A Haven in the Bush: The Baptiste River Métis Settlement

Editor’s note: Tanisi! This is the concluding post in our series recognizing June as National Indigenous History Month. We hope these posts and resources have helped you learn more about the many diverse cultures, histories and achievements of First Nation, Inuit and Métis Peoples across what is now Canada. Banner image: The remains of Charlotte’s cabin at the Baptiste River Métis Settlement (Source: Laura Golebiowski).

Written by: Laura Golebiowski, Indigenous Heritage Section

It’s a Sunday afternoon in late May. Despite forecasted rains, it is a beautiful day, and the sun shines through the forest canopy of balsam poplar, trembling aspen and tall pines. Sandwiches are pulled from a cooler atop a striped wool blanket, and tea is poured. Family photographs are passed around: black-and-white images of babies bundled in snowsuits and bucking broncos at a rodeo.

We sit down on the soft ground. Gladys motions to the moss surrounding us, noting how it was used by women as menstrual products and to line the moss bags that held babies safe and snug. Wild berries, Labrador tea, mint and medicinal plants are also found here: a reminder that this landscape, almost one hundred years ago, sustained an extended family of Métis matriarchs for more than a decade.

This place is known as the Baptiste River Métis Settlement: a remote location north of the Town of Rocky Mountain House and west of the North Saskatchewan River. Here, three generations of Métis women and their families established their home in the 1930s. They built cabins, raised children, cared for livestock and developed self-reliance, living off the land. Now—nearly a century later—the descendants of these women, along with representatives of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3 and Local 845, return to the site via the old wagon trail (ruts still visible) to tell the story of the ones who lived here. 

George Moritz, Paul Bercier and Bernie Ouellette share stories in front of the remains of Charlotte’s cabin at the Baptiste River Métis Settlement. Source: Laura Golebiowski.

Louise Fleury (née Boushie) was born in Montana in 1875, the great-granddaughter of a Canadian-born Frenchman and a Cree woman. At a school in Chemowa, Oregon, she met Thomas (Tom) Fleury, a man born at Frog Lake. Once married, the couple moved from Montana to Frog Lake, then travelled west with Thomas’ mother, Sara Bushy, to the Rocky Mountain House area to be closer to Louise’s relations.

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From Buffalo Hunting to Cattle Ranching: The Métis of the Belly River

Editor’s note: In honour of National Indigenous History Month, RETROactive is pleased to share another post written by historical researcher Matt Hiltermann, on behalf of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Marsii Matt!

Written by: Matt Hiltermann

The history of the Métis in the MacLeod-Pincher Creek area before 1874 is difficult to parse, due in-part to the shifting nomenclature of the area. During the 19th century, the Belly River was variously applied to not only its modern course, but also the Oldman river between its confluence with the Belly and its confluence with the Bow. Sometimes, its French name, the Gros Ventre River, was even applied to the entirety of the South Saskatchewan. As such, determining where events took place along the so-called “Belly River” can be difficult to determine. Most references to the Belly River, however, likely take place in what is now the Oldman River watershed, so these early accounts are pertinent to discussions of the Métis history at Pincher Creek, Fort MacLeod and Lethbridge.

The lack of literature – both primary and secondary – reflects the distance of the Oldman-Belly watershed from imperial – and  later colonial – record makers, such as fur traders and missionaries, who were situated primarily on the North Saskatchewan and Missouri Rivers, hundreds of miles away. Still, while evidence is sparse, the few sources that ventured into the Oldman-Belly Watershed inevitably make mention of Métis people or of Métis families in the area. 

The earliest accounts of trading parties into the Belly River country come from Peter Fidler, who wintered among the Peigan there in 1793.  Beyond that, it is only mentioned once between 1795 and 1821. The Belly River only comes back into focus during the 1822, when Francis Heron led a party of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) employees and contracted Freemen into the region as part of the HBC’s Bow River Expedition. On October 27, 1822, “Mr Heron and his Party consisting of Messrs. J.E. Harriott[,] Dond. Manson, Hugh Munro, Alexr Douglas and Twenty men” departed for the Oldman-Belly Watershed. It is worth noting that Harriott would spend most of his career trading with the Blackfoot at Rocky Mountain House and Peigan Post (aka Old Bow Post), while Munro would marry a Piikani woman and live out most of his life among the Blackfoot. It not clear who the other 20 men on the expedition are, although the likes Jimmy Jock Bird, Louis Brunais (Bruneau), Jack and George Ward, and Michel Patenaude were probably among their numbers, as all of these freemen had or would later develop kin connections with the Blackfoot, Tsuut’ina or Gros Ventre, and remained active in the Southern Alberta Trade throughout the 1820s. [i] These men were Métis themselves or gave rise to prominent Métis families.

“Country between the Red River Settlement and the Rocky Mountains showing the various routes of the expedition, under the command of Capt. John Palliser, 1857-1858.” Source: Historical Maps Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary. 
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