Lac Ste. Anne / St. Albert
Lac Ste. Anne was the first permanent Catholic mission in Alberta. It was founded by a secular priest - Father Jean Baptiste Thibault. In 1842, he arrived at Lake Manito-Sakahigan, West of Fort Edmonton. The lake was called Devil’s Lake by the Hudson’s Bay Company, but Thibault renamed it Lac Ste. Anne when he returned in 1843 to establish a mission home base there. He is accompanied on his annual visit, in 1844, by Father Joseph Bourassa.
The first Oblate at the Mission was Father Albert Lacombe, who was still diocesan priest when he arrived. He arrived in Lac Ste. Anne in 1852 to take over Father Thibault’s missionary work in the area. By 1853, both Thibault and Bourassa had left, leaving Lacombe in charge. Father René Rémas arrived in 1853 to oversee Lacombe’s Oblate training; Lacombe took his final vows as an Oblate in 1856.
At this time, the Mission at Lac Ste. Anne was the mother mission for an area extending to Lesser Slave Lake, Lac la Biche, Fort Jasper and the Rocky Mountains. In 1859, three Sisters of Charity of Montreal (Grey Nuns) arrived to form a school. But they would move to St. Albert in 1863, after St. Albert replaced Lac Ste. Anne as the mother mission for the area.
It was Father Lacombe who decided that a new mission was necessary, this one closer to Fort Edmonton, which was rapidly becoming an important distribution centre for missions in the area. Fort Edmonton also had a growing Catholic population. In 1861, Father Lacombe chose a hill along the Sturgeon River, 12 kilometres north of Edmonton, on which to found a mission. This land was more suitable for farming than Lac Ste. Anne, and Lacombe was envisioning an agricultural settlement among the Métis. Bishop Taché christened the mission St. Albert, for Father Lacombe’s patron saint.
In 1865, Fathers Tissot and André took over the Mission when Father Lacombe left to found the St. Paul des Cris Mission. Then in 1868, Father Hippolyte Leduc took sole charge of the Mission. Shortly after, Father Leduc received a message from Bishop Grandin, the Bishop of St. Boniface’s coadjutor, saying that St. Albert would be Mgr Grandin’s new residence. A residence was quickly erected for the Bishop, in the new Vicariate Apostolic of St. Albert. By 1869, the announcement was made that St. Albert was to become a bishopric. A cathedral was built, and in 1871, St. Albert became the Episcopal See of the new Diocese of St. Albert.
The Mission at St. Albert was in the midst of expansion when a small pox epidemic hit the Northwest. St. Albert was hit particularly hard; of the 700 residents, nearly half were killed. Despite the devastating loss to the community, the Mission at St. Albert continued to expand over the next decades. In 1870, the Grey Nuns started a hospital, which had to contend with many disease outbreaks such as smallpox, whooping cough, scarlet fever and typhoid fever. In 1874, Oblates started a boys’ school. A new Bishop’s palace was built in 1879, and a new convent in 1882. The Grey Nuns opened an Industrial School in 1895 for Aboriginal students, funded by the Federal government. In 1900, Oblates helped plan a new Cathedral, and construction began in 1902. In 1905, due to financial constraints, the unfinished building - at that point just a basement - was covered with a roof and opened for religious services. After the See was moved to Edmonton in 1912, the Cathedral became St. Albert Parish and was eventually finished in the early 1920s.
While the Mission was expanding, the settlement of St. Albert was developing into an agricultural district. By the late 1870s, it was receiving an influx of settlers. The first non-Métis settlers arrived during this period, from Quebec. A new grist mill was constructed in 1878 to accommodate the growing settlement. The age of settlement had arrived in the north-west and this would change the mission’s relationship to the settlement of St. Albert. Between 1885 and 1904, St. Albert saw substantial growth; farmland was snapped up in the area, largely by French Canadians. New settlements emerged north of St. Albert. Gradually, a downtown core was formed in St. Albert, which had become a town by 1904. St. Albert’s consolidation resulted in the gradual withdrawal of Oblates from temporal affairs, both commercial and political. However, Oblates continued to serve the religious needs of citizens.
St. Albert has preserved much of its Oblate history. The original chapel built by Father Lacombe in 1861 still stands. This Provincial Historic Site is the oldest wooden building in Alberta. The old bishop’s residence now serves as the Vital Grandin Centre, but the Musuem and Cahpel are closed to the public; they serve as a residence and administrative office. A crypt in the basement of the St. Albert parish, formerly the Cathedral, houses the remains of Father Lacombe, Father Leduc, and Bishop Grandin. The St. Albert cemetery has an Oblate section which contains the remains of many Oblates, as well as a section devoted to the Grey Nuns. The cemetery also has the remains of many of the early Métis settlers.
Borgstede, Arlene (Ed.) The Black Robe’s Vision: A History of St. Albert and District, Vol. 1.St. Albert, Alberta: St. Albert Historical Society, 1985.
Drouin, E.O., OMI. Lac Ste-Anne Sakahigan. Edmonton: Éditions de L’Ermitage, 1973.
Heritage Community Foundation. “St. Albert.” Methodist Missionaries in Alberta: Missions and Related Sites. Retrieved April 29, 2009 from http://www.albertasource.ca/Methodist/The_Missions/St_Albert.htm
Légal, Emile J. OMI. “Short Sketches of the History of the Catholic Churches and Missions in Central Alberta.” 1914.
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