For the Indigenous, the area of future Gunn was an important place because of the large lake found only a few kilometres away from the present townsite. The lake, now called Lac Ste. Anne, was called Wakamne by the Nakota Sioux and Manitou Sakhahigan (SAK HA HEE GAN) by the Cree. The names mean God’s Lake and Lake of the Spirit respectively.
The Indigenous would hunt bison in the area of the lake, and legends stated there was a large serpent that lived in the lake. When it moved, it would create dangerous currents that could cause a canoe to capsize. Oral stories tell of how young people would go out into the lake in a canoe and look down into the clear water to the bottom to see if they could see the creature.
When Europeans arrived in the area, they would rename the lake Devil’s Lake, due to a mistranslation from the Cree name. For the Cree, it was a sacred place.
In 1842, Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault, a missionary, arrived at the lake and saw that it would make a good mission location. He would bless it in 1844 and rename it Lac Ste. Anne to honour the grandmother of Jesus. At the time, there were about 30 French Metis families living in the area around the lake. At the mission, the missionaries would teach about the church and also show locals how to farm. At the time, the bison were declining and the missionaries wanted to make the Metis into farmers. By 1859, the mission had 17 cows, 15 horses, 10 dogs, 10 cats and a large garden. That same year, three Grey Nuns were welcomed into the mission where they learned the Cree language and started a school. Eventually, the mission would have over 2,000 people living at it. It would have a Hudson’s Bay Company post, a school, an orphanage, a North West Mounted Police barracks, a dance hall, a post office, a saloon, hotels and several stores.
In 1889, a priest named Lestanc would organize the first pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne to honour Saint Anne on her feast day of July 26. By 1926, the pilgrimage had attracted 5,500 people. The pilgrimage continues to this day, with pilgrims coming from across North America and often walking several kilometres bare-foot as a penance to witness or be part of the miracle of healing. At the pilgrimage site, there is also a display of crutches and canes that have been left behind by the pilgrims. Today, upwards of 40,000 people attend the pilgrimage and it is the largest event of its kind in North America.
In 2004, the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage was declared a National Historic Site of Canada.
In the 1920s, a two-storey stone building was built near Onoway. The home, which stands out thanks to its use of fieldstone on its exterior, three stone chimneys and intersecting roof ridges. The home was built by Thomas Sharman, who was an Irish farmer and stonemason who took up a homestead in 1903. Clearing his land of stones, he decided to make use of the large collection and started to build a home with the help of his son and neighbours. This would become the Sharman House. The building still stands to this day and sets itself apart on the landscape. In 2007, thanks to its historic nature, it was named a Provincial Heritage Site. Today, it is the Old Stone House Tea House and can be visited for a good tea and nice meal.
The community of Gunn would spring up during the settlement period of the early-20th century, as Europeans came to take advantage of the excellent farm land available to them.
Far enough away from larger centres like Onoway, the settlers began to form into a community and a post office was established in 1915. That post office needed a name and the name Gunn was chosen.
The community received the name in honour of Peter Gunn, who was a Hudson’s Bay Company factor at Lac Ste. Anne and the first MLA for the constituency that Gunn was in. He would serve from 1909 to 1916 and would pass away in 1927. In his last election, he won by a mere 43 votes over his opponent.
Nearby to Gunn you will find the George Pegg Homestead and Botanic Garden. George Pegg was born in 1910 and shortly after his family moved from Ontario to western Canada. Initially, they settled in the Red Deer area in 1913.
Throughout his life, Pegg loved nature and was an avid ornithologist, with a deep interest in botany. As he grew up, he would begin to garden and became renown in central Alberta for his beautiful gardens. Pegg would also be responsible for some of the first provincial identifications of several plants. He would also identify the bur-reed, a plant that had only previously been found in four other locations in North America. He would eventually identify over 100 species.
In the 1920s, a log home was built on his property, followed by an outhouse, granary, corral, garage, weather station and windmill. On the property, he would develop one of the best small-scale collections of domestic and non-native plants in the entire province.
After he passed away, his home, which sits on 5.13 hectares of land, would become a Provincial Historic Resource in 1992.
On Sept. 1, 1948, Albert Hatson, the superintendent of the provincial welfare camp near Gunn, was shot and killed by someone waiting in ambush with a rifle. The suspect was an elderly man who stayed at the camp occasionally and the two men were at odds over the behaviour of the elderly man in the camp.
The camp was used by the provincial government for elderly men on provincial relief, with about 60 men in the camp.
As for Hanson, he was a veteran of the First World War and had been in charge of the camp for many years.