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Frog Lake Historic Site

Frog Lake

Other Names:
Frog Lake Massacre Site

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Frog Lake Historic Site lies in rolling aspen spruce parkland, 3.5 kilometres south of the Village of Frog Lake, Alberta and 13 kilometres north and east of the North Saskatchewan River. Situated on 1.6 hectares of land, the site contains archaeological resources and commemorative markers associated with the killings of nine men and the destruction of Frog Lake Settlement in 1885.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Frog Lake site lies in the fact that it symbolizes the tensions that existed between Aboriginal people, non-Aboriginal settlers and the government during the period after the establishment of Treaty 6, resulting in the only Alberta incident of conflict influenced by the events of the North West Rebellion of 1885.

The settlement of Frog Lake was created after the establishment of the Treaty 6 reserves in 1879. It grew up largely to support a federal farm agency that was established to teach new skills to people living on the Wood Cree reserves in the vicinity of Frog Lake (Indian Reserve Nos. 121 and 122). The settlement included a Hudson's Bay Company trading post, a Roman Catholic mission, settler's residences and buildings related to the federal farm training program, including a saw and grist mill. At its peak, the village had approximately 30 full-time residents.

By the fall of 1884, the Plains Cree band of Chief Big Bear had not yet selected reserve lands. To be eligible for rations and treaty payments, the federal government temporarily assigned the band to winter with the Wood Cree at Frog Lake, at the camp Chief Ounipoheas (Indian Reserve No. 121). Depletion of rations and a strict work-for-food policy by the government agents, however, led to increasing conflict between the Plains Cree and the government workers and traders. In March 1885, news of the Métis victory at the Battle of Duck Lake in the early stages of the North West Rebellion served as a catalyst for hostilities that led to a group of men from Chief Big Bear's camp holding the non-Aboriginal and Métis members of the settlement hostage. The hostilities eventually erupted into the killing of nine men, the taking of three hostages and the burning of the entire settlement. Chief Big Bear attempted to prevent the bloodshed, but was unsuccessful. Among the dead were two priests and seven government employees and traders. The hostages were released two months later without major incident.

To commemorate the incident, a forty foot cross was established in May 1885 at a location on the North Saskatchewan River later dubbed 'Mount Croix'. It was placed there by the Alberta Field Force that had been sent to arrest the participants of the hostilities. Although the participants launched a successful skirmish against nearby Fort Pitt in the days following the Frog Lake incident, they finally surrendered at the close of the North West Rebellion. Six members of the group were eventually tried and hanged at the police post at Battleford, Saskatchewan in November 1885.

In 1924, a commemorative cairn was established at the Frog Lake site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board. Although no building remains are present, evidence for at least 32 depressions and mounds have been identified in a 350 by 600 metre area of the main settlement. Archaeological investigations of the area between 1980 and 2005 have resulted in the identification of numerous artifacts of the time, including machined square-cut nails, metal fragments, cast iron stove fragments, heat-distorted class, ceramic fragments, chinking and wood fragments.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 638). Stanley, George F.G. 1978. The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions. University of Toronto Press.

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Frog Lake Historic Site include:
- the existing archaeological remnants of the former settlement complex that includes 32 features largely consisting of depressions and mounds that represent the locations of structures but also include the cemetery, artifact concentrations and a trail;
- the National Historic Sites cairn and nearby associated cemetery containing seven of the nine victims of the incident;
- archival sources relating to the site and the events that took place, including Hudson Bay Company archives, Oblate fathers papers (PAA), Provincial Archives of Alberta collections, Northwest Mounted Police records and Land Survey documents;
- oral histories said to be retained by local First Nations communities;
- secondary sources of information's including: "The Frog lake Massacre; Personal Perspectives on Ethnic Conflict, Stuart Hughes ed., Toronto, McClelland and Stewart:; Vanishing Species, Memoirs of Lois Goulet, Winnipeg Editions Bois Brules; Big Bear, the end of Freedom, Hugh Dempsey, Vancouver, Douglas and McIntyre; and numerous others;
- the landscape around the designated area which includes the camps of Chief Big Bear and Chief Ounipoheas, (the earliest permanent Aboriginal settlement on Frog Lake, and which has been subject to research excavations) as well as the saw and grist mill and its associated residences;
- the archaeological materials recovered from the site, which can provide information about settlement during the early reserve period, as well as early 19th century settlement in Western Canada.


Street Address: Massacre Street
Community: Frog Lake
Boundaries: Lot 1, Block 1, Plan 3627MC and Lot 1, Block 2, Plan 3627MC
Contributing Resources: Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s)

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
53.830959 -110.357948

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1976/06/15

Historical Information

Built: 1885 to 1885
Significant Date(s) 1885 to 1885
Theme(s) Governing Canada : Military and Defence
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s): Leisure : Historic or Interpretive Site
Context: N/A

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0229
Designation File: DES 0638
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 21238
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 638)
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