Description of Historic Place
Frog Lake National Historic Site of Canada is an archaeological and historic site located in the community of Frog Lake, north-eastern Alberta, near the Saskatchewan border. The site is associated with a conflict that occurred between the Plains Cree and Canadian officials during the 1885 North-West Resistance. There are no standing structures on site however the settlement’s remains are evident. Low rolling hills and valleys, lakes and woods surround the site which is marked by an HSMBC cairn and plaque. Official recognition refers to the area that encompasses former the Farm Agency No. 15, a non-Aboriginal settlement on the lake’s south shore, two former First Nation camps to the south, a small cemetery, and a lumber and grist mill site 4 kilometres west containing archaeological remains from 1885.
Frog Lake was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1923 because:
- its associations with the tragic event of 2 April 1885;
- its meanings for the various parties involved;
- its association with the events and tensions which led to, and arose out of that event of 1885.
The heritage value of Frog Lake National Historic Site of Canada lies in its witness to the conflict as illustrated by those aspects of the site associated with the event and its gestation period, namely the site’s location, unspoilt setting, and material disposition. The conflict, formerly referred to as the Frog Lake Massacre, occurred on the site of Farm Agency No. 15 established in 1879 to serve the neighbouring Wood Cree reserves of Unipouheos and Puskiakiwenin around Frog Lake. This in turn attracted a small non-Aboriginal settlement. In 1885, three years after adhering to Treaty No. 6, a Plains Cree band led by Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa) was encamped beside the agency. Deeply concerned for his people’s future, Big Bear – a leader of those clinging to traditional values – still hoped to negotiate better terms, and held out from moving onto a reserve. The government approach of limiting rations to encourage settlement combined with a hard winter made conditions very difficult for Big Bear’s Cree followers. When news of Métis victories at Duck Lake reached the camp, Big Bear’s war chief, Wandering Spirit, responded to the insufficient food supply and harsh labour conditions imposed by the agency by leading an attack of Plains Cree warriors against it. Nine settlers were killed in the ensuing conflict. The site where this attack occurred has not been occupied since 2 April 1885, particularly because the Frog Lake First Nation holds that the site of Big Bear’s camp is sacred and should not be disturbed. Frog Lake speaks to the point of transition of local First Nations from the free hunting life of the plains to the agricultural life of a reserve settlement.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 2001;
Commemorative Integrity Statement, January 2006.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
-its location in the community of Frog Lake, in north-eastern Alberta;
-the natural setting amid low rolling hills and valleys with lakes, streams and woods;
-the cultural landscape associated with the event, including man-made elements and natural landscape
features such as Frog Lake’s southern shoreline, Frog Creek, Smoking Hill, and the location of the
combined Cree camps west, east and south of the lower portion of Frog Lake, the plateau south of
Frog Lake and north of the settlement and its series of natural prairie mounds;
- remains of the 1885 town site’s built features in their location, extent and materials, both discovered
and undiscovered, including rectangular, circular, and linear depressions, remains of house cellar pits,
depressions, mounds, and, that constitutes the remains of the Frog Lake Store, the School house, and
Roman Catholic mission complex including the church and priest’s house, the cemetery, the Hudson’s
Bay Company store, Simpson house, Pritchard house, North West Mounted Police barracks and
stables, the Delaney house and Delaney milk house, Dill’s store, Quinn’s house, Indian Agency
- remains of built features of the 1885 Gowanlock mill complex, including evidence of its buildings, dam
- in-situ archaeological resources related to the Plains Cree encampments of Big Bear and Unipouheos
both below and above ground in their layout, orientation, material components and inter-relationships,
including remains of the Nepowquata family residence, its complex, orientation and site in the Woods
- remnants of 1885 circulation systems including wagon trails, paths within the site, and historic trails
linking the Frog Lake area with other trade and service centres on the prairies;
- remnants of the 1885 cemetery, particularly the seven iron crosses and gravesites of the casualties;
- all other identified archaeological resources related to the site in their extent and materials, and the
retention of knowledge associated with all period artifacts associated with the site and events of 2 April
1885, including objects discovered in the combined Cree camps area, including the barrel of a muzzle
loader, a gun flint, a trade axe, native pottery, a bi-face, a flake of Knife River Flint, glass containers,
fragments of pottery, glass, metal, and hardware;
- the viewscapes to and from the site and between its constituent elements.