One of the most influential individuals in the early history of Alberta and the prairies was a man by the name of Albert Lacombe. From his arrival in the area after becoming dissatisfied with Eastern Canada, to the day he died, he would work with both the Indigenous and settlers to bring what harmony he could to the west.
Born on Feb. 28, 1827 at Saint-Sulpice, Lower Canada to Albert Lacombe and Agathe Duhamel, Albert Lacombe would spend his early life working on the family farm. Feeling a calling towards the religious life, he would become ordained as a minister on June 13, 1849 at the age of 22 after studying at the College de l’Assomption.
Once he had been ordained, he was sent to the Minnesota Territory to work with Father George Belcourt from 1849 to 1851. Following this mission, he returned to Canada East and secured a position as the curate in Berthier.
By 1852, he had become dissatisfied with Canada East and made the decision to travel west. He spent some time in the Red River Colony before making his way to Fort Edmonton and Lac Ste. Anne where he spent the winter with the Cree and Metis. While staying with the Cree, he began to learn their language and was able to learn enough to eventually translate the New Testament into Cree. He also created a dictionary of the Cree language several years later. He had been taught Cree by Colin Fraser, a man in Fort Edmonton who was a master of the language.
Lacombe had hoped to delay his move to Lac Ste. Anne until he had been received into the Order of the Oblates but due to the need being great for his service, he decided to come out. Bishop Provencher arranged to have an Olbate Priest come out as soon as possible to serve as his novice master.
From 1853 to 1861, while at the Lac Ste. Anne Mission, he worked to deepen his ties with the Indigenous population and expanding on the mission. During his time at Lac Ste. Anne, he would earn his novitiate in the Oblate order in September of 1856, and would visit Lesser Slave Lake, Fort Dunvegan, Lac La Biche, Fort Edmonton and Jasper House in search of converts.
He developed a strong and good relationship with the Indigenous people of the area during those years but was unable to convert them from a nomadic lifestyle. Instead of pushing his belief further on them, he began to look for a new site for the mission that was more suitable towards agriculture. He found the location in 1861 when he established a settlement of Saint Albert along the Sturgeon River. The community was named in honour of Father Lacombe’s patron saint. Many Metis families followed Lacombe to the new mission to begin operating farms of their own.
Beginning in 1864, he was tasked with evangelizing the Cree people, which he worked to do from 1865 to 1872. One of his biggest accomplishments during this time was brokering a peace between the Cree and the Blackfoot.
In 1872, he was sent to Fort Garry, which would eventually become Winnipeg, to promote colonization of Manitoba. In 1879, he became the Vicar of Saint Boniface. During his years in Manitoba, he began to work closely with the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1882, after a decade in Manitoba, he moved to Calgary. It was there that he found out that the CPR was laying track through Blackfoot territory without their permission and against their wishes. Father Lacombe was able to speak with Crowfoot, the leader of the Blackfoot and broker a deal that would allow the railway to pass through their lands.
For his efforts in bringing this peace, he was given a lifetime pass for the CPR by CPR President William Van Horne. Crowfoot was also given a lifetime pass.
In 1885, when the North-West Rebellion erupted, Sir John A. MacDonald asked for the assistance of Father Lacombe in assuring the neutrality of the Blackfoot. Crowfoot decided not to join the cause, believing it to be a mistake. Following Crowfoot’s death, Lacombe would write a biography about him.
For the final years of his life, Lacombe would found schools throughout the west. He would travel to Europe in 1900 and 1904 and meet with Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. He would also travel to what would eventually become Poland and Ukraine to promote immigration to Canada.
On Dec. 12, 1916, he would pass away at Midnapore, Alberta, now a suburb of Calgary. His body was interred at the St. Albert parish church.
Today, Father Lacombe High School is named for him, as is an elementary school in St. Albert. The city of Lacombe, Alberta is named in his honour. In 1932, the Government of Canada recognized Lacombe as a National Historic Person.
Information for this article came from Wikipedia, West of the Fifth, Citymakers
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