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Father Lancombe
Founder, priest and peacemaker

Father Albert Lacombe was born in Saint-Sulpice on February 28, 1827. He was the son of Albert Lacombe and Agathe Duhamel. He studied at the Collège l'Assomption and was ordained priest of the Oblate Order on June 13, 1849. The young priest immediately set out for the West, and worked in Pembina, North Dakota, from 1849 to 1851. 1851, he returned to Montreal and was appointed curate in Berthier. In March 1852, he offered his services to Msgr Alexandre Taché, the new Suffragan Bishop of Saint-Boniface, and followed him to the Red River. It was the start of a great adventure in the Canadian West.

In 1852, Father Lacombe went to Edmonton, where he spent the winter among the Cree and the Métis. In 1853, he moved to Lac Sainte-Anne, and two years later undertook the long and arduous trip to Lesser Slave Lake. In 1858, he founded the Saint-Joachim mission at Fort Edmonton. In 1861, he decided on the site for a new mission in Saint-Albert, Alberta. Three years later, he was given the mission of evangelizing the Cree and the Blackfoot, the main Amerindian tribes of the western plains. From 1865 to 1872, he crisscrossed the Prairies and founded among other things the colony of Saint-Paul des Cris in Brosseau, Alberta. He also acted as a peacemaker in the wars between the Cree and the Blackfoot, and opened the first flour mill in Saint-Albert. In 1872, Father Lacombe was appointed to the parish of Winnipeg (Fort Gary) and put in charge of: colonization in Manitoba. In 1875, he was sent to Eastern Canada and the United States to encourage colonization. In 1879, having returned Manitoba, he was appointed Vicar General of Saint-Boniface, and from 1880 to 1882 his special care was for the workers employed to build the Canadian Pacific railway.

In 1880, he became the first parish priest in the growing town of Calgary. In 1884, he founded the Amerindian School in Dunbow, Alberta. He acted as a negotiator between Canadian Pacific and the Blackfoot, who did not want the railway crossing their territory. Canadian Pacific was grateful to Father Lacombe until the end of his long life. In 1885, the Red River Rebellion erupted in the West, and the Prime Minister called on Father Lacombe's services to keep the Plains tribes out of the conflict. He opened a hospital on the Blood Reserve in 1893 and a school in 1898. He played an important role in the establishment of schools in the West. In 1900 and 1904 he visited Austria, where he met Emperor Franz Joseph, and Galicia, in Eastern Europe, to discuss the religious interests of Galician settlers in Canada. In 1904, he went to live in Pincher Creek, in what he called his "Hermitage" of Saint-Michel. In 1909, he shouldered the task of organizing a hospice for elderly people in Midnapore, the Lacombe Home, where he lived until his death in 1916.

The Plains Amerindians considered Albert Lacombe as a brother and nicknamed him "Man with a heart", while his parishioners called him "notre vieux connaissant" -- "our wise elder".

Today a number of geographical sites, and a great many monuments, buildings (including Château-Lacombe in Edmonton) and historic sites bear the French name of this great founder and peacemaker of the Canadian West. His body is buried in the crypt of the Saint-Albert parish church.

Read a book about Father Lacombe who spent more than sixty years of work among the Indians of Western Canada here.

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