The Métis of Rouleauville

Editor’s Note: November 15- 21 is Métis Week: an opportunity to recognize the culture, history and contributions of Métis people to Alberta and across the country. The following post is written by Matt Hiltermann on behalf of Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Through extensive research of census records and archival material, Matt tells the story of the many Métis families who lived at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, and who contributed to the social fabric of Rouleauville—one of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods.

Communities do not spring from the soil fully formed; rather, they tend to coalesce around existing population centres, important trade routes, and/or vital resources, among other things. As a fording place for the buffalo herds, the area that would become Calgary and its environs was an important gathering place for the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and their Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda allies since time immemorial. [1] Due to its status as a gathering place rich in resources, by the mid-19th century, Métis freeman bands with kin ties to the Tsuut’ina or Niitsitapi began to visit these peoples along the Bow. [2] These Métis freemen acted as middlemen in the ever-important pemmican trade that fueled the Hudson Bay Company’s (HBC) northern trading posts, brigades and the fur trade more broadly.[3]

“A Red River Cart at Calgary, N.W.T.” Painting by Edward Roper, ca 1887 – 1909. Source: Library and Archives Canada.

By 1870, the buffalo herds had begun to decline, leading the Niitsitapi to spend more and more of their time south of the Canada-US border. Simultaneously, Cree and Métis groups also began to range further and further south. This led to conflict between the Niitsitapi and the Cree. The presence of the Métis, however, seems to have initially been less contentious. This was not random; though most Métis are of Cree, Nakoda or Anishnabe descent, those active in the lands of the Niitsitapi and Tsuut’ina had ancestry from one of these groups. Josephte Sarcee was the matriarch of the Bruneau, Durand and Dumont families; the Munroes were of Piikani descent; and the Salois, Brabants and Brazeaus all descended from the Lucier family, which was somehow connected to the Siksika Chief High Eagle. The Ward family also appears to have been active in the area, although the origin of their matriarch remains unknown.[4]

As Métis families began to move onto the plains, they began to build wintering camps. The largest of these was the Buffalo Lake Complex, stretching from Battle River to Tail Creek, Boss Hill and centred on Buffalo Lake. However, smaller wintering camps appear to have been cropping up at Red Deer Crossing,[5] Morleyville,[7] and Calgary. [8]

Log cabins, Calgary, Alberta, 1910. An 1876-built Métis log cabin has been restored on the site of Fort Calgary. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives.

The first family to establish permanent residence at Calgary were the Godins, sometime between 1870 and 1872.[9] They were joined shortly thereafter by members of the Ward and Boucher families.[10] While they may seem unrelated, all of these families were maternally linked through the Bruneaus.[11] It would seem that they settled at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow, as evidenced by Louis Rousselle’s 1876 purchase of Antoine Godin’s land claim.[12] The Livingstons and Glenns arrived around this time too, though they did not settle at the confluence.

Prior to the arrival of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) in 1875, the population at the confluence was small and seems to have consisted mostly of the Godin-Ward freeman band. However, after Fort Calgary was constructed, the population boomed. Cecil Denny notes that within a month of the Mounties’ arrival at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, “quite a number of half-breeds (sic) from Edmonton arrived with their Red River carts and built cabins along both sides of the Elbow, so that before winter a little settlement had sprung up.”[13]  By 1881, there were 172 people in the vicinity of Calgary, approximately two-thirds of which were Métis.[14] In fact, the first white woman did not arrive in Calgary until 1882![15]

Portion of Plan of Township no. 24, Range 1 West of Fifth Meridian, Calgary map, 1883. Parcels owned by Rousselle, Scollen and the Roman Catholic Mission are identified. Source: University of Calgary Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections.

This fledgling Métis community along the Elbow became the basis of what we would now know as the Victoria Park, Inglewood, Ramsey, Erlton and Mission communities of Calgary. Métis families enumerated along the Elbow in the 1881 census include the Hodgesons, Anas dit Vanasse, McDonald*, Dumont, Rousselle*, King*, Donald, Fayant, Ward, Paquette*, Scollen*, Belcourt, Munroe, Rabisca dit Deschamps, Mallette and L’Hirondelle.[16]

Calgary was incorporated in 1884, one year after the railway arrived.[17] Although Rouleauville would not be incorporated for another 16 years, its contours were already visible by 1891. Being the site of Notre Dame de la Paix Roman Catholic Church, many of the children of the Métis families who had settled along the Elbow decided to make their homes near the local. In comparing census material for Rouleauville and other neighbourhoods adjacent to the Elbow River, an interesting pattern emerges: The town of Calgary has a Métis population of less than 10, whereas Rouleauville and its environs are home to almost 100.[18] These numbers likely only account for those within the urban community, as they do not account for those who still held farmsteads along the Elbow.

The 1891 census identifies several familiar names vis-à-vis 1901, including L’Hirondelle, McGillis, Scollen*, Dumont, Mallette, Godin and Rabasca. New names that will later persist in the area include Brazeau, Butlin, Bruneau and Paul. Other Métis families identified include the Ducharmes and Demarais of Manitoba, Torangeau, Bouvette and St. Louis.

Portion of the Plan of the Town of Calgary map, 1891. Rouleauville is located to the west of the Elbow River. Source: University of Calgary Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections.

In the 1901 census, the number of Métis in Rouleauville appears to drop from almost 100 to under 60. This drop is illusory, however, as the Rouleauville subsection of the Calgary West sub-district in the 1901 census enumerates a more geographically circumscribed space than the Calgary C (24) subdistrict. This is evidenced by the total population counts: 299 for Rouleauville in 1901 and 779 for the Calgary C (24) subdistrict in 1891. An interesting corollary of this redistricting is that it shows how core the Métis population was to Rouleauville. In the 1891 census, where the Calgary C (24) subdistrict appears to include adjacent areas, Métis only make up 12.3 per cent of the population, whereas in 1901 they account of 18.4 per cent if Rouleauville.[19]

The 1906 census shows the persistence of these trends. Although the Métis population of Rouleauville has grown between 1901 and 1906, the non-Indigenous population has grown faster. Still, at just shy of out of a population of about 700, Métis still make up a considerable proportion of Rouleauville. The continuity is noteworthy as well. While new families like the Villeneuves and Bremners have joined, as has widow Adeleide Slattery (formerly Glenn, nee Belcourt), the Kiplings, McGillises, L’Hirondelles, Brazeaus and Belcourts remain.[20]

(Left to right) Liza Wood (nee Kipling), Sofia Street (nee Kipling) and Mary McGillis (nee Kipling), ca 1908-1909. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives.

Mary and Agnes McGillis, Metis sisters, Calgary, Alberta. Ca 1907. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives.

Throughout these censuses, we see that the antecedent to Rouleauville (and, indeed, Calgary as well) was the Métis settlement along the Elbow. Métis families who remained in the area long-term tended to coalesce around the Roman Catholic mission. This community, already visible by 1891, would eventually become Rouleauville in 1900. It is worth noting that, across these censuses, the Métis population around the mission – later, Rouleauville – would remain fairly stable, both as a total number and as a percentage. The only exception to this is the difference between the 1881 and 1891 censuses, which can be explained by the arrival of the railway in 1883. It was because of the Catholic, and to a lesser extent Francophone, nature of this community that Irish and French immigrants chose to settle here when they arrived by rail. However, the groundwork for the community was unambiguously laid by the Métis.

Marsee to Matt and Region 3 for sharing your knowledge and research. Although we are unable to celebrate together in person, the Métis Nation of Alberta has scheduled a full week of virtual videos, presentations and memorials for us to enjoy and learn from, from the comfort of home. We hope you have the opportunity to take in some programming!

Sources:

[1] Hugh A. Dempsey (2008), “The Indians and the Stampede,” in Icon, Brand, Myth : The Calgary Stampede, ed. Max Foran (Athabasca: AU Press, 2008), 47-72.

[2] On evidence of a Métis presence along the Bow by the mid 19th Century, see Library and Archives Canada,RG15-D-II-8-b. Volume/box number: 1327, Copied Container Number: C-14938, “Dumont, St. Pierre, Concerning his Claim as Head of Family,” LAC, RG15-D-II-8-b, Volume/box number: 1326, Copied container number: C-14937, “Cayen, Marguerite – Concerning her claim as a head of family”; LAC, RG15-D-II-8-c, Volume/box number: 1371, Copied container number: C-15009, “Ward, Jane.”

On freemen with Tsuut’ina and Niitsitapi kin ties, see Gail Morin, Country Wives: Josephte Sarcee, Wife of Jean Baptiste Bruneau, Joseph Paul Durand, and Jean Baptiste Dumont, vol. 4 (Gail Morin, 2019); Maurice F.V. Doll, Robert S. Kidd, and John P. Day, The Buffalo Lake Métis Site: A Late Nineteenth Century in the Parkland of Central Alberta (Edmonton: Provincial Museum of Alberta, 1988), 11-12, 19; ; ; Mario Giguère and Bronwyn Evans, “Appendix: Biographical Notes” in Leon Doucet, Mon Journal: The Journal and Memoire of Father Leon Doucet, O.M.I., 1868-1890 ed. Mario Giguère and Bronwyn Evans (Calgary: Historical Society of Alberta, 2018), 409; John E. Foster, “Wintering, the Outsider Adult Male, and the Ethnogenesis of the Western Plains Métis,” in From Rupert’s Land to Canada, ed. Theodore Binnema, Gerhard J. Ens, and R.C. Macleod (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001), 186-187.

[3] On the role of freemen as middlemen, see Hereward Longley, “Keeping Loyalty and Regulating Insubordination: Freemen and the Edmonton House Fur Trade, 1821-1828,” Past Imperfect vol. 20 (2017): 30-47.  On the importance of the pemmican trade to the HBC, see Arthur J. Ray “The Northern Great Plains: Pantry of the Northwestern Fur Trade, 1774-1885” in The Early Northwest, ed. Gregory P. Marchildon (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 2008), , 85-108.

[4] See note 2, above.

[5] The scale and scope of the presence at Red Deer Crossing is unknown. However, I was surprised at how many scrip records give it as a place of birth, marriage, or death, particularly between 1860 and 1875.

[7] LAC, RG15-D-II-8-b, 1327, C-14938, “Dumont, St. Pierre.”

[8] LAC,RG15-D-II-8-c. Volume/box number: 1353. Copied container number: C-14980, “Laframboise, Baptiste”; Volume/box number: 1338. Copied container number: C-14953, “Brein, Nancy”; Volume/box number: 1371. Copied container number: C-15009, “Ward, James”; Volume/box number: 1338. Copied container number: C-14953, “Godin, Suzanne”; Volume/box number: 1337. Copied container number: C-14951, “Boucher, Eve”; RG15-D-II-8-b. Volume/box number: 1328. Copied container number: C-14938, “Godin, Charles”; Volume/box number: 1328. Copied container number: C-14938, “Godin Jr., Antoine”; Volume/box number: 1328. Copied container number: C-14938, “Godin Sr., Antoine”.

All of these scrip records give their applicant as resident at what would become Calgary prior to 1875.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Gail Morin, Josephte Sarcee, 11, 116, 147.

[12] Glenbow Archives, Max Foran Fonds, Series 1: Max Foran’s writings and research – 1969-1984, M-383, “petition to Sir John A. Macdonald from Louis Roselle re purchase from Antoine Godin”; “declaration by Antoine Godin re erecting houses”

[13] The Law Marches West, 85. A review of the 1881 census, as well as scrip claims made at Calgary suggests that “Edmonton” is being used pretty loosely here to refer to the broader Edmonton District and including people from Battle River, Buffalo Lake, Lac Ste Anne, St. Albert, and Victoria Settlement.

[14] Matt Hiltermann, Transcription of the Bow River (M) District of the Northwest Territories in the 1881 Census, (unpublished).

[15] Nora Sleumer, “Mrs. George Jacques: Calgary’s First White Woman,” Fort Calgary Quarterly vol. 7, no 1 (1987): 9. See also A.R. Dyer, “Dear Josie: A Letter From the Frontier,” Fort Calgary Quarterly vol. 1, no. 4 (1980): 14-16. Originally writing in September 1882, he notes that “the ‘ladies’ [around Fort Calgary] were all [redacted slur for Indigenous woman] and [redacted slur for Métis person] but nary a white woman.”

[16] Hiltermann, Bow River (M) District).

[17] “City Council – A Brief History,” City of Calgary, accessed November 12, 2020. URL: https://www.calgary.ca/citycouncil/city-council-brief-history.html?fbclid=IwAR3m2pPOFaZ0xW_2DDdy1_XgDxkMuZLyXXxDO_wR1xym88A0SIHikxzyek4

[18] LAC, Census of Canada, 1891, Northwest Territories, Alberta District, Subdistrict A, 22 Calgary A, 1-40; 24, Calgary C, 1-33.

*Indicates white man married to Métis woman, and therefore head of Métis household.

[19] LAC, Census of Canada, 1901, North-West Territories, District 202 (Alberta), Subdistrict V (Calgary West), 9-15. These numbers are likely underestimates, as there were several students at the convent school born in Manitoba or the NWT who may have been Métis. However, in the absence of triangulating data, they have not been included in my numbers here. Also of note is that most Métis families are identified by the enumerator as “white”.

[20] LAC, Census of the Northwest Provinces, 1906, Alberta, District: C, Calgary, Subdistrict: 9,
Townships 24, 25, 26 in range 28, fractional townships 24, 25, 26 in range 29, all west of the 4th Meridian, and townships 24, 25, 26 in range 1 west of the 5th Meridian, excepting the City of Calgary, 1-5, 43-56.

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