Métis cultural experiences infuse winter adventure in Lac La Biche Region


- originally published on SnowSeekers.ca

Métis people in Alberta have long had the knowledge and skills to adapt and thrive through the long, subzero winters in Western Canada, and at Hideaway Adventure Grounds, near Lac La Biche, you can get on the land and learn them too. 

Here, with owner and host John Ritchie, and knowledge keepers like Rosalie Nicholls, visitors can learn Métis culture and survival tips in a secluded winter setting. Add in a stay in a trapper’s tent, and it’s a winter adventure that will ground you in nature and Indigenous culture.

Hideaway Adventure Grounds Lac la Biche Region bannock fire Indigenous culture
Photo: Paul Lavoie
Cooking bannock over the fire at Hideaway Adventure Grounds.

Recently, Matthew Morrison visited Lac La Biche Region to spend a couple of days at Hideaway with his girlfriend, making the trip from Calgary. (Editor's note: not the couple pictured in the story.) 

An English major at the University of Calgary, he is learning Indigenous literature and wanted to experience the culture first-hand. Ritchie helped him put together an itinerary from the list of activities on Hideaway’s website. 


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Drawing on his own Métis heritage and teachings, Ritchie guided Morrison and his girlfriend through the forest by snowshoe, pointing out various plants, like willow and the types of barks on trees, and how they could be used in day-to-day life, such as for tea-making or medicines.

The couple also learned how to clear a site in the woods and make a shelter. (Their sleeping accommodations were a little more luxe—a four-sided canvas wall tent, complete with a kerosene heater and cozy blankets.)

Hideaway Adventure Grounds Lac la Biche Region trapper's tent
Photo: Paul Lavoie
One of the trapper's tents where visitors can stay at Hideaway Adventure Grounds.

One of the most memorable moments, Morrison says, was spending time with Rosalie Nicholls, a Métis knowledge-keeper who works with Ritchie. They spent a few hours sipping Labrador nettle tea, eating and learning the history of bannock. 

Nicholls demonstrated the Red River Jig, a dance dating back to the 1600s known for its fancy footwork. Nicholls calls the dance “Métis aerobics” performed to fiddle music. “It’s very powerful… you just get right into it.”

That's a sense of connection that echoes across Alberta, and across the different First Nations who have made their home here for centuries, says Shae Bird, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Alberta. This is especially true in winter. 

“Indigenous experiences make everything about winter deeper and richer. Not only will you learn about how Indigenous Peoples have thrived through the season for generations, you’ll also get a glimpse into culture, language and worldviews that you can take with you for the rest of your life," says Bird. "And don’t forget: they are a blast. Winter can be a unique, fun and unforgettable experience on its own, and it gets even better with Indigenous perspectives.”

Undoubtedly, Morrison felt that connection, in what he described as an authentic way, “I felt like this was a part of the culture that is part of everyday life."

That’s the kind of reaction Nicholls loves to hear.

Hideaway Adventure Grounds Lac la Biche Region Labrador tea
Photo: Paul Lavoie
Making Labrador tea with Rosalie Nicholls.

“The satisfaction that I can teach someone who doesn’t know…” she says, “when people are an open book they are soaking in all of this. It’s up to us to teach people how we have survived and are still thriving.” 

When you go 

A mini-holiday in Lac La Biche, home to one of Canada’s oldest Métis communities, ticks off all of your requirements and then some for a break from the big city: unspoiled nature, unique culture and restful solitude. 

While you’re in Lac La Biche Region, here are six other places to explore the county, whose name translates from Indigenous languages as “lake of the doe.” 

Portage College Museum of Indigenous Peoples' Art and Artifacts 
An impressive collection, home to the world’s only permanent collection of the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., aka the Indigenous Group of Seven.

Viewing the collection at Portage College Museum of Indigenous Peoples' Art and Artifacts

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park 
Alberta’s only provincial park set on an island, with trackset cross-country ski trails. You can also rent one of 17 comfort cabins here. 

Bold Center/Rustic Bean 
Tucked into a corner close to the entrance of the Bold Centre is Rustic Bean, a cute little coffee shop selling specialty coffees, teas and handmade crafts. 

Queen Bean 
Treat yourself to elegant hand-baked goods, such as fancy cakes and French macarons, specialty coffees and locally made crafts. 

Lac La Biche Queen Bean
Photo: Paul Lavoie
Picking out treats at Queen Bean.

Café On Main 
If bubble tea and Mediterranean foods are your thing, head to Café On Main. The shop specializes in delicious sandwiches, hummus, salads, soups and baklava. You can dine in or take out to fuel an afternoon of Nordic skiing.

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