Our History

Artist's Rendition of David Thompson
Artist’s Rendition of David Thompson

 

Lac La Biche is one of Alberta’s oldest communities. Although the First Nations in the area today is predominantly Cree and Chipewyan, it was not always so. Beaver, Sarcee, Sekani, and Blackfoot peoples inhabited the Lac La Biche area before being displaced by Chipewyan and Cree peoples moving in from the north and east in advance of the fur trade. Current evidence cannot indicate how long the earlier First Nations people lived around Lac La Biche or whether they had displaced earlier peoples. Native Culture can be fully enjoyed by visiting Portage College. Their hallway displays and exhibits coupled with their Native Arts program provide an excellent overview.

David Thompson was the first European explorer to record a trip to Lac La Biche and confirm its existence. Thompson built Red Deers Lake House and spent the winter of 1798-99 at Lac La Biche. The construction of Red Deers Lake House marked the beginning of European settlement at Lac La Biche. Although Thompson left in the spring of 1799 and would not return for a dozen years, he paved the way for other explorers, fur traders, and free traders who eventually visited or settled the area. One notable explorer was Peter Fidler of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who built Greenwich House at Lac La Biche. Find out more by enjoying our exhibits on Portage La Biche and the Fur Trade, including perusing through a copy of David Thompson’s journals documenting his stay in Lac La Biche.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate were founded in France in 1816 by the Rev. Charles Joseph Eugene du Mazenod (later Bishop of Marseilles). The new religious order’s aim was the evangelization of the poor and the most neglected. In 1841, Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal invited the Oblates to Canada for their first foreign mission, beginning in the Ottawa Valley before moving into the North West in 1845. The first two Oblates to travel to Western Canada were Rev. Father P. Aubert and Brother Alexandre Taché. The Oblates first established the mission of Notre Dame des Victoires in 1853, before moving it to its present location on the shore of Lac la Biche in 1855. Is eventually became one of the most important Oblate missions in Western Canada, serving as the main supply depot for all Catholic missions in the North West. For the full history of Notre Dame des Victoires, visit the Lac La Biche Mission National & Provincial Historic Site approximately 10km west of the hamlet of Lac La Biche.

On Thursday, February 4, 1915, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, amid whistle blasts and a cheering crowd, the first locomotive arrived at Lac La Biche. The iron beast belonging to the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway was greeted by a large banner advertising “A Grand Dance” to “welcome the steel”. By 1916, the Edmonton Bulletin was writing of the “smart little town” fast becoming an important divisional point from Edmonton on the Waterways railway. More than this, Lac La Biche was “Edmonton’s newest summer resort, and its only one equipped with a hotel….” The arrival of the railway catapulted Lac La Biche into the 20th Century and in many respects transformed the community, formally becoming the Village of Lac La Biche in 1919, complete with a mayor and Village Council. The Lac La Biche Regional Museum and Discovery Center for our exhibits on the Town of Lac La Biche, the Lac La Biche Inn, and the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway.