Métis People in Southern Alberta

During the early fur trade in Canada, the Métis began to form a distinct cultural group. The Métis were the children of First Nations women and European traders and their descendants. Many lived along the Red River in southern Manitoba while others lived along the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers where trapping and farming were their main occupations. During the summer months, the families piled their belongings into noisy Red River carts and moved out onto the prairie to hunt buffalo. Robes and pemmican from the hunts were traded for guns and metal, ceramic, glass and fabric goods.

As the number of bison decreased in the 1860s and 1870s, smaller hunting parties began to winter in protected locales across the prairies such as the Cypress Hills where small herds of bison still survived. The Métis built log cabins in sheltered places, close to wood, water and good grazing.

In 1966, land owner Lawrence Kajewski helped archaeologist Jack Elliot locate the remains of the Métis cabins on Gros Ventre Creek. A few of the cabins and several associated cache pits were studied. Objects recovered during the excavations indicated that these cabins were used intermittently over an extended time period. The artifacts, of both Aboriginal and the European origin, included ammunition, clay pipes, pottery, thimbles, metal pots and scraping tools made from stone. Bones from bison, porcupine, deer, and birds indicated the variety of animals hunted for food.

After consulting historic records, Elliott concluded that “two or more biologically related nuclear families” lived in these cabins. According to Oblate missionary Father Lestanc Métis families lived in the Cypress Hills as early as 1868. In 1880, NWMP Surgeon Dr. John Kittson reported that 20 families “gather there in the early fall to make their homes for the winter.”

ArticleWendy AitkensComment