Like much of the Canadian interior, Whitecourt was once under
part of a massive inland sea. This was during a period of global
warming that happened millions of years ago. Ancient riverbanks
left high ridges that are visible today, most notably Shining
Bank ridge to the west at 3,800 feet, and the House Mountain uplands
to the east at 3,850 feet.
The earliest group of people thought to have inhabited the area
were the Clovis people. Artifacts have been found north and south
of Whitecourt, along their migration corridor, that are about
11,500 years old. Dunvegan and Drayton Valley are two of the places
in Alberta where such spear points have been found. A different
people, referred to as the Folsoms, may also have hunted in the
area. The names of these peoples are taken from the locations
where artifacts documenting their existence were first found in
The next known inhabitants of the area were the Beaver peoples,
or the Tsattine. Whitecourts Beaver Creek is thought by
some to be named after them.
Something to keep in mind regarding the names of various native
peoples is that their nationalities were often different names,
depending on which other Native nation you talked to. Sometimes
the Europeans documented the name of a tribe according to how
they were described by a hostile neighbouring tribe.
The Beavers were forced back to northern Alberta by invading
Crees and their Assinboine allies. These peoples had moved west
as the fur trade expanded, and were aided in their conquest by
the European firearms that they had traded for. The Assinboine
had left the Yankton Dakotas, a Sioux people, to migrate northward,
before allying with the Cree and pushing westward. The Assinboine
were known to some as the Stoneys, apparently for the stones they
heated for food preparation.
Around 1782, the Beaver and Cree/Stoney alliance ended their
war through a truce at Peace Point. The Beaver Indian River became
known thereafter as the Peace River to Europeans and Natives alike.
Whitecourt was known at this time as Sagitawah, Cree for where
the rivers meet.
The famed European Palliser Expedition commented on seeing a
Stoney, or Assinboine, encampment a few miles east of the confluence
of the McLeod and Athabasca rivers in 1859. This would be just
past the present day site of the Graham Acres baseball facilities.
Woodlands Cree shared the area with their Stoney allies.
Native trail systems networked the Whitecourt locality with other
places and were later utilized by early settlers. The old Cree
war trail crosses Highway 43 near Sangudo, while the Beaver trail
led from Carson Lake up into Peace River country.
There was a short period of relative peace and prosperity for
Natives, helped by European technology and efforts at establishing
peace between warring nations; (when the European nations werent
warring among themselves). However, the cost for these improvements
eventually proved devastating for the Native Nations. Smallpox
epidemics came to the west. Around 1782, 1837 and 1869, the Cree
and Stoneys lost as many as 90% of some communities to this disease.
This was followed by the near extinction of the buffalo in the
late 1870s, so that famine followed disease.
The response from Ottawa to this was to centralize relief efforts,
which resulted in a cut in rations in 1883. Local agents protested,
and in some cases resigned, as the Native death rate from the
effects of starvation accelerated. A western paper leveled scathing
criticism of the Ottawa mandarin who assumed he knew more about
the requirements of the Natives from thousands of miles away,
than the agents who were on the scene of the crime, so to speak.
Other Ottawa edicts, such as the Pass Law, were often ignored
by local white officials, who correctly regarded them as unconstitutional.
Not to be stymied, Ottawa implemented a bizarre anti-machinery
law in 1889 that stipulated all Natives who had taken up farming
had to turn in their mechanical equipment, and farm using only
primitive tools. Any white farm instructors who complained were
to be fired.
Often, the desperate plight of the Natives was used as leverage
to get them to sign Treaties officially giving up land, and in
1899, Treaty 8 was signed for Natives north of the North Saskatchewan.
There were two rebellions, centered in what is now Manitoba,
against the arbitrary federal government policies. In 1869, revolutionaries
under the leadership of Metis Louis Riel seized Fort Garry, later
to become Winnipeg, in response to the purchase by the federal
government of western Canada from the Hudson's Bay Company. The
purchase took place even though ownership was in doubt, and with
the inhabitants of the area not being informed until after the
fact. This Red River Rebellion was quickly put down and Riel fled
to the U.S. He returned to lead the far bloodier Northwest Rebellion
in 1885, in which some starving Alberta natives joined. Lac St
Anne natives, which would include natives in the Whitecourt area,
pledged their support for the rebellion. After battles and some
slaughter of civilians, this rebellion was also put down, and
Riel was eventually executed by the victorious federal government.
In fairness, it should be mentioned that many of the invading
Europeans, such as the Scottish highlanders were fleeing other
invaders. During clearances Highlander homes would
be set on fire with people inside. The Irish had been victimized
during a potato famine, where landlords exported ample amounts
of wheat, dairy products and meat to England, even as over 1 million
Irish people starved to death. As mentioned, First Nations also
had a history of dispossessing other First Nations and so on.
Sometimes it seems as if the differences of peoples are highlighted
by the federal government, rather than the common history of a
trail of tears through the ages. Dispossession continues to run
rampart today, not only internationally, but even in Canada by
less obvious means. Rather than focus on differences, now is the
time to get together to create what famous futurist Alvin Toffler
called the first truly human civilization in history.