The white wooden buildings gleamed in the sun, the tall church steeple seeking clear blue sky. A light summer breeze rustled the leaves and carried the happy shouts of kids docking a voyageur canoe on the shores. Here, in an open-air museum just 15 minutes from Lac La Biche, one of Alberta’s oldest communities, my husband and I immersed ourselves in a way of life from the past. We came away with some of the province’s oldest stories – tales of religious faith, of community building and breaking, of challenges and achievements.
The Mission’s Long History
This national historic site sits on the south shore of the huge lake by the same name – once an important 18th century trading route for voyageur explorers and fur traders. We investigated the dormitory, chapel and kitchen in the 1894 convent, the white and gold interior of the 1920s missionary church and settler’s gallery filled with pioneer tools found on the grounds.
Costumed interpreters guided us through the antique artefacts and period architecture describing the site’s long history as a geographical hub, religious centre and supply depot. The Mission served as a cultural crossroads for Métis, European and First Nations communities involved in the fur trade. The exhibits chronicle a string of firsts in the province – the Mission used the first printing press, was one of the first commercial wheat operations and built the first water-powered mill to process the wheat (today, a modified sawmill).
At lunchtime, we spread a blanket in the shade of a leafy tree and enjoyed our picnic lunch, listening to the peaceful lapping of the lake just as the early pioneers would have done so many years ago.
Alberta’s Only Island Provincial Park
That night, we returned to our quiet campsite among the trees at Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, an island retreat less than 20 minutes from town. We walked the trails through old growth boreal forest untouched by fire for 100 years – and waded at pink sunset through the knee-deep water beside two great white pelicans taking an evening dip just off shore.
Lakeland Portaging Circuit
Since our trip, I’ve discovered that there are 150 lakes within 50 km (31 mi) of Lac La Biche and one of the best ways to experience them is by taking Alberta’s only backcountry canoe circuit. You can access seven major lakes in three days on this 38 km (23.6 mi) loop by taking advantage of the park’s portaging carts and prepared campsites.