Canada’s Agriculture Day
Let’s celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day by looking back at early agriculture in the Lac La Biche area. Thanks to the efforts of our early farmers, farming remains an important industry in Alberta today.
While fur traders were known to keep small gardens near their posts, the first attempt at agriculture of any scale began with the establishment of the Lac La Biche Mission at its current site in 1855. Barley and vegetables like cabbages and potatoes were grown as cold-hardy staples, but it is wheat that is perhaps best associated with the Mission today. Wheat was regarded as an uncertain crop in northern areas at the time. However, the Oblate missionaries enjoyed particular success in its cultivation, going on to produce the first commercial crop of wheat in Alberta.
Many of the Métis who had settled around the Mission also began to cultivate the land near their homes, as a dramatic decline in the area’s fish and game stocks in the 1880s made a traditional hunting lifestyle difficult to maintain. The passing of the Dominion Lands Act in 1872 would usher in a new wave of settlement all over Western Canada. For a small $10 fee and a commitment to live on and clear a portion of a quarter-section of land, homesteaders would be granted ownership of the quarter-section after three years. This policy had the effect of drawing hundreds of thousands of immigrant farmers to Western Canada.
Aided by the arrival of the A&GW railway in 1915, homesteaders of French, Ukrainian, and Italian ancestry (among many others) began to settle in the Lac La Biche region, often choosing parcels of land near their countrymen and forming their own communities. The ties of mutual support that developed were extremely important for newcomers. The difficulties involved in clearing land in the boreal forest meant that new farms would not be profitable for some years. Being able to work for established neighbours over the winter months allowed men to support their families while living on their own properties. These close community ties remain strong in the area to this day.
Try a Regional Favourite
Try this regional favourite from the Multicultural Community Cookbook 2005, a publication put out by Lac La Biche County (formally Lakeland County).
Tourtière (French Meat Pie) – makes approximately 17 pies so share with family and friends!
- 18 cups of flour
- 3 lb lard
- 3 ½ cups water (or more if needed)
- 4 tsp baking powder
– 22 lb ground pork
– 2 tsp salt
– 2 tsp pepper
– ¾ pkg bread crumbs
– 1 large pot mashed potatoes
– 3 medium onions, chopped
– Sage, to taste
Filling: Cook meat with onions, salt, pepper and a bit of water in bottom of pot. After this has cooked on low heat for almost two hours (stir occasionally) add sage. Remove from heat; add breadcrumbs (which have been dampened a bit with cold water) and mashed potatoes. Mix well.
Crust: Mix flour and baking soda together, cut in lard and add water as needed.
Fill pie crusts and bake at 375°F until crust is brown.