Learn to Winter Métis style in Lac La Biche
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Strap on snowshoes and explore the winter landscape and culture in Lac La Biche Region, home to one of Western Canada’s oldest Métis communities.
Kikinos Métis Settlement, AB - John Ritchie’s roots to his 160-acre slice of aspen treed forest runs deep, but that connection and love of the land didn’t happen overnight. It slowly crept up on him as his life experiences prompted him to understand and embrace his Métis culture.
“It was always in the back of my head...I always have my land to go back to,” Ritchie says of the property he received from the Kikino Métis Settlement when he was 18. It’s a 20-minute drive south of Lac La Biche Region, two hours northeast of Edmonton.
Ritchie lived on the property in a trailer for years while he managed a nearby campground and worked in Indigenous tourism. During that time Ritchie was struck with the idea that his land could be more than just a place to camp, but a transformational experience for people to learn about traditional Métis ways. It’s also fitting because the Métis community in Lac La Biche Region is one of Western Canada’s oldest.
Hideaway Adventure Grounds opened in 2018 and has evolved into a place that Ritchie and his faithful canine companion, Buddy, are proud to share with people who want to escape the city. He invites visitors to experience Indigenous culture through storytelling and land-based teachings, identifying plants and bush-crafting skills, like building fires and shelters.
Ritchie is modest about his passion for storytelling and sharing his heritage with others. “I saw the movie Pay It Forward and it was my time to do the same,” he says. “Every step has taught me to be at this point.”
Matthew Morrison recently 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. “We selected a whole bunch of activities and John customized it to our interests, so it made sense,” says Morrison.
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 Indigenous 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.
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.”
“I felt like this was a part of the culture that is part of everyday life,” says Morrison.
That’s the kind of reaction Nicholls loves to hear. “The satisfaction that I can teach someone who doesn’t know…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,” she says.
EXPLORE MORE OF LAC LA BICHE REGION
Hideaway Adventures is just one of many places to check out on your visit to 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
Continue your Indigenous cultural experience by taking a self-guided tour of the massive and impressive collection at the Museum of Indigenous Peoples' Art and Artifacts at Portage College. The museum is also the home of the world’s only permanent collection of the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., aka the Indigenous Group of Seven.
Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park
Looking for some solitude and wide-open spaces? Sir Winston Churchill is a peaceful and gorgeous setting, and it’s 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
Head to Lac La Biche’s Bold Center, a busy community hub for sports and culture. Tucked into a corner close to the entrance is Rustic Bean, a cute little coffee shop selling specialty coffees, teas and handmade crafts.
Restaurants/Cafes on Main Street
The town’s main street is easily walkable and has some fantastic spots for a bite to eat.
This mother-daughter operation opened in 2019 and sells elegant hand-baked goods, such as fancy cakes and French macarons, specialty coffees and locally made crafts. One of the bakery’s big sellers has been cocoa bombs – think bath bombs but for hot chocolate. Daughter Taman Hattum says in February they will be introducing specialty chocolates and candies – “Canadian-made things you can’t find anywhere else in town,” she says.
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 your afternoon of Nordic skiing.
A mini-holiday in Lac La Biche ticks off all of your requirements and then some for a break from the big city: unspoiled nature, unique culture, world class Nordic skiing, restful solitude and our new favourite winter staple – hot cocoa bombs.
WHEN YOU GO
Lac La Biche Region is approximately a 2h drive from Edmonton.
Visit Lac La Biche Region for more winter travel ideas and tips.
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