Roman Catholic Oblate priest and missionary, Father
Albert Lacombe is indelibly associated with Alberta's Methodist mission history.
A Métis from Lower Canada, Fr. Albert Lacombe arrived in the Canadian
West in 1852 and settled the following year in Lac Ste. Anne, in what is
now central Alberta. Much of his early ministry focused on the area north of Fort
Edmonton and not until he had contributed to the development of the missions at Lac Ste. Anne and St. Albert
did he turn his attention southward. Accordingly, from 1865 to 1872, he
criss-crossed the plains, ministering to the Cree and the Blackfoot. After a
decade in charge of the settlement effort for French-Canadians in the
West, Lacombe settled in Calgary in 1882, where he focused his labours
more exclusively on negotiating the Blackfoot Confederacy. In 1884 he opened
the Dunbow Industrial School, in 1903 a hospital on the Blood Reserve and
in 1909, he organized a hospice for elderly people in Midnapore.
From the Hudson's Bay Company to the federal government, Fr. Lacombe spoke out against what he saw as unjust practices.
Consequently, he influenced government policy and was well respected by
his colleagues. Although a Roman Catholic, Lacombe was an amiable discussion
partner for many Methodist missionaries. Thomas Woolsey,
spent many evenings at Fort Edmonton with Lacombe, discussing current
issues and common concerns.
Lacombe shared with many Methodist missionaries feelings about the
displacement and change of lifestyle of Aboriginal peoples. His concern was
for their well-being, for which he saw only one solution-through
Christianization, adjust to Western society and eventually claim its benefits.
Like his Methodist colleague John
McDougall, Lacombe was asked by the
government to use his influence with Aboriginal peoples to prepare them
for settlement and treaties. He did this to the best of his knowledge and
conviction, trying to ease the changes he knew were coming.
On June 13, 1899, the anniversary of Fr. Lacombe's ordination was
celebrated throughout the convents and missions in his diocese. The day itself, however, found
Oblate Bishop Grouard and Fr. Lacombe camped in
the bush on the shores of Lesser Slave Lake, en route to the signing of
8. Bishop Grouard recalled in his memoirs his dilemma of how to
celebrate, with few people and no resources, this memorable event:
Qu'est-ce que je viens d'apprendre? Demain, 13 juin, fete
de Saint Antoine de Paduoue, est le conquantieme anniversaire de
l'ordination sacerdotale du R.P. Lacombe. Comment feter ici un tel jubile?
Some members of the treaty party, however, were aware of the
occasion. The Métis commissioner, Arthur Coté composed a
commemorative poem and committed it to birch bark. The poem is today
part of the collection of the Provincial Museum of