Fr. Albert Lacombe
ST. ALBERT — In January 1861, Father Albert Lacombe and Bishop Alexandre Taché came to the top of the hill overlooking the Sturgeon River and decided that this would be the site of the new church.
Taché suggested it be named after Lacombe's patron saint, St. Albert. This site, now marked by a huge bronze statue of Lacombe, was not colonized until April 1861.
Three recruits from the Grey Nuns of Montreal came to help establish the colony - Sister Emery (Zoé Leblanc), Sister Adele Lamy and Sister Alphonse (Marie Jacque).
Several Métis families soon arrived from Lac Ste. Anne and settled in St. Albert, helping build a small log church, a residence for the priest, a storehouse for vegetables, a barn and a stable. They also cleared the land for their log homes and crops.
In the spring of 1862, a wooden bridge was built across the river, the only bridge west of the Red River, and work began on a convent for the sisters.
In 1863, the sisters came from Lac St. Anne and 20 more Métis families came to occupy the farms along the river.
The sisters brought seven orphans with them and established the first school and orphanage in St. Albert. By the end of 1864 about 40 families, some 300 people, had settled on their own farms, now well cleared and fenced.
"St. Albert grew very quickly in the beginning," noted Ray Pinco, chair of St. Albert's Historical Society.
"From 1862 to 1870 it grew from half a dozen people to 700. There were 1,000 people here by 1882. It stayed at about 1,000 until the 1950s.
"And then in the 1950s the population began to grow quite rapidly. In 1961 there were about 4,000 people. Right now St. Albert has a population of about 60,000."
In 1865 Lacombe went to St. Paul des Cris, now Brosseau, Alta., to establish another Métis colony and left St. Albert to the care of Oblate Fathers J. Tissot and A. Andre.
In 1868 Father Hippolyte Leduc became pastor and remained as such on and off for the next 28 years.
A few months later Bishop Vital Grandin, coadjutor to Bishop Taché of St. Boniface, took up residence in St. Albert and a cathedral church with a capacity for 400 was built.
In September 1871 Pope Pius IX elevated the St. Albert mission to the status of a diocese and appointed Grandin its first bishop. As a result, St. Albert soon became the centre and heart of all the spiritual activity in Alberta and northern Saskatchewan.
Grandin died in 1902 and his body is kept in a crypt in St. Albert Church along with Fathers Lacombe and Leduc. The cause for Grandin's sainthood was launched in the 1930s and he was declared venerable in 1966.
In 1912 the St. Albert Diocese was divided into two to form the Diocese of Calgary and the Archdiocese of Edmonton, noted Pinco.
"But Bishop (Emile) Legal at that time continued to reside in St. Albert and his offices were still here until 1918 because there wasn't a cathedral in Edmonton.
"So until the cathedral was built and the administrative offices were built he continued to administer (the Edmonton Archdiocese) from St. Albert for another six years."