In the summer of 1870, the Métis of this region were out on the plains hunting buffalo. They sent some men to make a peace with a group of Blackfoot and returned to their camp with several of the Blackfoot party. When the hunters returned to Edmonton House on July 27, they brought smallpox with them. “On the first appearance of Small pox, [Edmonton House] was closed and no one admitted, coming from any infested parties…”
The Métis hunters then returned home to St. Albert and Lac Ste. Anne before heading back out to the plains at the end of August. Their camp at Pretty Hill, near Camrose, was completely devastated by the disease. To add to the tragedy, a prairie fire swept through the camp of sick and dying families. Many of the 120 smallpox victims were likely buried in mass graves in the area.
Lac Ste. Anne had far fewer casualties than St. Albert, but Edmonton House suffered a food shortage when its fishermen at the lake became ill. St. Albert was the hardest hit, losing up to ten people a day. Neighbours tried to help others with their farming. The Oblates and Grey Nuns nursed the afflicted and took in orphans from the entire region. According to Chief Factor Hardisty, of the 800 people in the community or on the hunt, 320 died.