Edmonton Tourist: Fort Victoria Provincial Historic Park

Who among you is unaware that there were Forts along the North Saskatchewan river other than Fort Edmonton. Show of hands, please. I knew I couldn’t be the only one. When you go to Fort Edmonton, they talk about the york boats heading towards Hudson Bay. No one told me about Fort Victoria, Fort Pitt or Fort Carlton. I knew about Fort Garry because when in Winnepeg that’s what you do, you visit Fort Garry, see Louis Reil statues and eat a Manitoba Weiner. But there were other Forts??

When the hubs and I visited Smoky Lake for the Pumpkin Festival, we saw a sign for Victoria Provincial Historic Park. The hubs has been researching his family history (it is rich with Metis culture) and he mentioned Victoria being a Metis settlement. I suggested we stop by on our way back to the city.

Since it is a provincial historic site, I am counting it as a provincial park. It is supported and maintained by Alberta Parks so I think it counts towards my project. You can see all the Alberta Provincial Parks I have written about in the sidebar.

As we drove towards the area, I was trying to recall if I had been along the North Saskatchewan River east of Edmonton. I’ve been to Prince Albert, Sask. where the rivers merge about 40km east but honestly other than Battleford, Saskatchewan, I don’t think I have seen it other than the headwaters in the Rockies. Plus I’ve paddled it from Nordegg to Devon. I love our muddy river and it feels like home to me. Seeing it east of Edmonton was a wonderful experience for me. It looks the same. The valley feels the same. It’s my river so I felt like I was home.

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We turned east on Victoria Trail east of highway 855. All along the river were Metis river lots. You could tell the boundaries by the trees dividing the lots or they were fenced off.

ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lots circa 1878∞, pronounced (EE-NU) River Lot. ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) is a Cree word meaning “I am of the Earth”. The Victoria Settlement is situated on ancestral lands of the Indigenous peoples whose descendants entered into Treaty with the British Crown resulting in the territory opening for settlement. It was home to temporary camps built by the Cree. The Hudson’s Bay Company trading post and an influx of Métis settlers arrived a few years later and Methodist Mission established by George McDougall.

The Victoria Settlement and Metis Crossing were closed for the season, but still accessible to visitors. The interpretive programs were closed. Archeologists have found evidence of Cree peoples six thousand years ago. Think about that. Canada is a country that is 152 years old. We are hardly the founders, just people laying claim to a land that didn’t belong to us.

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We stopped first at Metis Crossing. Métis Crossing is the first major Métis cultural interpretive center in Alberta.

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The area along the river was divided into river lots showing how the settlement emerged from Cree lands. It’s easy to see why indigenous people lived here. Easy access to the river, hills to the north proving shelter from the harsh winter. Plus a natural animal corridor for hunting. Eventually, it was farmed and now the surrounding area is all farmland. In the summer months, the Metis Crossing Interpretive Centre offers voyageur canoe tours of the river. If you have never experienced a paddle down the river, I highly recommend it. The perspective changes the way you think about the land.

After we looked around the crossing a bit, we went back on Victoria Trail and headed east towards Victoria Settlement.

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It is an easy loop walking tour beginning with the methodist church established in 1878. Apparently, George McDougall was instrumental in negotiating Treaty 6 for the Indigenous peoples. Whether that was good or not, it’s hard to know. They did receive a better deal than Treaty 4 but John A McDonald was not about fairness.

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The timbers layout the fort boundaries, The Hudson’s Bay Company opened Fort Victoria in 1864 to serve as a post for the eastern trade out of Fort Edmonton. This is the Clerk’s Quarters. By 1890 the Fort had been reduced to five buildings and a rail fence. The Clerk’s Quarters is apparently the oldest original building on its original site in Alberta.

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Cree Cheif James Seenum, also known as Chef Pakan signed Treaty Six at Fort Pitt in 1976 and obtained reserves for his people at Whitefish Lake and at Saddle Lake. Before the treaty was accepted there was a debate, negotiation and some foreboding. Chiefs Seenum and Big Bear pressed for a single large Cree reserve of over 2500 square km (1000 square miles), which could support peoples’ hunting and trapping. For many years after the signing, Seenum believed that his people had been promised this much larger reserve. As late as 1882 Seenum travelled with Peter Erasmus to Regina to see the Indian Commissioner to press his claim for a central reserve. During the 1885 Rebellion, he counselled his people against joining Big Bear’s band in the conflict but also refused to let his people aid the Canadian military. * Source Victoria Settlement.

Treelines and fence lines show the delineation of the river lots still visible today.

This historic park is located in such a beautiful area of the province, nestled alongside the banks of the North Saskatchewan. I recommend a visit here during the summer and check out the different programs offered to visitors. then head over to Metis Crossing for a paddle on the river.

 

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