LACOMBE, Albert, was born at Saint-Sulpice, Québec, February 28th, 1827, the son of Albert Lacombe and Agathe Duhamel. He died at Midnapore, Alberta, December12th, 1916.
Albert was educated at Assomption College and was ordained a priest at Saint-Hyacinthe, June 13th, 1849, by Mgr Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal. The young priest immediately set out for the West and worked first at Pembina, North Dakota (1849-1851) with the Abbé Georges Belcourt, before returning to Montréal where he became the vicar at Berthier (1851-1852).
In March, 1852, he offered his services to Mgr Alexandre Taché, o.m.i., the new Auxiliary Bishop of Saint-Boniface, and followed him to Red River. He was never again to leave the West working all of his life in the Dioceses of Saint-Boniface and Saint-Albert where he was the Vical General of the two Bishops.
In 1852, Abbé Lacombe went to Edmonton where he spent the winter (1852-1853) among the Cree and the Metis at Lac-La-Biche, wintering at Fort Edmonton [Fort-des-Prairies or Saint-Joachim]. In 1853, he settled in Lac-Sainte-Anne, then, in 1855, he undertook a long voyage that took him to Lesser Slave Lake [Grouard] and Peace River.
He began his novitiate at Lac-Sainte-Anne, May 29th,1855, and made his perpetual vows on September 28th,1856.
In1858, he established the mission of Saint-Joachim at Fort Edmonton, then, in1861, he agreed with Mgr Taché, the establishment of a new mission at Saint-Albert, Alberta, which bears his name.
In 1863, he left the mission at Lac-Sainte (where he lived throughout 1853) and went to Saint-Albert. In 1864, he received the charge to evangelize the Cree and the Blackfoot. Because of this, he traversed the prairies from 1865 to 1872. In 1865, Fr Lacombe established the colony of Saint-Paul des Cris [Brosseau], Alberta, which was the first effort to establish a colony among the Aboriginal Peoples of the West. At the same time, he served as a peacemaker in the war between the Cree and Blackfoot. He also established the first flour mill, in1863, at Saint-Albert, the first West of Winnipeg. He also established a cart track from Red River to Saint-Albert. He also constructed a bridge on the Sturgeon River, in 1862, the first in the area. He visited Fort-de-la-Montagne, Rocky Mountain House near [Jasper] at least in 1865, 1866 et 1871.
When a smallpox epidemic struck in 1871, he was appointed to the bureau of health of Northwest Territories for the plains region. The following year (1872), he became the Vicar General of Saint-Albert, then, in 1873, he represented Mgr Taché at the general council of the Oblates.
Upon his return, he was named curate of Sainte-Marie in Winnipeg [Fort Garry] and tasked with the colonizing of Manitoba. He remained curate of the Parish for a number of years (1874-1876, 1878-1880).
At the request of Mgr Taché, Fr Lacombe went to Eastern Canada and the United States (1875) to begin his work of colonization. In 1879, he is again sent by Mgr Taché to the general council of the Oblates, and, then, named Vicar General of Saint-Boniface (1879). From 1880 to 1882, Fr Lacombe occupied himself with the workers employed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway with headquarters at Kenora [Portage-du-Rat, Rat Portage], Ontario.
In1882, he left Winnipeg for the Diocese of Saint-Albert where he took charge of the district of Calgary, where he becomes Superior (1882-1886) and the first priest of the new town (1883). In 1884, he established and became the principal of the new Indian School at Dunbow [De Winton, High River], Alberta, which he obtained from the Government of Canada (1883). The same year (1883), he served as an intermediary between the Canadian Pacific and the Blackfoot, who opposed the passage of the railway on their reserve. The success of the negotiations earned for him, in 1885, as soon as the first train arrived in Calgary, the honour of serving as the president of this powerful company for one hour. He enjoyed benefits from this up to his death.
From this time onwards, he lived in the Calgary region, though he was often on the road to accomplish various tasks charged to him either by the government of Canada or his Church superiors. He was principal of Dunbow (1884-1885) and visited Pincher Creek (1884), Okotoks (1885) and Medicine Hat (1883). He then lived in Fort MacLeod (1887-1889) and Calgary (1883 - 1886, 1893, 1897).
In1885, he played an important role in brokering peace among a large number of Aboriginal tribes, in particular, the Blackoot, at the time of the Insurrection. This was done at the express request of the Prime Minister of Canada. Responsible for the Blackfoot territory, he continued to live at Fort MacLeod, or at Pincher Creek (1884-1885, 1889 -1898). In1893, he opened a hospital on the Blood Reserve [Stand Off or Cardston], then a school in 1898. He was also involved in the Board of Education of the Northwest Territories (1886-1892). Fr Lacombe also served as curate of Saint Joachim Parish in Edmonton (1894-1897), and constructed a chapel in Strathcona [across the North Saskatchewan River from Edmonton] (1895). He continued to play an important role in the question of establishment of schools in the West at that time.
Fr Lacombe was particularly involved in the founding of a Metis colony in Saint-Paul-des-Métis (1895-1905). He also accompanied the federal commissioners charged with the making of a treaty with the Aboriginal Peoples of the Peace River country (1899). In 1900 and 1904, he went to Austria to meet Emperor Franz- Joseph, and to Galicia, to represent the interest of the Galacians of Canada [this was the era of the Ukrainian block settlement in Western Canada].
In 1902-1903, he is again charged with responsibility for Calgary region, so much so that, in 1904, he is in Pincher-Creek, which he calls his «Ermitage Saint-Michel» where he remained for many years. As well, he is charged with duties in Medicine Hat in 1905. He once again assisted at the general council of the Oblates, in1906, then the plenary council in Quebec (1909). In addition, he set out to organized a hospice for the elderly at Midnapore, the Lacombe Home, where he himself lived for a number of years (1909-1916).
The Aboriginal Peoples of all tribes venerated him as one of theirs, not only as a priest but as a brother as stated by Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot. They named him, “the man with a good heart.” The faithful of Calgary him their “Old wise man.”
Many geographical features, a great number of monuments, including the Chateau Lacombe Hotel in Edmonton, as well as historic sites bear his name.
He was buried in the crypt of the church Saint-Albert.1
Reprinted with the permission of Les Archives Deschâtelets and the publisher from Gaston Carriere, o.m.i., Dictionnaire de Marie Immaculée au Canada, tome II (Ottawa: Éditions de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1979), pp 219-21.
1. Paul-Emile BRETON, o.m.i., Le Grand Chef des Prairies... , Edmonton, Editions de l'Ermitage, 1954, 232 p.; Paul-Emile BRETON, o.m.i., The Big Chief of the Prairies, [Montréal], Palm Publishers, , 145 p.; Soeur de la Providence, Le Père Lacombe... , Montréal, Le Devoir, 1916, xv-547 p.; Giovanni Battista LINGUEGLlA, Apostolo e Pioniere. P. Alberto Lacombe, o.m.i., ... Milano, Pontificio Instituto delle Missioni Estere, 1942, 135 p.; Katherine HUGHES, Father Lacombe. The Black Robe Voyageur, Toronto, William Briggs, 1911, xxi-467 p.; Josephine PHELAN, The Bold Heart. The Story of Father Lacombe. Toronto, MacMillan, 1956, 182 p.; J. A. MACLELLAN, The Black Robe Voyageur, in W. G. HARDY, The Alberta Golden Jubilee, [Toronto], McClellan and Stewart, Ltd., 1955, p. 96-101; Rev. Albert Lacombe, O.M.I., in M.-B. VENINI-BYRNE, From the Buffalo to the Cross, p. 379-381; Le Père AIbert Lacombe et le Pacifique Canadien, dans Missions .. , des ... Oblats de Marie-Immaculée, 70 (1936), p. 451-461; Gaston CARRIÈRE, o.m.i., Le cinquantenaire de la mort du père Albert Lacombe, in Etudes oblates, 26 (1967), p. 89-94; Gaston CARRIÈRE, o.m.i., Le père Albert Lacombe, o.m.i., et le Pacifique Canadien, in Revue de l'Université d'Ottawa, 37 (1967), p. 287-321, 510-539, 611-638; 38 (1968), p. 97-131, 316-350; Le Père Lacombe est mort, dans L'Ami du Foyer, 12 (1916-1917), p. 100-101; Feu le R.P. Lacombe, O.M.I., in Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 16 (1917), p. 6-9,23-26, 147-150, 219-221, 224-230, 273-275, 303-304, 310-314; R.P. Albert Lacombe, 1827-1916, in Missions ... des ... Oblats de Marie-Immaculée, 63 (1929), p. 412-419; Le Centenaire de naissance d'un missionnaire, in Le Patriote de l'Ouest, 8 juin 1927; Le Centenaire de Naissance d'un Missionnaire, in Missions .. des ... Oblats de Marie-Immaculée, 61 (1927), p. 744-752; Lacombe, Albert, in Louis LE JEUNE, o.m.i., Dictionnaire général ... du Canada, vol. 2, p. 17-18; Howard Angus KENNEDY, Father Lacombe: Life and Works, Toronto, Ryerson Press, , 32 p.; Lacombe, Albert,in John J. DELANEY-James Edward TOBIN, Dictionary of Catholic Biography, p. 659; Johannes ROMMERSK1RCHEN, o.m.i., Lacombe, Alberto, in Enciclopedia cattolica, vol. 7, p. 792; Lacombe.Albert, in Encyclopedia canadiana, vol. 6, p. 38; Lacombe, Alberto, in Dizionario cattolico, vol. 2, p. 572; Lacombe, Alberto, in Enciclopedia ecclesiastica, vol. 5, p. 400; James G. MACGREGOR, Father Lacombe, Edmonton, Hurting Publishers, , 350 p.; Gaston CARRIÈRE, o.m.i., Lacombe, Albert. In New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8, p. 305; Lacombe, AIbert, in Norah STORY, The Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature, p. 420-421; Paul E. CRUNICAN, Father Lacombe's Strange Mission: The Lacombe-Langevin Correspondence on the Manitoba School Question, 1895-96, in Canadian Catholic Historical Association, 26 (1959), p. 57-71; Gaston CARRIÈRE, o.m.i., Les relations amicales du Père Lacombe et de Lord et Lady Aberdeen, dans Etudes oblates. 39 (1971), p. 17-34; Victor BARBEAu-André FORTIER, Dictionnaire biographique du Canada français, p. 133; Lacombe, Albert, dans Henry James MORGAN, The Canadian Men and Women of the Time, Toronto, William Briggs, 1898, p. 549; Elie-J. AUCLA1R, Le Père Lacombe, dans La Semaine religieuse de Montréal, 68 (1916), p. 417-420.
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