Frog Lake Massacre

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Frog Lake Massacre
Part of the North-West Rebellion
Frog Lake National Historic Site.JPG
Date April 2, 1885
Location 53°49′52″N 110°21′31″W / 53.831186°N 110.358696°W / 53.831186; -110.358696Coordinates: 53°49′52″N 110°21′31″W / 53.831186°N 110.358696°W / 53.831186; -110.358696
Frog Lake, Alberta
Result Cree success
Cree White settlers of Frog Lake
Commanders and leaders
Wandering Spirit none
Casualties and losses
none 9 killed
The District of Saskatchewan in 1885 (within the black diamonds) included the central section of Saskatchewan and extended into Alberta and Manitoba.

The Frog Lake Massacre was part of the Cree uprising during the North-West Rebellion in western Canada. Led by Wandering Spirit, young Cree warriors attacked the community of Frog Lake in the District of Saskatchewan in the Northwest Territories[1] on 2 April 1885, where they killed nine settlers.


Chief Big Bear and his band had settled near Frog Lake about 55 km (34 miles) northwest of Fort Pitt but had not yet selected a reserve site.[2] He had signed Treaty 6 in 1882.[3] Angered by what seemed to be an unfair treaty and by the dwindling buffalo population, Big Bear began organizing the Cree for resistance.[4]

Learning of the Métis victory at the Battle of Duck Lake a week earlier and of Poundmaker's advance on Battleford, Wandering Spirit, the war chief of Big Bear's band, began a campaign to gather arms, ammunition and food supplies from the surrounding countryside. The nearest source of supplies and the first to be looted were the government stables, the Hudson's Bay Company post and George Dill's store at Frog Lake.[5] Anger among the Cree in the area was directed largely at the representative of the Canadian government, the Indian Agent Thomas Quinn, who was the source of the inadequate rations that kept the Cree in a state of near-starvation.[3][4]

The massacre[edit]

A band of Cree led by the war chief Wandering Spirit took Thomas Quinn hostage in his home in the early morning of 2 April. The Cree then took more white settlers hostage and took control of the community. They gathered the Europeans, including two priests, in the local Catholic church, where Mass was in progress. After Mass concluded, at around 11:00 a.m., the Cree ordered the prisoners to move to their encampment a couple of kilometres away.[4]

Quinn steadfastly refused to leave the town; in response, Wandering Spirit shot him in the head. In the resulting panic, despite Big Bear's attempt to stop the shootings,[6] Wandering Spirit's band killed another eight unarmed settlers: the two Catholic priests, Leon Fafard and Felix Marchand, Fafard's lay assistant John Williscroft, as well as John Gowanlock, John Delaney, William Gilchrist, George Dill, and Charles Gouin.[4]

A Hudson's Bay Company clerk, William Bleasdell Cameron, one of the men rounded up into the church, went to the Hudson's Bay shop to fill an order made by Quinn for Miserable Man after Mass. When the first shots were fired, he escaped with the help of sympathetic Cree, and made his way to a nearby Wood Cree camp, where the chief pledged to protect him.[6][7][8]

Theresa Gowanlock and Theresa Delaney, wives of two of the slain men, their families, and approximately seventy others from the town were taken captive.[4]

After the massacre, the bodies of Fafard, Marchand, Delaney and Gowanlock had been hurriedly placed in the cellar under the church by several of the Métis residents who were now captive. At great risk, they also moved the bodies of Quinn and Gouin into the cellar of a house near where they were killed. However, they were refused permission to touch the other victims. The church, the rectory and all the buildings of the Frog Lake settlement were burned on April 4, 1885 (the day before Easter). All that remained of the mission was the bell tower and the cemetery.[9]

On June 14 the Midland Battalion (the advance guard of Major-General Strange) arrived and buried the victims of the massacre in the cemetery.[10][11] During their occupation the bell, which was suspended from the fire blackened bell tower, disappeared.[12]


Survivor William Bleasdell Cameron with Horse Child, 12-year-old son of Big Bear. They were photographed together in Regina in 1885 during the trial of Big Bear. Cameron testified in Big Bear's defense.

The Cree moved on to Fort Pitt. The massacre prompted the Canadian government to take notice of the growing unrest in Western Canada. The rebellion was put down.

Wandering Spirit and five other warriors (Round the Sky, Bad Arrow, Miserable Man, Iron Body and Little Bear) were convicted of treason for their actions in the Frog Lake Massacre. They were hanged with two other Cree convicted of murder in the largest mass execution in Canadian history.[4]

Although Big Bear had opposed the attack,[6] he was charged with treason because of his efforts to organize resistance among the Cree. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in the Manitoba Penitentiary.[6]


Frog Lake became part of the province of Alberta in 1905. The site of the massacre was designated the "Frog Lake National Historic Site" in 1923, at the location of the Cree uprising which occurred in the District of Saskatchewan, North-West Territories.[13] Parks Canada says the site designated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada is extensive, but the national park service owns only a small portion, mainly a graveyard, where a stone cairn and federal plaque were erected in 1924. The geographic coordinates on this page are for that cairn.

In 2008, Christine Tell (provincial minister for tourism, parks, culture and sport) said "the 125th commemoration, in 2010, of the 1885 Northwest Resistance is an excellent opportunity to tell the story of the prairie Métis and First Nations peoples' struggle with Government forces and how it has shaped Canada today."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Canadian Plains Research Center Mapping Division" (PDF). Retrieved 13 Sep 2013. 
  2. ^ William Bleasdell Cameron (1888), The war trail of Big Bear (P.43-46), Toronto: Ryerson Press (published 1926) 
  3. ^ a b "Treaty 6". Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina. 2006. Retrieved 2013-12-08. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f John Chaput (2007). "Frog Lake Massacre". The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. University of Regina and Canadian Plains Research Center. Retrieved 8 June 2010. 
  5. ^ William Bleasdell Cameron (1888), The war trail of Big Bear (P.59-64), Toronto: Ryerson Press (published 1926) 
  6. ^ a b c d W. B. Cameron, "Massacre at Frog Lake", University of Alberta Libraries, response by W. B. Cameron to "Massacre at Frog Lake", Edmonton Journal, 4 Apr 1939, accessed 2 Aug 2009
  7. ^ William Bleasdell Cameron (1888), The war trail of Big Bear (The Frog Lake Massacre), Toronto: Ryerson Press (published 1926) 
  8. ^ Dempsey, Hugh A. (1957). The Early West. Edmonton: Historical Society of Alberta. p. 6. 
  9. ^ "Batoche: les missionnaires du nord-ouest pendant les troubles de 1885.". Le Chevallier, Jules Jean Marie Joseph. Montreal: L'Oeuvre de presse dominicaine. 1941. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  10. ^ "With the Midland Battn. during the North West Rebellion of 1885". Diary of Will E. Young. 1885. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  11. ^ ""Procès-verbal de la translation des restes des révérends pères Léon-Adélard Fafard, O.M.I. et Félix Marchand, O.M.I. du cimétière de l'ancienne mision de Notre-Dame de Bon Conseil (Lac La Grenouille), à l'église de la mission de Notre-Dame du Rosaire (Lac d'Oignon). Diocèse de Saint-Albert".". Missions de la Congrégation des missionnaires oblats de Marie Immaculée. (Rome: Maison Générale O.M.I) no.253 (Mar 1935), pp. 59-61. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  12. ^ "Grandin, Vital Justin (1829-1902); Oblates of Mary Immaculate. "Vicariat de Saint-Albert". Missions de la Congrégation des missionnaires oblats de Marie Immaculée". Missions de la Congrégation des missionnaires oblats de Marie Immaculée. (Paris: A. Hennuyer) no.92 (Dec 1885), pp. 417-430. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  13. ^ "Parks Canada - National Historic Sites in Alberta - National Historic Sites in Alberta". Government of Canada. Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  14. ^ "Tourism agencies to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Northwest Resistance/Rebellion". Home/About Government/News Releases/June 2008. Government of Saskatchewan. June 7, 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-20. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Cameron, W. B. (1926). The war trail of Big Bear. London: Duckworth.  This work was published in three editions 1926–1930, and a revised edition was published in 1950 as Blood Red the Sun. Calgary: Kenway Publishing Co. 1950. OCLC 10524211. 
  • Gallaher, Bill (2008). The Frog Lake Massacre. Surrey, BC: Touchwood Editions. ISBN 978-1894898751.  Though a novel, a highly accurate account of the massacre and aftermath.
  • Radison, Garry (2009). Ka-pepamachakwew-Wandering Spirit: Plains Cree War Chief. Calgary: Smoke Ridge Books. ISBN 978-0968832950. 
  • Radison, Garry (2015). Defending Frog Lake: An Analysis of the Frog Lake Massacre. Lethbridge: Smoke Ridge Books. ISBN 978-0994777300. 

External links[edit]