Fort Smith Mission Heritage Park is all that remains of the original 151 acre / 61 hectare Oblate Catholic Mission in what is now the centre of Fort Smith.
Fort Smith was for a brief period the capital of the Northwest Territories. It is located at a natural trans-shipping point for merchandise, from boats that were at that time paddled all the way from eastern and southern Canada, down the Slave River as far as the rapids near Fort Smith. The goods had to be transshipped into other vessels in order to proceed further north to serve communities on Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River and the Arctic Ocean.
For a period of a century between 1876 and the early 1980's, the Roman Catholic Church operated its mission to the entire western arctic from here. In the absence of any government school system at the time, the church opened and operated schools across the north, which at that time included all territory north of Edmonton.
The Oblate Mission maintained a Bishop's Residence, St. Isodore's Church, assorted sheds, repair shops, a hospital with associated nun's residence, a residential school, large fields for the growing of crops, and even an airstrip. Nearby, the church operated docking facilities on the Slave River for their Mission boats, a farm, and sawmill.
Attractions & Points of Interest:
- The park provides an extensive self-guided tour of the historic mission sites, with sign boards describing various aspects of the history and activities of the mission. You can still see:
- The Bishop's residence, built in 1911
- The Cathedral
- The fields that were cultivated, some of which have been restored
- The storage shed
- The carpentry shop
- Vehicle repair shop
- Machine shop
- The hospital building that was built in 1952 to replace earlier structures
- The Grotto
- The sites of several other buildings that have been removed
Eventually a railway and a highway were pushed north from Edmonton to Hay River, where large barges could be loaded directly on Great Slave Lake, and Fort Smith's days as a "port" were over. Its days as a capital ceased with the discovery of gold in Yellowknife soon afterwards.