Canada History Week Day 4: Notre Dame des Victoires

The Lac La Biche Mission, a national historic site and a provincial historic resource, was once known as Notre Dame des Victoires. Joseph Cardinal had invited priests from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to the area, which was visited on his invitation by Father J.B. Thibault in 1844. The mission was first established on the shores of Lac La Biche near the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, but was moved to the bay at which it resides today in 1855. At the time the mission was built, it was the third mission in what would become northern Alberta.

Nuns and students posed outside the convent, 1924
Nuns and students posed outside the convent, 1924

The priests were joined in 1862 by the Grey Nuns and ran Alberta’s first residential school at Notre Dame des Victoires. The Grey Nuns left in 1898 when the residential school was moved to Saddle Lake, where it remained until 1931, when it was moved yet again to St. Paul. A new order of nuns, the Daughters of Jesus (les Filles de Jesus), arrived in 1905 and took up residence in the former rectory, the present day convent, which was built in 1894. After living for a time in the rectory built when they vacated the 1894 building, the priests built a new rectory in 1924, which burned down in 2009.

Residential school students in 1896
Residential school students in 1896

The church currently situated on the mission grounds was built in 1922 to replace a church destroyed by a tornado the year prior. One of the only things to survive the church’s destruction was the altar, seen in the current church today. The mission was home to many of Alberta’s “firsts”, such as the first printing press (brought by Father Grouard in 1877) and the first water-powered sawmill (1871). The mission was closed in 1963. Visitors today can take tours of the remaining buildings and learn more about the community that lived there. Visit their website at www.laclabichemission.com/