Experience Culture, History, and Adventures at Métis Crossing and Lac La Biche

Rebecca Isbister 2022 Roadtrip Adventures, Attractions, Breweries, Distilleries & Wineries, Highway 28, Historic Site, Interpretive Centre, Metis Crossing, Museums, Northeast of Edmonton, Outdoor Adventures, Roadtrips, Smoky Lake, Smoky Lake County, Spring Adventures, Summer Adventures, Water Adventures

Head to Métis Crossing for authentic cultural experiences in a retreat-like setting, then go north and play in Alberta’s lake country.

Written by Karen Ung

As we walk down the old Victoria Trail along the North Saskatchewan River, at first glance, it appears little has changed since the 1800s. Original homesteads remain, filled with period furniture and artifacts, chickens cluck in the yard, and a Red River Cart sits out front ready to haul goods to the trading post. The river lots were laid out differently in the pioneer days, however, explains Sevinj Didier, Métis Crossing’s Marketing Manager. “You will have a farm [near the river], animals, vegetable garden; and closer to the road, a house.”

At the Sinclair House, where fiddler Ben Sinclair and his family once lived, we learn the significance of music and dance to Métis culture. It’s tradition to pull up a chair to eat, and push the table away to dance! If you’d like to learn how to jig, sign up for the Meet the Métis experience which includes traditional dancing, music, arts & crafts, stories, and more. Like the Metis’ blended heritage, the lively jig combines elements of First Nations dancing and French-Canadian and Scottish step-dancing.

Whether you sign up for an experience or go on a self-guided tour, kids will enjoy petting animals at the farmyard, playing at the nature playground, and getting a treat at the Cultural Gathering Centre, a 13,500 square foot facility designed by Métis architect, Tiffany Shaw-Collinge. Exposed timbers, large windows, and an expansive patio with a view make it a wonderful dining and wedding spot. At the gift shop, Kayla tells me about the residential schools mural, and recommends some books about Métis culture and history.

The latest addition to the 688-acre property is The Lodge at Métis Crossing, a luxurious 40-room boutique hotel which opened in February 2022. Spacious, stylish rooms sleep 2-5 people and have private balconies overlooking the river. We loved that our Family Suite had a queen bed and bunk beds so the kids didn’t have to share! Other lodging options include trappers’ tents and the campground, and in 2023, you’ll be able to stay in a stargazing dome.

Over dinner, we chat with Jana Niven, Guest Experience Supervisor and proud mom to Gabriel, our 16 year old server. She shares the Forest and Farm to Table philosophy for the restaurant and goals for the visitor experience. “Everyone who walks onto this land, takes a deep breath and takes it in and… is so lovely, and we hope they take that feeling away with them, feeling their best.” I have to agree that Métis Crossing “feels like a destination without the hassle, stress, expense or crowds” and is somewhere you can truly “leave everything else behind.”

After a restful sleep, we head out on the Wildlife Tour with interpreter, Weida Johns. While we bump down dirt roads in search of elusive elk, Weida tells us about seasonal bison hunts, how every part of the animal was used, and how the wildlife park came to be. The park is a joint ventureship with a local rancher and home to elk, Percheron horses, plains and wood bison, as well as white elk and white bison which are extremely rare in the wild; only 1 in 10 million births (found here thanks to selective breeding). Seeing the bison up close is amazing, and the large bulls are undeniably majestic, but the curious calves steal the show, coming close to the vehicle to say hello, looking up at us through long eyelashes. Archery and Voyageur canoe/paddling experiences are also available. See Métis Crossing Signature Experiences for more information.

Exploring Lac La Biche County (a.k.a. Lake Country)

Lac La Biche, one hour north of Métis Crossing, boasts Alberta’s only park of islands (Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park), Alberta’s only canoe circuit (3 days, 4 lakes in Lakeland Provincial Park), and over 100 lakes in 100 kilometres. Outdoor enthusiasts will love paddling, fishing, and playing at the beaches in Alberta’s Lake Country!

The lake and town share the same name, which means Lake of the Doe in French. Lac La Biche’s original name, Elk Lake, came from Plains Cree and Denesuline. Learn more about the area’s history, wildlife, and cultural mosaic at Lac La Biche Museum and Visitor Information Centre. Admission is free, and kids can complete a fun Summer Scavenger Hunt to win a prize (until the end of August).

Nearby McArthur Park features a sandy beach, concession & rental shop, spray park, playground, lifejacket loaner station, and adult exercise stations. For a fun outing, rent e-scooters from Off Road Rentals and take the paved path west to the David Thompson Monument (1.1 km one way), or rent bikes and pedal to Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park (11 km one way). Note: Off Road Rentals also offers backcountry ATV & UTV rentals and tours!

At Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, hike through old growth forest to scenic viewpoints and birdwatch (over 200 species of birds live in the park), fish for big pike, or camp in a tipi! Cabins and power sites are also available at this park. Amenities include a concession, canoe rentals, showers, playground, boat launch, and walking trails.

Lac La Biche Mission is a National Historic Site on the south shore of Lac La Biche. Sign up for a tour so you can go inside the restored 1894 Convent and church and learn more about life here in the late 1800s. Our young guide, Becky, taught us a lot in one hour and even let us ring the church bell!

Fat Unicorn Brewery Tap & Grill is your place for good eats and good brews. Owner and Brew Master Paul Reutov says, “Our goal is not to make 10 or 15 different beers; our goal is to make a few dang good beers.. with only natural ingredients.”

Beaver Lake Provincial Recreation Area is a popular park for camping, swimming, and boating. Bring your own boats and life jackets!

Getting Here

Lac La Biche is located 1 hour north of Smoky Lake, or 1 hour and 10 minutes from Métis Crossing. Fuel up at Smoky Lake Esso (and get your Road Trip Adventure sticker); visit the Smoky Lake Visitor Centre & CN Museum, and Pumpkin Park; walk/bike the Iron Horse Trail; and get lunch at Smoky Lake Inn or Betsy’s Burgers.

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