Father Albert Lacombe, OMI (The Oblates of Mary Immaculate)
The Man of The Good Heart
Submitted by Patricia Cox
Albert Lacombe was born in 1827 in the Parish of St. Sulpice, along the St. Lawrence River, Quebec, in a log home about twenty miles northwest of Montreal. He was the first born of eight children to Albert and Agathe Lacombe. His mother's name was Duhamel and it was through his grandmother Duhamel, that he inherited his Ojibway blood.
As a young boy he was congenial, ambitious, intelligent and had many friends. He was generous in helping his parents on the farm. He grew up in a close, socially-caring community. At an early age, due to his character, Father Viau, his Parish priest, gave him the opportunity to attend the school of L'Assomption. He affectionately called this dark boy "mon petite sauvage", a result of the Indian strain of his grandmother. None of the family or neighbours had attended school but at thirteen years, young Albert walked the three miles to L'Assomption School.
In 1849, he was ordained at St. Hyacinthe, and left for Pembina by boat from Lachine to Buffalo. At St. Paul, Minnesota, a Red River cart brigade travelled the arduous journey for six weeks. Father was sent to St. Boniface Mission (Winnipeg) . Here he learned the Saulteau and Algonquin dialect.
In 1852, at age 25, now as an ordained priest, he left St. Boniface to replace Father Thibault at Lac St. Anne, near Edmonton, North West Territories. Father Albert Lacombe was the first priest in the Oblate Order to come to what is now Alberta. He became a good friend of Chief Factor Rowand, of the Hudson Bay. He learned quickly the value of the fur trade. Both men were hot tempered but a lasting bond was formed between them.
In 1857, he travelled into Blackfoot country. In 1860 a Blackfoot Chief asked for a priest to be sent to his people. It was also in 1860 that Father Lacombe took his final vows.
In 1861, the Woods Cree established St. Albert on the banks of the Sturgeon River. In 1871 the Diocese of St. Albert was erected. At this time Bishop Tache made him his Vicar General.
In 1865, Albert Lacombe was made a freelance missionary. The name of the Prairie Mission was called "Our Lady of the Prairies." He travelled south with Alexis Cardinal (a Blackfoot Métis), and a Blackfoot cook. He was a friend of Sam Livingston and John Glenn first farmers in the South.
In 1870-72 there was a dreadful outbreak of small pox on the Reserves. Here Father Lacombe became deeply involved with his beloved people both the Cree and Blackfoot. He wrote Bishop Tache. "This dreadful epidemic has taken all compassion from the hearts of the Indians".
In 1881, the C.P.R. was requiring land from some reserves for the railway. Fr. Lacombe was Chaplain to the railway camps. The labourers trusted him; he listened to their concerns and worries over the railway trespassing their land.
In 1882 he was made Superior of the Calgary Mission for all of Southern Alberta, now his new parish. He could ask for justice from the CPR bureaucrats and British officials for the Blackfoot. The railway reached Calgary in 1883. Sir Cornelius Van Horne, KCMG, gave him credit for pacifying the Indians. Lieutenant Governor Dewdney was pleased that no violence took place. The President of the CPR, George Stephen, invited Father to lunch and in a surprise move, Stephens resigned, and made Father Lacombe president of the CPR for one hour giving him a lifetime free pass on their railway.
By 1884, he had met the Marquis of Lansdown, John A. McDonald, and well understood the political moves in Ottawa. He had plans for a native dictionary, a Calgary homestead, and an industrial School. His two sisters were teaching in St. Albert. He became principal of St. Joseph's Industrial School. (Dunbow).
In 1884, the Indian population was starving; the buffalo had disappeared. There was political patronage. The Crees and the Métis were becoming hostile. Louis Riel had returned to Canada. Father Lacombe wrote to J.A. McDonald "that the Canadian Government is itself not free of blame."
March 27,1885 the Métis attacked Duck Lake, NWT. The Northwest Rebellion had begun. Father Lacombe spoke to Crowfoot and all the Blackfoot (Blackfeet). Crowfoot promised him they would be loyal. They did not participate in the rebellion in the North. Father Lacombe was grateful to Chief Crowfoot. Crowfoot had praised Father Lacombe "as one of the greatest friends of our Nation. When we rejoice, he rejoices, when we are sad and in mourning, he is sad and sorrowful with us." Father Lacombe helped to release the Cree Chief Poundmaker, Chief Crowfoot's adopted son, from prison. Father Lacombe's courage and determination had made him a hero in Canada.
In 1887, in old age, he was called to help raise money for St. Mary's Cathedral in Calgary. He was frail and could not give himself to the Blackfoot and the Crees but channeled his efforts towards helping the poor, the aged, and the orphans. He successfully appealed to his friends for funds to build the Lacombe Home for Orphans in Midnapore, Alberta.
In 1895 the Manitoba School crisis had erupted. The Catholics wanted their own schools. Prime Minister Sir Mackenzie Bowell had Father Lacombe be his agent between church and state.
Father Lacombe was a priest, a missionary, and a colonizer. He had worked with the mighty, the rich and the cleverly crafty, as well as the needy and the poor. He became a national figure, a kind man of many talents and many responsibilities - a true hero of the West. He died in 1916, leaving a rich heritage.
Father Lacombe's body is buried in St. Albert, Alberta, but his heart is buried in a small cemetery situated adjacent to the north side of the Convent of the Sisters Of Providence which is located at 2215 - 28th Street SW, Calgary, Alberta.
MacGregor, James G. (1975). Father Lacombe. Calgary:
Anderson, Monsignor N.R. (c.1975). Oblate Fathers In Calgary 1875-1899: Roman Catholic Church, 1875-1889 - The Search for Souls. Calgary: Century Calgary Publications.
Byrne, M.B. Venini. (1973). From the Buffalo To The Cross: A history of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. Calgary: Calgary Archives and Historical Publishers.
Editoral comment by James A.N. Mackie, Q.C.: As a matter of interest, the cemetery was final resting place for many of the priests who served in Calgary. A wooden, white cross identified each one. Some years later a caretaker removed all the crosses so he could cut the lawn. As no one could remember exactly where to replace them, the crosses were replaced by a cairn with the names of all the priests inscribed.