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Albert Lacombe (28 February, 182712 December, 1916), commonly known in Alberta simply as Father Lacombe, was a French-Canadian Roman Catholic missionary who lived among and evangelized the Cree and Blackfoot First Nations of western Canada. He is now remembered for having brokered a peace between the Cree and Blackfoot, negotiating construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway through Blackfoot territory, and securing a promise from the Blackfoot leader Crowfoot to refrain from joining the North-West Rebellion of 1885.

Early life

Lacombe was born in Saint-Sulpicemarker, Lower Canada, to Albert Lacombe and Agathe Duhamel on 28 February, 1827. Since his parents were farmers, most of his early life was spent on the family farm. However, he was from an early age highly religious. At age 22, he was ordained a priest on 13 June, 1849, following studies at the Collège de l'Assomption in L'Assomptionmarker, Canada East.

Following ordination, he was sent west to Pembinamarker, Minnesota Territory, where he worked from 1849 to 1851. In 1851 he returned briefly to Canada East, where he secured a position as a curate in the town Berthiermarker.

Lacombe returned east to be assistant priest at Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Lower Canada, in 1851–52 but, since his wish to work in the west was unabated, Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal allowed him to go back to Red River in 1852 with Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché. Lacombe was stationed at Lac Ste Anne (Alta) in 1853. He began his noviciate in theOblate order in 1855 under René Rémas and became a member of the congregation on 28 Sept. 1856. During his years at Lac Ste Anne, Lacombe visited Jasper House, Fort Edmonton (Edmonton), Lac la Biche, Lesser Slave Lake, and Fort Dunvegan (Dunvegan).

Moving west

Lacombe was unsatisfied in Canada East, and in 1852 he followed Monsignor Alexandre Taché, then suffragan bishop of Saint Bonifacemarker, to the Red River Settlement. Later in 1852, Father Lacombe proceeded to Fort Edmontonmarker, where he overwintered with the Cree and Métis. It was during this time that he began his studies of the Cree language, which ultimately led to a translation of the New Testament into Cree, as well as a grammar and dictionary of the Cree language.After relocating to Lac Ste.marker Annemarker, Lacombe concerned himself during the period from 1853 to 1861 with expanding the mission and deepening his ties to the native population, eventually travelling as far north as the Lesser Slave Lakemarker in search of converts.

Despite his good relations with the natives, Father Lacombe had, by 1861, been unsuccessful in persuading the Cree near Lac Ste. Anne to abandon their nomadic lifestyle. He therefore sought out a new mission site more suitable for agriculture, and in 1861 a settlement was established along the Sturgeon River at Saint Albertmarker, Rupert's Land.

A broader mission

Telegram from Lacombe to Macdonald assuring Crowfoot's loyalty

In 1864 he was tasked with evangelizing the Plains Indians, and from 1865 to 1872, he travelled extensively throughout the prairies. It was during this time that he brokered a peace between the Cree and the Blackfoot.In 1872 Lacombe was sent to Fort Garrymarker (modern Winnipeg, Manitobamarker) to promote the colonization of Manitoba, and to this end travelled throughout eastern Canada and the United Statesmarker. He became the Vicar of Saint Boniface, Manitobamarker in 1879. It was during this period that he began his association with the Canadian Pacific Railway and extended his ministry to the navvies working on the right-of-way.

In 1880, he relocated to Calgarymarker. When the CPR was preparing to lay track through Blackfoot territory against their wishes, he negotiated an agreement with the Blackfoot leader Crowfoot that allowed the railway to pass through Blackfoot land. Crowfoot was famously given a lifetime pass to travel on the railway by CPR president William Van Horne, as was Lacombe. When the North-West Rebellion erupted in 1885, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald enlisted Father Lacombe's assistance in assuring the neutrality of the Plains Indians. Although braves commanded by Poundmaker and Big Bear were involved in the fighting, Crowfoot, believing the rebellion to be a lost cause, kept his warriors out of the conflict.

Final years

For the remainder of his life, Lacombe played a major role in founding schools throughout the West, such as St Mary's School in what is now the Mission Districtmarker of Calgarymarker. His last major travels were to Europe in 1900 and 1904, where he visited Austriamarker and met Emperor Franz Joseph. He also travelled to Galicia (now largely modern Polandmarker and Ukrainemarker) to promote Galician settlement of Canada. He died in 1916 in Midnapore, Alberta, now a suburb of Calgary. His body was interred in the crypt of the St. Albert parish church. A high school in Calgary, Father Lacombe High School, was established in 1979 bearing his namesake. Additionally, an elementary school, Albert Lacombe, is named for him in St. Albert, Alberta. The town of Lacombe, Albertamarker is also named in his honour.

Fr. Lacombe served St. Patrick's Church in Midnapore from its construction in 1904 until his death in 1916.

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