Sunday, October 30, 2016

Man of a Good Heart

Father Albert Lacombe (photo courtesy KBPV archives)
Joyce Sasse - Father Albert Lacombe was among the early missionaries who arrived in Alberta in the 1800’s. He settled in the vicinity of St. Albert for a while. What many do not realize, however, is that the Oblate priest spent a great deal of his time in Southern Alberta.

He was touched by the plight of the Blackfoot People whose Confederacy had once stretched from the North Saskatchewan River (near Edmonton) to the Yellowstone River, and from the Continental Divide to the Sand Hills of Saskatchewan.

Because of the sparsity of prairie living, the Blackfoot People were nomadic. They lived off the buffalo. But when the buffalo were no more, they were without food, shelter and clothing. They starved.

In 1837 smallpox decimated their number even more. Then they were lured in to sign Treat 7 (1877) which forced them to live on postage-stamp sized Reserves, under the management of Indian Agents.

The Blackfoot name for Father Lacombe, Man of a Good Heart, reveals the mutual love and respect they shared with the priest. Much of his activity centred in the region which people refer to as Gleichen, Fort Macleod, Cardston and Pincher Creek.

He also had a great affinity with the French and Metis who resided in the Pincher Creek and Beauvais district – where he was their priest, their friend, and the man who had connections with William VanHorne (CPR) and John A. MacDonald (Prime Minister). With Timothe Lebel he developed the Mississippi trade corridor with Europe that serviced his mission and Lebel’s trade emporium in Pincher Creek. He improved postal delivery service and worked with the government to establish St. Agnes Public School (chartered in 1896) in the Beauvais Lake district. The Protestant school teacher was always glad to turn his classroom over to the priest when he visited the school.

The list of contributions Lacombe made in Southern Alberta could go on. They include his love and respect for the people, his openness to working with those of other faiths. His experience in trying to problem solve big issues and in making connections between European sources and Alberta’s prairie outposts.

Father Lacombe's Hermitage at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village (C. Davis photo)
The presence of his Hermitage, now located in the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, is a reminder of Father Lacombe’s caring for The People, his pastoral work and his desire to retire near the Foothills of the Rockies.

December 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of his death.

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