Arriving at Pembina soon after his ordination to the priesthood in 1849, Father Lacombe spent the next two years learning the local language and “the ropes” of being a missionary. Summoned back to Québec in 1851, he was assigned to a parish until, on July 2, 1852 he was dispatched to Lac Ste. Anne, arriving at Fort Edmonton in the fall after a journey of nearly three months.
Though officially at Lac Ste. Anne for the next nine years, Father Lacombe spend many days and months travelling to and evangelizing at Fort Edmonton, Lac La Biche, Lesser Slave Lake, Dunvegan and Jasper House, with at least one trip to Red River for good measure.
In October 1860, Bishop Alexandre Taché left St. Boniface to visit the missions of his vast diocese, including those at Lac La Biche and Lac Ste. Anne. On December 20, 1860, after enjoying the hospitality of William Christie at Fort Edmonton, the Bishop departed for Lac Ste. Anne, arriving late in the evening to the surprise and delight of Father Lacombe, the Sisters and the local residents.
Let us now join a narrative written during the Founder’s lifetime and with his collaboration.
Taking advantage of his bishop’s presence, Father Lacombe remarked that the Métis were abandoning nomadic life in large numbers in favour of agriculture. At Lac Ste. Anne, unfortunately, the land was withholding of its fertility; one would have to move further, near Big Lake, to find soil suitable for a colony.
One morning, putting on their snowshoes, the two missionaries leave with their dog teams to view the region already carefully explored many times by Father Lacombe. Whilst discussing the spiritual and material welfare of their missions, they arrive at a hillcrest with a commanding view of the Sturgeon valley, eight miles from Edmonton, overlooking a meandering river that eventually disappears into a large lake mirrored on the horizon. Bishop Taché stops and, putting his hand on his companion’s shoulder, “Father, let us stop here.”
“This is exactly the place I usually stop to rest,” responds Father Lacombe.
“ Let’s eat a generous piece of pemmican,” adds the Bishop cheerfully.
That morning the sun was at its most radiant; the temperature pleasant. All the while giving thanks for their meager meal the missionaries were absorbed in the marvelous beauty of nature before them. Father Lacombe had been here many times and had thought to himself that this would be a perfect location for a mission; however, he was careful not to comment to his bishop lest he interfere with his thoughts.
Suddenly, Bishop Taché stands, looks around for a long time, then says, “Father, this place is charming; I choose it for the founding of a new mission which you will name Saint Albert, in honour of your patron saint.” At the same time, he plants his walking stick in the snow in front of him: “You will build the chapel here: it shall be the Chapel of Saint Albert.”
“Your Grace, you grant me a great honour and please me immensely. I avow that Your Excellency has gone far beyond any hope I may have had. Many times I have admired this hill but never would I have believed that, one day, it would be called the Saint Albert Mission.”
On January 14, 1861, Bishop Taché left the missionaries and Christians of Lac Ste. Anne. The bishop’s visit launched a new era in the region and, soon, unimaginable progress followed his prayers over the land.1
1 Translated from: Le Père Lacombe, l’homme au bon coeur
A Sister of Providence, from Father Lacombe’s memoirs and recollections
Le Devoir, Montréal, 1916, Pages 137-138
Reprinted from The Echoes, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, February, 2011; St. Albert Historical Society