By Courtney Sidders
In the middle of the bustling community of St Albert, high up on Mission Hill sits the oldest building in Alberta: Father Lacombe Chapel. Established in 1861 by Father Albert Lacombe and Bishop Tache of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate missionary, this early Western Canada settlement offers a glimpse into life in the 1860s.
We arrived on a busy Saturday. St. Albert is famous for its summer Farmers’ Market that is just down the hill from the Chapel. We were greeted by three Historic Interpreters dressed in their best 1860’s garb despite the heat. Laura, an experienced Interpreter who grew up in St. Albert, welcomed us into the small, humble Chapel and shared with us what life was like back in 1860.
My companion and I found it quite extraordinary that the Chapel itself was built using NO nails. Laura proved this unique claim to fame by showing us a model of post-on-sill, the special building method commonly used in fort structures. This made it easy to take down and rebuild, as the Chapel had been moved around the hill several times.
After exploring the Chapel and hearing the stories of Father Lacombe, we were thrilled to hear that the tour didn’t stop there. Behind the Chapel is a walkway that led us to the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. This gorgeous grotto features a statue of the Virgin Mary. Visitors are encouraged to take a moment to say a prayer or just enjoy the stunning surroundings. Adorned with a bounty of fresh flowers, it is clear this spot is an important spiritual place to many members of the community. It also made the perfect backdrop to snap a photo and share on social media.
Located next to the grotto is the Roman Catholic Cemetery that is the resting place of some of St. Albert’s first residents, including Father Lacombe, Bishop Grandin, and Father Leduc. We were told that all three of these important historical figures had recently been moved here from the Crypt, which is no longer a part of the tour.
Standing next to the resting spot of Father Lacombe, we felt a spiritual connection and a calm washed over us. Not only is this a beautiful place to take a nice stroll on a weekend, but it is delightfully peaceful. It was a typical summer in Alberta day, humid with storm clouds approaching. However, on top of Mission Hill, in front of Father Lacombe’s tombstone, it was sunny and pleasant.
The stories of Alberta’s historic sites and museums are definitely unique… and we have some colourful residents that first called Alberta home. One of my favourite stories that Laura shared with us was of Cherie Hebert, a gentleman who co-owned the General Store. Many residents of St. Albert and Edmonton will recognize Mr. Hebert’s name, a main street in the city is named after him. What many people don’t know is that he owned a pet black bear… that’s right, he actually had a bear welcoming patrons into his store. Albertans are a crazy bunch, and I am proud to be one of them!
The surprising stories don’t stop, and if you ask the Interpreters you are sure to hear many mind-blowing tales from this early Western Canada settlement, making Father Lacombe Chapel a must-see for anyone visiting during the summer months. All you have to do is get Out There! Plan your trip back in time to discover the life and work of Father Lacombe. Visit https://fatherlacombechapel.ca and be sure to share your experience on Facebook @FatherLacombeChapel.
Father Lacombe Chapel Programs & Experiences:
School Programs—May 15 to Labour Day
Total Time: 1.5 hours | Cost: $4.50/student, a minimum class fee will be charged based on 14 students.
- Living Long Ago (Grades 1-3)
Visit the Chapel, built in 1861, and learn what it was like to live in this part of Alberta more than 150 years ago!
- A Community in the Past (Grade 2)
Students will learn how a building could be built without nails, taste bannock, participate in an interactive story, and learn how to make a simple sash.
- The Fur Trade Game (Grades 4-12)
Students will discover what the fur trade was all about through an interactive role-playing game.
- Mission Hill Tours (Grades 5-12)
An interpreter will guide you and your students around the provincial historic site and reinforce learning with stories, objects, pictures, activities, and discussions about Father Lacombe Chapel, Mission Hill, and the area we now call St. Albert.
For more information or to book a school program, please visit https://fatherlacombechapel.ca/programs-experiences.
Explore More Nearby:
- Founders’ Walk, 5 St Anne St, St. Albert, AB
- St. Albert Farmers’ Market, 71 St. Albert Trail, St. Alberta, AB
- The Healing Garden, 74 Mission Ave, St. Albert, AB
- St. Albert Grain Elevator Park, 4A Meadowview Drive, St. Albert, AB
- Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site, 11153 Saskatchewan Drive, Edmonton, AB