BUFFALO LAKE METIS SETTLEMENT
Buffalo Lake Metis Cabin Site
Metis Settlement Site
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement is one of the few known examples remaining of the mid- to late nineteenth-century hivernant (wintering) Metis settlements in Alberta. It is located east of Buffalo Lake and west of Lynn Lake, near Stettler. Situated on approximately 30 acres of land, the site consists of cellar depressions and rock fireplace mounds representing as many as 89 individual cabins near the northeastern shore of Buffalo Lake. Artifacts excavated from this site are stored at the Royal Alberta Museum.
The heritage value of the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement archaeological site is that it represents one of the few large, well preserved examples of mid- to late nineteenth-century Metis settlements in Alberta, and reflects significant developments in the early history of western Alberta.
The Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement was occupied seasonally from autumn 1872 to spring 1877. The Metis at Buffalo Lake came initially from the Red River Settlement in 1873-1874 after the Red River Resistance, and later from the St. Albert (Big Lake) and the Lac Ste. Anne Settlements. The location of the Buffalo Lake Settlement was strategically important for gaining access to bison, which were both the primary food source as well as the basis for Metis economic independence through trade. This trade was an important supply component of operation of commercial trade enterprise along the Saskatchewan River basin. Although accurate estimates of the population at the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement are lacking, they range from 400 to 500 people during the initial period of 1873-1874, reaching perhaps as many as 1200 to 2000 inhabitants at its peak in 1875-1876.
With the decline of the bison and the bison robe trade by 1878, decline in the use of the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement as a major Metis 'hivernant' site also occurred. The settlers soon began to disperse due to lack of provisions, following the bison to more southerly areas. After this period, the Settlement was only periodically inhabited by a few small groups, and it never again reached its pre-1878 size. Record of the settlement during its florescence appears in the written journals and letters compiled by Oblate missionaries while living at the Settlement. The Settlement was archaeologically investigated between 1970 and 1982.
Sources: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 840). Doll, Maurice F.V., 1977, Archaeological Excavations in the Buffalo Lake Regions, Archaeology in Alberta 1976, Archaeological Survey of Alberta Occasional Paper No. 4, compiled by J. Michael Quigg, p 80-83; 1988, Doll, Maurice F.V., Robert S. Kidd and John P. Day, The Buffalo Lake Metis Site: A Late Nineteenth Century Settlement in the Parkland of Central Alberta, Provincial Museum of Alberta Human History Occasional Paper No. 4, pp. 411.; 1984, Kennedy, Margaret A. and Brian O.K. Reeves, An inventory and historical description of whiskey posts in southern Alberta, p. 55.
The character-defining elements of the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement include such features as:
- the size and degree of preservation of the site, making it one of the best examples of a mid- to late nineteenth-century Metis 'hivernant' (wintering) settlement in Alberta;
- features present at the site, including numerous depressions, fireplaces and mounds (likely representing collapsed chimneys) and other remains that reflect occupation by as many as 2000 inhabitants in as many as 89 cabins;
- the variety and quantity of cultural materials recovered during the archaeological investigations of the site provides a basis for understanding the lifeways and cultural practices of the Metis people during the mid- to late nineteenth-century;
- the existence of a body of written documentation, as found in the journals and letters of the Oblate missionaries who lived at the Settlement, provides a way of understanding the archaeological remains, as well as the general cultural practices of the Metis people during the mid- to late nineteenth-century;
- oral history retained by Metis people about the site, its history and inhabitants, as well as a way of life that flourished on the Plains as bison culture disappeared and Canada developed as a Nation.
Province of Alberta
Historical Resources Act
Provincial Historic Resource
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
- Peopling the Land
- Migration and Immigration
- Peopling the Land
Function - Category and Type
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 840)
Cross-Reference to Collection