Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 4, 2007
Why was an Alberta city named after St. Albert?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Fr. Albert Lacombe established St. Albert as a settlement for the Metis and Cree.
Lacombe gained the confidence of the Cree because of his openness and his willingness to learn their language in which he became fluent, as well as being able to converse in other First Peoples' languages. He knew all the chiefs of Cree, Stoney, Sarcee, Peigan, Blood and Blackfoot.
Lacombe was friend and helper to all, including the Hudson Bay Company's chief factor and missionaries from other Christian traditions.
In 1881, when the CPR needed land for the railway, Lacombe was responsible for peaceful negotiations for land. It seems he was made president of the CPR for one hour and was given a lifetime free travel pass.
In 1871, St. Albert became a diocese with Vital Grandin as bishop and Albert Lacombe as vicar general, given the task of raising funds in Montreal.
Lacombe, eager to get back to Alberta, was derailed by the bishop of Winnipeg who needed Lacombe's help with conflicts between English and French settlers. He returned to St. Albert in 1882, finding his beloved people destitute and humiliated, having to beg for government handouts.
Lacombe was always concerned about the welfare of the First Peoples. In 1870, he helped at the outbreak of smallpox. In 1879, he finished his Cree-English dictionary. He founded the Dunbow Industrial School. He provided advice over land settlements.
With the buffalo gone and the people starving, Lacombe wrote Prime Minister John A. MacDonald that the Canadian government was not blameless.
Several First Peoples' chiefs remained neutral in the Northwest Rebellion in 1885 due to Lacombe's influence. They were rewarded with a trip to Ottawa accompanied by Lacombe. After the rebellion, Lacombe joined others to seek release from jail of chiefs who had been involved.
His Lacombe Home to serve the most destitute both "red and white" opened in 1910 at Mindapore. In 1913, before beginning his last address at St. Mary's in Calgary this worn-out 87-year-old paused and, according to a Family Herald reporter, "so profound was the silence, even breathing seemed a sacrilege."
But he spoke up loud and clear pleading for the last time the cause of his First Nation's friends.
For more than 60 years, Lacombe was Alberta's entrepreneur and negotiator, spiritual leader and teacher with the rich and influential, the poor and needy. Providentially named after St. Albert, Lacombe also forged a unique path. Both Alberts are models of self-giving, innovation and enterprise for us to emulate.
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