Fort Chipewyan native becomes Alberta’s second First Nations minister

Father Patrick Mercredi played an influential role in the Wood Buffalo region for becoming the second First Nations minister in Alberta’s history in 1934. Mercredi was born into the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation community in 1904 and came from a family of 12 children. By age seven, he went into the Holy Angels Residential School at Fort Chipewyan.

A Residential School Graduate

Holy Angels was one of over 130 residential schools that operated in Canada with a purpose to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, residential schools existed in Canada from 1831 and 1996, and the last residential school to close was the Gordon Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan.

History has unveiled how residential schools disrupted the lives of the Indigenous youth as it not only isolated them from their families, but they were assaulted and punished for speaking their language and criticized for practicing their Indigenous spiritual traditions.

In 2017, film director Jay Cardinal Villeneuve’s short documentary Holy Angels recaptured residential school survivor Lena Wandering Spirit’s story, who attended Holy Angels from 1963 to 1969.

“They didn’t want us to have too much of our culture,” Spirit recalled in the National Film Board of Canada’s produced film. “They took that away as soon as we first went in there… We would get hit in the mouth for speaking our language.”

Mercredi left Holy Angels in the eighth grade to trap animals and fish with his father. In 1923, he returned to the school. Five years following, he moved to Manitoba to train to become a priest at the Oblate Fathers’ novitiate in Manitoba. Shortly following, Mercredi became the second First Nations minister in Alberta.

Honouring a First Nations’ Priest

For most of his life, Mercredi worked and lived in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northern Alberta. Once becoming a priest, he served the people across the Wood Buffalo region from Lac la Biche to Fort Chipewyan.

He was well-known for his dedication to the parish and as a community leader, coach and athlete. The St. John the Baptist Parish states he was also an artist and his paintings of The Stations of the Cross are showcased in mission churches of St. Gabriel in Janvier and St. Vincent in Conklin.

On November 1, 1982, a local high school held its grand opening carrying Mercredi’s name in dedication to him. He passed away the day before the doors opened on October 31.

Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School is in Treaty 8 territory and is part of the Fort McMurray Catholic School district.

According to Fort McMurray Historical Society’s education history sited on Virtual Museum, the school’s main objective was “to have students and the community working together.”

With this plan in place, the school was designed to have facilities available for the community to utilize. In the 80s, a state-of-the-art school was introduced like no other with a wide range of facilities including a community public library, computer labs, a theatre, chapel, automotive and construction rooms and additional rooms for music, arts and drama.

Today, residents, students and faculty still recognize his name and Indigenous culture continues to be honoured and represented by the high number of Cree, Déne, and Métis students from Grades seven to 12, who demonstrate Indigenous educational practices within it.

Father Mercredi Street is located in downtown Fort McMurray off of Clearwater Drive, and Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School is located at 455 Silin Forest Road in Thickwood. To learn more about Father Patrick Mercredi High School, visit www.fathermercredi.fmcschools.ca and explore more of Fort McMurray’s local history at Heritage Park’s at 1 Tolen Drive.

Beyond Franklin: The Street Names of Fort McMurray is a written online series profiling the people of local history compiled and written by Dawn Booth of Media Booth in partnership with Tom Albrecht of The A-Team at RE/MAX Fort McMurray. Series resources will include The Fort McMurray Heritage Society, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and files from Mrs. Frances Jean.

Corrections/Comments: For corrections, comments or suggestions on Fort McMurray street names to explore, please email dawn@mediabooth.net. Updates will be published on www.ateamymm.ca.

Published by Dawn Booth

Dawn Booth is a freelance journalist and owner of Media Booth, a marketing and communications business in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Learn more at www.mediabooth.net.

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