The Iron Confederacy rose to predominance on the northern plains during the height of the North American fur trade when they operated as middlemen. They controlled the flow of European goods, particularly guns and ammunition, to other Indigenous nations, and the flow of furs to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and North West Company (NWC) trading posts. Its peoples later also played a major part in the bison (buffalo) hunt, and the pemmican trade.
The decline of the fur trade and the collapse of the bison herds sapped the power of the Confederacy after the 1860s. Even as their power weakened, they heeded Gabriel Dumont’s call to participate in the 1885 uprising and after the battle of Batoche, they scattered to various areas where they were placed on reserves or settled into other communities.
The Blackfoot Confederacy was made up of the Blackfoot, Blood and Peigan bands. In 1790, the Gros Ventres joined. They controlled the territory generally south of the Battle River to the U.S. border.
Many were the skirmishes and all-out battles that took place between the Blackfoot and the Crees and Assiniboines in the Battle River watershed. As one season merged into another the stones of every creek and coulee along this winding watercourse must have witnessed a minor fray or a major battle. When Anthony Henday first explored along this active waterway in 1754 he did not refer to it as the Battle River, but when Peter Fidler traversed this area in 1792 he referred to it as the “Battle of Fighting River”. Apparently, the Battle River got its name in the latter half of the 18th century from the many battles between the Cree and the Blackfoot.
One particular battle took place in 1865 and was recorded by Father Lacombe who was travelling with the Blackfoot and learning their language at the time. The battle occurred just where the Stoney Creek enters the Battle River Valley near one of the three main crossings of the Battle River south of Camrose. Later it was named the Breland crossing after the first Métis settler on that river lot, Samuel Breland.
“The Crees were camped on the north side of the Battle River along the banks of the Stoney Creek which flows south into the Battle River in the vicinity of the Breland crossing. The Blackfoot were encamped south of the Edberg Hill so the Battle River formed the dividing line between the two camps. The Crees initiated the attack. Father Lacombe, accompanying the Blackfoot, attempted to intervene. He appeared between the two battling tribes and was shot at by the Cree who mistook him for a woman. When several shots were fired at him without effect, the frightened Cree imagined that the bullets which struck him flattened against his body. The truth of the matter was that the bullets had penetrated Father Lacombe’s flying cassock without harming the doughty missionary. The Crees won the battle, raided the Blackfoot camp taking with them books of Father Lacombe and Blackfoot belongings. Sometimes that meant women and children or horses!”
Source: Page 9 Battle River Country - An Historical Sketch of Duhamel and District. Edited By Dr. J.R. Hambly, 1974. Printed by the Duhamel Historical Society, New Norway, Alberta.
Two years later Father Lacombe brokered a more lasting peace between the Cree and the Blackfoot in the Peace Hills north of Wetaskiwin.
There is little doubt that the stones of the Stoney Creek have seen blood shed from tribal wars and slaughter of the buffalo but they could also talk of the families who cared for each other and helped each other over the sharp rocks of adjustment to a very different way of life that was thrust upon them. Their spiritual and practical relationships to the land and to each other create a rich example and heritage for all Canadians.
The decline and elimination of the buffalo became a subsistence crisis for the indigenous people, but the introduction of diseases by colonists, fur traders and settlers - for which the natives had little if any resistance - decimated families and tribes.
Outbreaks of smallpox in 1780, 1837 and 1870, whooping cough in 1819 and tuberculosis led to many more deaths. It was reported that a smallpox outbreak on Pretty Hill between Camrose and Armena killed half the camp in 1870. The serious reduction in numbers forced many tribes to amalgamate to maintain operable band numbers.
The conditions led to the signing of Treaty 6 with the Canadian Government and by 1878 the Dominion Government began to move Indigenous people onto reserves in the three prairie provinces.
Driedmeat Lake and Driedmeat Hill, being on the outer eastern fringe of the Stoney Creek region, completes a nucleus of indigenous life in this rich part of the Battle River Valley. Before Europeans settled on the land, the Blackfoot tribe and Cree natives would use the area around the lake to camp and hunt and catch a healthy supply of fish. Their battles may have defined their river but not their hill and lake.
Human nature being what it is....
“A Blackfoot brave and a Cree maiden fell in love and rather than be parted, they braved the wrath of their elders and ran away. They lived in a cave near the hill, hunted when necessary and dried their meat. A passing Cree saw the meat; they were discovered and punished. The incident became a legend and gave us the name Driedmeat for the hill and the lake.”
Source: Camrose Canadian newspaper, August 3, 1977. A Quote from the Dried Meat Hill Heritage Days commemoration and celebration, August 1, 1977 at the Dried Meat Lake hill.
The name comes from the Cree word for drying bison meat and making pemmican with the berries of the saskatoon bushes on the base of the hill. Driedmeat Hill (Kahkewak in Cree) became a centre of food preparation and a lookout point. But it was also a gathering place… and a place where love conquered war!
One hundred years after the signing of Treaty 6, over 4000 people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, gathered on the Hill in 1976 to reenact and celebrate the signing of the treaty. It was presided over by Alberta’s first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor, Ralph Steinhauer. Steinhauer commended the program for helping to close the communications gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. He spoke of the need to recognize the Indigenous culture and together strive for a better future.
Re-enactment of the treaty signing – Camrose Canadian photo
The Métis settlement of the Battle River valley extended from the west end of Driedmeat Lake to an area just west of what is now Highway 21, a distance of about 9 miles. It was concentrated most heavily at Laboucane which later became old Duhamel at the now-closed Duhamel campground located on Highway 21 in the river valley.
In 1885 geological surveyor Joseph Tyrell (Tyrrell museum) described the settlement thus: “At Salvais' Crossing, four miles above Driedmeat Lake, there is a flourishing settlement of French half-breeds, consisting of about forty families. They are living in substantial log houses, and there is sufficient land under cultivation to raise all the field produce that can be used in the settlement. In July, 1885, wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, turnips and Indian corn were well advanced, and I was informed that for the last seven years there had been no failure of crops .... A considerable number of horses, cattle and sheep were also seen around the houses, and all were in excellent condition.”
In 1878 six brothers of the Laboucane family left Manitoba in a caravan of Red River carts and headed west over 1000 km of prairie for the Salvais Crossing, known as the “Notikiwin Seppe” to the Cree of the Battle River. Abraham Salvais had arrived four years earlier to lay down roots in the rich valley near Duhamel. Here the waterway of the river connected directly to the current site of Camrose (about 12 km away) through the Stoney Creek valley. While the river and rich soils were important to this settlement, the intersecting of important overland prairie trails at this crossing may have been of greater importance to business exploits of the Métis.
Since their arrival coincided with the disappearance of the buffalo, the Métis set up a commerce and transportation network known as freighting to serve the active fur trading business and other transfer of goods from local producers to centres like Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Wetaskiwin. For example, the early Blackfoot Trail, providing access to the southern plains, swung southeast from Edmonton, skirting the more heavily wooded Amiskwaciy, (Beaver Hills of which Miquelon Lakes is part) by way of the Hay Lakes and Bittern Lake, and crossed the Battle River at the Laboucane settlement. For nearly two decades the Métis with their red river carts dominated the prairie freighting business. Some of the local freighters had as many as 150 red river carts and only the poorest had fewer than 25. Some would travel by red river cart to Winnipeg in the summer to deliver furs and return with goods in the fall. These cheap, sturdy, noisy two wheeled carts soon came to be commonly associated with the Metis people of the plains until they in turn were reduced to a secondary and ultimately minor role as the railway crept west across the prairies. First, new trails were made to Regina… then to Moose Jaw… Medicine Hat… and finally there was no more need for new trails as "the steel" reached Camrose and Edmonton and…. Laboucane - near the end of the century.
But not all were freighters. Others were hunters and trappers, small farmers, merchants, postmen, priests, preparers of food and leaders of the community.
When the Métis left their Manitoba homes to settle in Alberta, they chose rich soil to grow their crops and a strategic location for their livelihood. They also were aware of the importance of water. In 1883 the lots on which the Métis lived were surveyed into the traditional river lot pattern giving each inhabitant direct access to the river for transportation and food. Three shallow river crossings existed within a few miles on the river west of Driedmeat Lake. The Breland crossing gave close access to the Stoney Creek valley and Camrose from the communities and people south of the Battle River.
For a few decades in the late nineteenth century the Métis made a distinctive but short-lived impact on the northern Great Plains. The focus here in the Battle River and Stoney Creek region was on Laboucane, a flourishing Métis settlement of this transitional period between nomadic and stationary life – between fur trade and homestead settlement in central Alberta.
As people of mixed ancestry, the Métis likely understood the nomadic ways of the Indigenous and the sedentary way of life of the non-Indigenous better than any other. They were therefore a bridge that brought old and new prairie economies together. They built a church soon after they arrived and brought in a priest, who, at times, settled disputes involving the local Indigenous and outside authorities. They excelled as trappers, hunters, freighters, boatmen, and guides. But more than that, they were successful in building the Duhamel settlement and in making a very significant contribution to our community and country.
And when the needs of the day that they satisfied had passed and when homesteaders started to move in around them, many chose to move on to another nomadic economy. Métis surnames like Laboucane, Salois, and Dumont have no local presence except in the cemetery of their church. Others, although few, chose to stay and become a part of the community. A few descendants are living in Camrose.
Red River carts
Battle River Country, The History of Duhamel and Area – Published in 1974 by The Duhamel Historical Society
The Battle River Valley - by James MacGregor. Published in 1976 by Western Producer Prairie Books
Footprints along the Stoney: A History of Armena and Baldenstein Areas – Published in 1982 by the Armena Local History Committee