In 1907, Ottawa established Jasper Park. One of management’s early objectives was to remove the people who were living within the park’s boundaries, some of whom had been there a long time. The manner in which these people were pushed them out remains a source of contention to this day.
Seven family homesteads operated in the region, owned by John and Marie Moberly; Ewan and Madeleine Moberly; William Moberly; Adolphus Moberly; Adam and Friesen Joachim; Isadore Findlay; and finally, Lewis and Suzette Swift. Most were Metis. Except for Lewis Swift, their common language was Cree.
The remains of two Moberly homes still exist in the Park. One, along the Overlander Trail was intact until a fire swept through in 1989. Only the ruins remain. The other home—Ewan Moberly’s—is just off Celestine Lake Road.
In an attempt to force an eviction of these families a Park Official named McLaggen was sent to appraise the settler’s buildings and holdings, and then to get them to leave the Park.
The families were moved by an Order of the Privy Council, and relocated to Grande Cache, Edson, and Hinton. In instances, they were literally escorted out of the Park by the North-West Mounted Police.
At the time, McLaggen made promises indicating that these families could move anywhere outside the park they desired. James Shand Harvey, the famed Scottish-born guide and packer later wrote that he had been present when McLaggen made these and other pointed promises about relocating.
Yet apparently, McLaggen had no authority to promise anything. He was simply using language to get these families to leave their homes. In part, the Metis families agreed only because they’d been assured that they’d easily be able to maintain their preferred lifestyle at new locations.
Only one of the settlers living within the boundaries of the new Jasper Park was not Metis, that was Lewis Swift. Swift was born in Ohio and had taken a Metis wife before settling in the region.
Swift wasn’t evicted. He even gained title to his land, which was well within the Park’s boundary. He was the only settler who had previously applied for homestead rights. He became Jasper’s first game warden and as such, played an official role with his former neighbours when it came to sealing and locking their abandoned homes.
Some of the families relocated to Grande Cache, settling on open Crown land. Yet government officials in the region quickly decided that they wanted the Moberlys evicted.
The Forest Supervisor for Grande Cache was frustrated because the families refused to submit to forestry bylaws, permit provisions, or collection fees.
As far as the former Jasper residents were concerned, they’d been given specific promises before abandoning their Jasper homes. As such, they refused to recognize local authority.
The resistance of Ewan Moberly became legendary. When approached by bureaucrats or enforcement officers, he’d fire rifle shots in the air.
Recently, Bob Dowling, the one-time MLA for Grande Cache, said back in the 1970s the Metis families who’d moved from Jasper to Grande Cache received a form of land tenure from the provincial government.
He explained that the land settlement at that time resolved outstanding land claims and that the agreement established four Metis land co-operatives and two land enterprises that could never be sold or taken away.
~ Stuart Taylor, Hinton
* All photos are from the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives